Hello big media – UN speeches

Yesterday, d. On February 6, the UN Secretary-General presented his priorities for 2023. At a time when the UN and the UN Charter should be receiving massive and intense attention, it is thought-provoking that none of the leading Danish media have given column space or airtime to António Guterres’ speech. At least not at the time of writing, the day after the speech was given.

We have selected the sections that are most directly relevant to CICED’ s work, and we have therefore also taken the liberty of slightly changing the order of the sections. 

Guteress’ speech is at once a frightening analysis of the state of the world and an uplifting message of far-reaching and progressive initiatives. Our (unofficial) translation of the full speech can be read/downloaded at the bottom of the article.

Rights-based approach 

This year, Guterres emphasized the need for transformation based on the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“As we look at the priorities for this year, a rights-based approach is central to achieving our ultimate priority: a more secure, more peaceful and more sustainable world,” he said, urging countries to “act decisively before it is too late”.

Recommitment to the UN Charter

“If all countries fulfilled their obligations under the Charter, the right to peace would be assured,” he said. “It’s time to change our approach to peace by reinstating the Charter – putting human rights and dignity first and prevention at the center.”

The Secretary-General called for “a holistic view of the peace continuum” that identifies the root causes of conflict and focuses on prevention, mediation, reconciliation, peacebuilding and greater participation of women and youth.

These are among the UN’s proposed new agenda for peace, which aims to address both old and new threats and maximize coalitions for diplomacy, as evidenced by the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is operating even in the midst of the war in Ukraine.

Transform global finance

With poverty and hunger on the rise, developing countries drowning in debt, and social safety nets eroding, among other signs, the Secretary-General called for a “radical transformation” of the global financial architecture.

This will require renewed commitment and determination, including to address the terrible inequalities and injustices revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to the global crisis.

New determination will also be needed to ensure that developing countries have a greater voice in global financial institutions and that vulnerable nations, including middle-income countries, can access debt relief and restructuring.

Multilateral development banks in particular need to change their business model and use their funds to attract more private capital that can be invested to help developing countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 deadline.

“Without fundamental reforms, the richest countries and individuals will continue to accumulate wealth and leave crumbs for communities and countries in the Global South,” he warned.

The climate action “showdown

As the right to development goes hand in hand with the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, “we must put an end to the merciless, relentless and senseless war against nature,” Guterres said, echoing a message that has become a mantra of his tenure.

“2023 is a year of reckoning. It has to be a year of climate action that changes everything. We need disruption to stop the destruction.”

With countries heading above the 1.5 degree limit for global temperature rise, the focus must be on the urgent priorities of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving climate justice.

Diversity under attack 

Regarding his fourth priority, Guterres spoke about how respect for diversity and the universality of cultural rights are under attack, as evidenced by the rise of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, persecution of Christians, racism and white supremacist ideology.

At the same time, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees, immigrants, indigenous peoples and the LGBTQ-plus community are increasingly becoming targets of hate, both online and offline.

Meanwhile, many people in positions of power profit from caricaturing diversity as a threat and sowing division and hatred, while social media platforms use algorithms that amplify toxic ideas and bring extremist views into the mainstream.

Patriarchy pushes back

With half of humanity “detained by the most widespread human rights violation of our time”, the UN chief emphasized the right to full gender equality.

He particularly highlighted the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, who are now “exiled in their own country” due to laws that prohibit them from entering public life, and their counterparts in Iran, who have taken to the streets to demand basic human rights at great personal cost.

Gender discrimination is global, he said, and things are getting worse and worse.

“We are facing intense opposition to the rights of women and girls. Women’s sexual and reproductive rights and legal protections are under threat. At the international level, some governments are now opposed to even including a gender perspective in multilateral negotiations,” he said.

Gender equality is fundamentally a question of power and patriarchy is reasserting itself, he said, but the UN is fighting back and defending the rights of women and girls everywhere, including within its own ranks.

Guterres also pledged to “redouble” support for measures for greater gender equality, including quotas to reduce disparities in women’s representation in elections, in corporate boardrooms and in peace negotiations.

Pandemic” violation of rights

Meanwhile, the civil and political rights that are the foundation of inclusive societies are also under threat as democracy is in retreat.

“The pandemic was used as a cover for a pandemic of violations of civil and political rights”, Guterres said, warning that civil space is “disappearing before our eyes”.

He outlined threats such as repressive laws that limit freedom of expression, new technologies that serve as a cover to control freedom of assembly or even freedom of movement, and the increasing attacks on the media.

Through the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, the UN works to promote fundamental freedoms, foster civil society participation and protect civil space around the world.

“And we are strengthening our support for laws and policies that protect the right to participation and the right to freedom of expression, including free and independent media,” he added.

Read António Guterres’ full speech here:

Secretary General’s briefing to the General Assembly on priorities for 2023.pdf
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