UNRC Statement at the Human Rights Council - Building Back Better: Integrating Human Rights in Sustainable and Resilient Recovery from the COVID19 pandemic

Serbia UNRC Statement at the Human Rights Council

Excellencies and colleagues,

Thank you for inviting me to  share the perspective from Serbia.  

  1. First I would like to recognise that a new Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and social dialogue was created in the cabinet appointed in Serbia in November 2020. This gives a prominent platform to work towards the full realization of the Rights agenda, support Serbia’s commitments to international frameworks, and ensure that people are at the center of Serbia’s post Covid development ambitions.
  2. In Serbia like elsewhere, we struggled with the inherent contradictions between the restrictive measures imposed to stop the pandemic, and the human rights and individual freedom standards. ALL groups traditionally experiencing exclusion and discrimination have faced negative impact of COVID (persons with disabilities, Roma minority, LGBTI, older persons, workers in informal sector). There were also distinct issues with the media. While the Serbia government acted quickly on both the health and the social protection fronts, the pandemic created new vulnerabilities and insecurities, putting a larger share of the population at risk, and fragilizing the functioning of democratic institutions.
  3. The biggest game changer for addressing these inequalities was the immediate and close collaboration between the government, the United Nations, the European Union and other development partners. Besides the specific health response supported by WHO, we had a central anchor within the office of the prime minister, with whom we coordinated the outreach response to all groups at risk. We had direct operational lines with other institutions dealing with social affairs, care homes, refugees and migrants. At the same time, we were giving regular briefings to UN Member states on COVID topics. That gave everyone a fair, real-time picture of what was happening, who was most impacted, where resources should be allocated. Good coordination and transparency were essential, and we want to keep this going.
  4. We expanded a dynamic interface between the civil society and the government, at the most critical times, to find practical solutions and mitigate the impact of the restrictions. At times in 2020, the Special Procedures under the Human Rights Council contributed to the mitigation efforts and upholding of human rights. We now want to build upon the acceleration of this dialogue, sustain it for addressing structural inequalities and promote meaningful engagement of all, in social, economic and political processes.
  5. We shaped the COVID19 Socio Economic Response plan jointly with many government partners, with a people centered approach, joint analysis and recommendations, which were shared in multiple platforms. We are already implementing several of these recommendations with our counterparts.
  6. We are now working hand in hand with the Ministry of Health on preparing the vaccination campaign. Vaccination has been part of the Human Rights narrative for a long time, but it has never as clear as now how access and prioritization, between people and between countries, can affect each of us, sometimes in life-threatening way. Let’s ensure equal access to vaccination to all groups at risk, wherever they are in the world. This is a perfect action under SDG 10;
  7. When it comes to SDG 16, we have a clear objective in our Covid recovery package, to focus on the rights agenda, gender equality, differentiated social protection schemes and the rule of law, all of this in support to the reform efforts within the EU accession ambitions.
  8. We want to work a lot closer with the private sector: it was both heavily impacted by COVID, and a source of innovative solutions to new challenges. But while workers, families, and small businesses are struggling to survive, elite billionaires and corporations have seen their wealth soar. Large businesses and investors have an increasing responsibility to not only respect human rights but to act meaningfully for the benefit of their employees, their clients, the environment, not just their shareholders. On the long term, this leads to greater benefits and wealth for the society.

To conclude, 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, in the spirit of Leaving No One Behind.

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