UN chief calls for vaccine equity at UN rights body meeting

February 23, 2021

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday stressed that COVID-19 vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.

"Vaccine equity affirms human rights, vaccine nationalism denies it," he said at the opening of the 46th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN chief described the latest failure to ensure equity in vaccination efforts as a kind of "moral outrage," as just ten countries have administered more than 75 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines.

"The pandemic revealed the interconnectedness of our human family -- and of the full spectrum of human rights -- civil, cultural, economic, political and social," he said.

Noting that COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing divides, vulnerabilities and inequalities, Guterres told the audience that the disease has taken a disproportionate toll on women, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples.

Progress on gender equality has been set back years, extreme poverty is rising for the first time in decades, he said.

The UN chief repeated the Human Rights Call to Action, saying that the focus will be on the blight of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as gender inequality.

He commended the Human Rights Council's decision to report on systemic racism, accountability and redress, and responses to peaceful anti-racism protests.

The UN Human Rights Council's 46th regular session is expected to last until March 23.

Opening the session, Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, welcomed all the participants and highlighted that this was the first almost entirely online session of the Council.

Volkan Bozkir, President of the UN General Assembly, noted at the opening of the session that the COVID-19 pandemic was not just a health crisis, but a human rights crisis, and therefore all responses must ensure that human rights were central.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the pandemic had ripped the mask off the deadly realities of discrimination and that today the medical impact of the pandemic was far from over, while its effects on economies, freedoms, societies, and people had only just begun.

Saying that countries need to seize the possibility to rebuild more inclusive systems in the post-COVID era, Bachelet also stressed the elimination of every form of discrimination in the process of a better recovery.