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Renewed Multilateralism Must Be Embraced in Order to Respond to and Recover from the COVID-19 Pandemic, Independent Expert on the Promotion of an Equitable International Order Tells Human Rights Council

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Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Human Rights of Older Persons

The Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order this afternoon told the Human Rights Council that it was abundantly clear that there was now a “two-track pandemic”, with high-income countries, which had access to vaccines and as a result had started relaxing safety measures, and other countries, which had no or limited access to vaccines and were facing a very precarious situation.

Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said that, in this time of great upheaval, where the very concept of multilateralism was under significant threat, and with a virus that kept mutating and did not stop at borders, it was essential that renewed multilateralism be embraced, with a more effective and more inclusive approach, in order to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with people and respect for human rights at the centre of this process.

Mr. Sewanyana said his report focused on the need for renewed multilateralism in the face of the pandemic, examining how it could be the opportunity for strengthened, more effective and inclusive multilateralism. “The equitable global distribution of vaccines, as the prime mean to protect global public health, ought to be the most profound manifestation of the spirit and raison d’être of multilateralism”, he said. Moving on to an equitable economic recovery, Mr. Sewanyana said it was imperative to avert a major global debt crisis and increase fiscal space for countries impacted by the pandemic.

In the discussion, speakers said they were concerned about the wide disparity in the distribution of vaccines between developed and developing countries, which had not been able to obtain more than 3 per cent of their need for vaccines. A democratic and equitable international order was essential for the promotion and protection of human rights. Some speakers appreciated the presentation by the Independent Expert and fully supported the conclusions and recommendations of the report, in which he warned about the exacerbated effects of unilateral coercive measures in the context of the pandemic, demanding their immediate lifting. Without solidarity and international cooperation, it would not be possible to overcome the pandemic, they said, explaining that they would again present a draft resolution on international order.

Speaking in the discussion were: Egypt on behalf of the group of Arab States, China on behalf of a group of countries, Armenia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia, South Africa, Venezuela, Kenya, Cuba, Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Namibia, China, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Uganda, Maldives, Malawi, Chad, Belarus, Iran, Tunisia and Bolivia.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Rahbord Peimayesh Research and Educational Services Cooperative, China Foundation for Human Rights Development, International Humanist and Ethical Union and International Human Rights Association of American Minorities.

China, Israel, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia also took the floor to speak in right of reply.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with Claudia Mahler, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

Speakers appreciated the presentation made by the Independent Expert on her report, in which she addressed the prevalence of ageism and age discrimination, analysing its possible causes and manifestations and how existing legal frameworks protected older persons. Some speakers stated that most governments failed to condemn, counter, and prevent ageism and that violence, abuse and neglect in the community and institutions were deeply rooted in societal ageism, as witnessed during the current pandemic. They urged consensus for a strong resolution on the human rights of older persons be adopted in this session as ageism must not be tolerated. One speaker could not agree with Ms. Mahler's conclusion that it was possible to solve the problem of ageism and age discrimination only with a comprehensive legally binding document on the human rights of older people.

Speaking in the discussion were: Indonesia, Austria, Montenegro, Thailand, Venezuela, Angola, Kenya, Malta, United States, Russian Federation, Morocco, India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Nepal, Namibia, China, El Salvador, Pakistan, Sudan, United Nations Population Fund, Gabon, Poland, Cuba, Italy, Georgia, UN WOMEN, Benin, United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Viet Nam, Uganda, Panama, Bulgaria, Timor-Leste, Lesotho, Maldives, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Worth Heath Organization, Iran, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Tunisia, Cambodia and the Sovereign Order of Malta.

Also taking the floor were the following national human rights institutions: Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and National Human Rights Commission India. The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Liberation, International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, *Jameh Ehyagaran Teb Sonnati Va Salamat Iranian, *Penal Reform International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, *Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie Van Homoseksualiteit *, Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, and Centre for Human Rights.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 September, to conclude its discussion with the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order and hear the presentation of the Working Group on enforced disappearances. Time allowing, the Council will also hold an interactive discussion with the Working Group on mercenaries.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons

The interactive dialogue with Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, started this morning and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers appreciated the presentation made by the Independent Expert on her report, in which she addressed the prevalence of ageism and age discrimination, analysing its possible causes and manifestations and how existing legal frameworks protected older persons. Today half of the world’s population was ageist. The world was at the beginning of the 10-year long journey of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030), a journey that included combatting ageism as a key area of action to improve the lives of older people, their families, speakers said that older people were not only r and the communities in which they lived. Some ecipients of assistance, but also active members of society who, despite their age, could make a significant contribution to the development of their countries. They further explained that it was impossible to imagine the modern labour market without the active participation of the elderly. Some speakers said that most governments failed to condemn, counter, and prevent ageism and that violence, abuse and neglect in the community and institutions were deeply rooted in societal ageism, as witnessed during the current pandemic. They urged consensus for a strong resolution on the human rights of older persons to be adopted at this session as ageism must not be tolerated. One speaker stated that they could not agree with Ms. Mahler's conclusion that it was only possible to solve the problem of ageism and age discrimination with a comprehensive legally binding document on the human rights of older people. They believed that existing international treaties sufficiently protected the rights and interests of older persons, adding that the international community had not yet reached consensus on the drafting of a separate convention to address the problems of ageing.

Some speakers said that gendered ageism reflected the pervasive discrimination against older women, who suffered the consequences of wide-ranging, life-long discrimination, concluding that a gendered lens was critical. Some speakers applauded the report's intersectional approach, including a paragraph addressing particular forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex older persons, such as social isolation, financial insecurity or homelessness. They called on States to recognise that ageing experiences were impacted by multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence and to take steps to efficiently meet the needs of older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. States were urged to implement policies that prioritised training on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues and gender sensitisation targeting caregivers, government staff and health professionals working with and providing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex older persons. One speaker drew the attention of the Expert to the fact that unilateral coercive measures seriously violated all human rights of older persons, including the right to health and to access medical care, medicine and vaccine, and the right to food among all economic, social and cultural rights, and called on the Independent Expert to discuss the deadly effects of unilateral coercive measures on the various human rights of older persons, especially their right to health and the right to an adequate standard of living in her future reports to the Council.

Interim Remarks

CLAUDIA MAHLER, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, said that the starting point to step up equality was first to raise awareness that older persons were not treated the same way as other groups. “We need to change the narrative from beneficiaries to right holders”, she said. In order to better monitor older persons, these persons could participate if they were consulted when there were discussions on new policies affecting them as they were the experts in the field; “they must not be excluded”. The Independent Expert emphasised the need for more disaggregated data to have a basis for influential new measures based on evidence. Due to the gap between the national, regional and international frameworks, an international treaty was needed. Education and training were key to raise awareness and this was true for the media as ageism appeared in the media.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the report of the Independent Expert and stated that it rightly pointed out that the pervasive nature of ageism led to widespread discrimination, including in key sectors such as the health and labour markets. They agreed that age was a social construct and that, as highlighted by the report, ageism could also intersect with other forms of discriminations, such as disability and gender-based discriminations. The need to address ageism and age discrimination and its intersections with sex, race and class ableism was most important. Some speakers agreed with the many forms that ageism could take and how it was linked to ableism, racism, sexism and other forms of -isms. They detailed that 1 in 11 persons were over the age of 65 in 2019 and reiterated the call of the Independent Expert to adopt and implement the human rights-based approach to ageing that was grounded in principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation, autonomy and independence. Some speakers called on governments to address direct, indirect, multiple, cumulative, intersectional and structural discrimination and uphold the autonomy of older persons and advance their ability to participate on an equal basis with other persons. Age disaggregated data inclusive of older persons would help to identify and address inequalities and patterns of discrimination faced by older persons; this data should be collected on an urgent basis.

On the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers said that it had highlighted the gaps in older persons’ human rights protection, amplified pre-existing inequalities rooted in ageism and age discrimination, and revealed gaps in the availability of age-specific data. They therefore supported governments in collecting age and sex-disaggregated data concerning COVID-19 and providing a gender lens to identify particular vulnerabilities faced by older women. This included gender-based violence, in a context in which intersecting discrimination based on gender, disability and socio-economic status was compounded by ageism. Some speakers said that the pandemic had exacerbated these phenomena and revealed the protection gaps for this “chronically invisible segment of the population”. Further mentioning the pandemic, speakers said that ageist views were prevalent in this pandemic and that older persons had been discriminated against due to ageism, existing social structures, and societal practices. A Convention on the Rights of Older Persons was crucial to combat ageism and age discrimination as this binding instrument would ensure the human rights-based approach which recognised older persons as rights holders and exacted accountability from duty-bearers.

Concluding Remarks

CLAUDIA MAHLER, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, said she was encouraged by the reactions of the speakers and hoped that the pandemic was seen as a wake-up call as they had to act now, adding that older persons were still left behind. Older persons did not get the support they needed because they were not a priority in states of emergency. The law needed to be changed and States should accelerate the development of policies that fought ageism of all forms in order to see older persons as right holders. She reiterated that ageism intersected with many other “-isms” and that there was a need to elaborate more on this intersectionality. The Independent Expert concluded by emphasising the need to ensure that the legislation complaints mechanisms were assessed and that, at the international level, the rights of older persons were framed as a human right issue.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order

Presentation of Report

LIVINGSTONE SEWANYANA, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said he had decided to focus his report on the need for renewed multilateralism in the face of the pandemic, examining how it could be the opportunity for strengthened, more effective and inclusive multilateralism. “The equitable global distribution of vaccines, as the prime mean to protect global public health, ought to be the most profound manifestation of the spirit and raison d’être of multilateralism,” he stated, praising the essential work of all actors under the Access to the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) scheme. "It is humanity’s best hope against the pandemic". He, however, pointed out that it was abundantly clear that there was now a “two-track pandemic”, with high-income countries, which had access to vaccines and as a result had started relaxing safety measures, and other countries, which had no or limited access to vaccines and were facing a very precarious situation. He was appalled by instances of vaccine nationalism and hoarding, whereby some States had sought to strike deals with pharmaceutical companies that manufactured vaccines for the benefit of their own citizens. While he understood the motivation to make such bilateral deals in light of the responsibility of States towards their own populations, in the current context, where the supply of vaccines was dramatically limited, a multilateral approach to distribute vaccines globally in an equitable manner was the only way forward. In light of the current vaccine shortage, the Independent Expert pursued, it was essential that countries with substantial supplies, thanks to bilateral deals struck with vaccine manufacturers, immediately shared doses through the COVAX facility in order to distribute them to the 92 low- and middle-income countries participating in the COVAX Vaccines Advance Market Commitment. Overall, a renewed multilateralism would necessitate strengthening the World Health Organization and the global health architecture.

Moving on to an equitable economic recovery, Mr. Sewanyana said it was imperative to avert a major global debt crisis and increase fiscal space for countries impacted by the pandemic. He welcomed the emergency measures taken so far by different stakeholders, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to mitigate the effects of the crisis, and voiced his full support for the framework aimed at ensuring debt relief that had been proposed by the United Nations. He further warned against the exacerbated impact of unilateral coercive measures in the context of the pandemic, in particular on the health and well-being of women, children, persons with disabilities and other people in vulnerable situations, as he believed that unilateral coercive measures, endured first and foremost by the civilian population of the targeted countries, ran contrary to the essence of multilateralism. In this time of great upheaval, where the very concept of multilateralism was under significant threat, and with a virus that kept mutating and did not stop at borders, it was essential that renewed multilateralism be embraced, with a more effective and more inclusive approach, in order to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with people and respect for human rights at the centre of this process. “The pandemic presents an opportunity for the world to be better prepared next time and to build back better and more resilient, while achieving a democratic and equitable international order”, he said.

Discussion

Speakers saluted the report's objective vision and deep awareness of the importance of the multilateral system in addressing the various risks to the collective pursuit of a democratic and equitable system. They were concerned about the wide disparity in the distribution of vaccines between developed and developing countries, which had not been able to obtain more than 3 per cent of their need for vaccines. A democratic and equitable international order was essential to the promotion and protection of human rights. Speakers called for all States to join hands in defending the common values of humanity, namely peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, thus promoting and protecting human rights, and building a community with a shared future for human beings. Some speakers appreciated the presentation by the Independent Expert and fully supported the conclusions and recommendations of the report, in which he warned about the exacerbated effects of unilateral coercive measures in the context of the pandemic, demanding their immediate lifting. Without solidarity and international cooperation, it would not be possible to overcome the pandemic, they said, explaining that they would again present a draft resolution on international order.

Some speakers said it was necessary to ensure a fair, non-discriminatory approach to the certification of vaccine. At the same time, they considered dangerous the idea of vaccine manufacturers abandoning their intellectual property rights, since this would lead to mass counterfeiting of medicines and the loss of human lives. They further doubted that the initiative to conclude an international pandemic treaty would quickly solve the problem of COVID-19. Some speakers stated that the international community should practice genuine multilateralism, as under the banner of "democracy" and "human rights" States had been recklessly interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and indiscriminately imposing unilateral coercive measures based on lies and false information. They called on the international community to jointly resist this counter-current, defend genuine multilateralism and promote international cooperation. One speaker drew attention to the fact that the Independent Expert’s mandate did not include the reform of the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council, and, moreover, the creation of new United Nations bodies, which were not stipulated by the United Nations Charter. The speaker strongly recommended that the Independent Expert take this into account in his work.