UNRC opening remarks at the high level event - Human Rights Day 2020

RC's remarks at the high level event Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic-COVID19 on the Situation of Human Rights in Serbia co-organized by the UN and the Government

Madame Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, Madame Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialog, Gordana Comic, Excellencies and colleagues,

I am happy to celebrate this day knowing that Human Rights now have a prominent home in the new cabinet of Serbia, that is, a ministry dedicated to the full realization of the Rights agenda, which can support Serbia’s commitments to international treaties and frameworks.

I am also happy that this celebration is led by the head of the government Ms Brnabic.

These are 2 important signals that the country leadership is committed to make significant steps forward in the Human Rights agenda and place the people at the center of Serbia’s development ambitions. This should be a whole of government effort.

This year, we celebrate Human Rights Day in the midst of a global crisis. 2020 is also the year when the Rights agenda came back in our lives with full force. Each one of us, around the world, felt at one point or the other, that our freedom of movements, our rights, and our chances to a good life were affected.

Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, minorities including the Roma, workers in the informal sector, frontline workers, the poor. The crisis has revealed structural and long-term causes of neglect and discrimination, which continue to represent a threat to human dignity and rights.

All governments around the world, including in Serbia, have struggled with the inherent contradictions between the restrictive measures imposed to stop the pandemic, and the human rights standards. This has created new vulnerabilities and insecurities, putting a larger share of the population at risk, and fragilizing the overall functioning of democratic institutions.

The United Nations in Serbia has a responsibility to uphold the fundamental values and principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of human rights, and to support the country in reaching the ambitions of the international frameworks. In the past 9 months, the United Nations has worked hard, with our government counterparts, with the civil society and with the communities to find practical solutions to mitigate the impact of the restrictions, ensure that they are neither arbitrary nor discriminatory, advocate for greater proportionality. We have reached out to communities across the country to support everyone’s access to health care, to protection, and to basic services and infrastructure. We have not fully succeeded yet,

As we plan the recovery phase to Covid, along with the vaccination campaign, we are reminded today of the urgency to build forward better in a more inclusive way.

As a first priority, let’s work harder to eradicate long-existing inequalities intensified during the crisis. Through unified and systemic action, we can build a more tolerant and resilient society, increase the solidarity between generations and include refugees seeking protection from war. We will continue to work on reducing the gap between the rich and the poor, not just in terms of monetary value, but also in terms of living in a healthy, non-polluted environment, with access to all basic health and social services, decent jobs, and more.

Second, let’s invest further and enable a wider civic space, for true and meaningful engagement of the civil society and all people, in social and political processes, in engaging with and monitoring State and non-State actions, and strengthening accountability. As we hear from other parts of the world, including in Europe, trust, and a strong social contract, must be restored between the state and its people.

Third, as part of the COVID response, let’s ensure equal access to vaccination in accordance to human rights, which, in certain cases, will mean priority access and additional efforts vis-a-vis particular groups of our society.

Fourth, let us do everything in our power to truly engage with the young people in Serbia.  We need to make sure that their voice is heard on matters that affect them and create their future in Serbia.

Fifth, we often forget the role of the private sector in human rights discussion. Businesses, particularly large ones, and investors have an increasing responsibility not just to respect human rights but to prevent and mitigate actual and potential negative outcomes for people and the environment, in all forms. We know that on the long term, this leads to greater benefits and wealth for the society.

Finally: We encourage Serbia to intensify its efforts towards the ratification of several Optional Protocols, such as on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Children rights.

I like to conclude by stating that Rights come with Duties and Responsibilities for all citizens. Now is the time to push for a deeper change for the full realization of human rights, during and beyond Covid, based on solidarity, shared responsibility and mutual accountability.

Within the spirit of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, we want to leave no one behind.

Speech by
Françoise Jacob
UN Resident Coordinator
Françoise Jacob
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
United Nations