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Secretary-General Highlights Europe’s Key Role as Bridge Builder to Safeguard Human Rights

Secretary-General Highlights Europe’s Key Role as Bridge Builder to Safeguard Human Rights, Tackle Climate Crisis, COVID-19 Worldwide, at European Parliament Session

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the plenary session of the European Parliament, in Brussels today:

It is a pleasure to finally be back in Brussels. Having myself been a member of the Portuguese Assembly for 17 years, I am particularly honoured to address the European Parliament.

We live at a time when the strategic partnership between the European Union and the United Nations is more indispensable than ever. And on behalf of the United Nations, let me begin with two words: Thank you.

You are the largest budgetary contributor to the United Nations system. In addition to the regular and peacekeeping budgets, the European Union and its Member States provide United Nations agencies with life-saving voluntary contributions. These funds go towards our development activities and other crucial aspects of our work, including human rights.

You are also the biggest humanitarian donor. In a global context of skyrocketing needs, with more than 34 million people on the brink of famine or famine-like conditions, you have significantly increased your humanitarian budget.

I thank you for working with the United Nations to help the most vulnerable populations in more than 170 countries. Thanks to the Spotlight Initiative, the European Union is our most important partner in our commitment to end violence against women and girls by 2030. And you have also supported efforts to adopt and implement the most ambitious institutional reforms of the United Nations in decades, making our organization more agile and fit for purpose in an ever-changing global environment.

Finally, in the context of an unprecedented global health crisis, I commend the European Union for reaffirming its solidarity and support for the COVAX facility, and for its “Team Europe” approach to help countries tackle the impact of the pandemic. And in these difficult times for all Europeans, I want to express my deepest condolences for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in your countries to the COVID-19 pandemic, including my own country, Portugal.

We are at a crossroads and the situation can go either way: breakdown or breakthrough. Breakdown and perpetual crisis — or breakthrough leading to a greener, safer and better future for all. I will do everything in my power to push for breakthroughs.

The pandemic has revealed our shared fragility, our interconnectedness, and the overwhelming need for collective action. Our biggest challenge — and greatest opportunity — is to use this crisis as a chance to pivot to a greener, fairer and more sustainable world. Contributing to more effective global cooperation to address global concerns is a priority for my second term in office. The driving theme is prevention in all its aspects: from conflict, climate change and pandemics to poverty and inequality.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed utterly inadequate health systems, huge gaps in social protection, and major structural inequalities within and between countries. While some countries are slowly starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the virus remains a threatening reality in many places around the world — and therefore to us all.

The pandemic is causing more deaths today than a year ago. And vaccines are our only way out of this crisis. They must be considered as a global public good, available and affordable to all. Vaccine equity is not only the greatest moral test of our times. It is also a matter of effectiveness. As the virus tends to mutate, nobody is safe until we are all vaccinated. And sadly, the world is not rising to the occasion.

We face the spectre of a divided world and a lost decade for development. Unless the African continent receives 225 million additional doses, almost 90 per cent of African countries are set to miss the September target of vaccinating 10 per cent of their people. And if we want to get 75 per cent of the world’s population vaccinated, we need not one but 11 billion doses.

We must step up the global vaccination effort. As I reiterated at the G7 [Group of Seven] meeting, we need a global vaccination plan. Vaccine-producing countries — and those that will be able to do so if supported — must come together in an emergency task force, supported by the World Health Organization, the vaccine alliance GAVI, and international financial institutions.

Such a task force would need to be able to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry actors. It would aim to define and implement a global vaccination plan to ensure the vaccination of the entire world population as early as possible in 2022.

And that requires exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights. Addressing supply chain bottlenecks is also critical to scaling up production rapidly around the world. And the European Union must use its leverage as a global actor to help in this effort and ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for all.

From the outset of the pandemic, the United Nations mobilized early and in a comprehensive manner. We led a global health response, provided life-saving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, established instruments for rapid responses to the socioeconomic impact, and laid out a broad policy agenda for action on all fronts. We also provided logistics, common services and operational support to Governments and other partners around the world as they mounted national responses to this unprecedented global challenge.

But as we start to draw lessons from the pandemic, we must ensure that the world never again faces a crisis of this magnitude unprepared. And that requires sustained investment, global solidarity and collaboration to strengthen local, national and regional capacities.

I welcome the report of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, led by Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, calling for a new global system to respond faster to disease outbreaks. And I also support last month’s decision by the World Health Organization to hold a special session in November 2021 to consider developing a new international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response. And that should include an increased authority of the World Health Organization, namely on information gathering, sharing and evaluation. No single country can address pandemics and global health emergencies alone.

Mesdames et Messieurs les députés,

La pandémie a également mis en évidence et amplifié des inégalités économiques, sociales et environnementales criantes, y compris en Europe.

Dans de nombreux pays, elle a accentué les problèmes structurels tels que les capacités sanitaires limitées, les systèmes éducatifs inadaptés et les limites de l'administration publique. Ceci remet en cause des décennies de progrès.

La pandémie est également une occasion unique de forger des sociétés plus durables, plus résilientes et plus justes.

Mais une fois de plus, nous voyons des inégalités choquantes entre les pays développés et les pays en développement.

Alors que certains pays peuvent mobiliser des milliers de milliards pour relancer leurs économies, des régions entières, notamment dans l’hémisphère sud, sont abandonnées à elles-mêmes.

Alors que les économies avancées investissent près de 28 pour cent de leur PIB annuel dans les plans de relance, les pays émergents et à revenu intermédiaire ne peuvent mobiliser que l’équivalent de 6,5 pour cent de leur PIB.

Et ce chiffre tombe à 1,8 pour cent pour les pays les moins avancés.

Soit plus de quinze fois moins.

Et les conséquences sont immédiates.

Si pour l’année en cours, les projections de croissance de l’économie mondiale sont de 5,6 pour cent, elles ne sont que de 3,4 pour cent pour le continent africain.

C’est une tragédie africaine en marche.

Tout cela freine bien évidemment la lutte contre la pandémie, et risque de creuser davantage encore les inégalités.

Des centaines de millions de personnes sont tombées dans la pauvreté.

Des pays sont au bord du défaut de paiement.

La moitié de la population mondiale n'a pas accès aux services de santé dont elle a besoin.

Et pendant ce temps, rien que l'année dernière, la richesse des plus fortunés a augmenté de 5 000 milliards de dollars.

Je réitère mon appel aux gouvernements pour qu'ils envisagent une taxe de solidarité ou un impôt sur la fortune pour celles et ceux qui ont profité de la pandémie, afin de financer la relance socio-économique.

Mais au-delà, les pays en développement doivent avoir accès à des liquidités supplémentaires.

Dans ce contexte, je renouvelle mon appel à soutenir les personnes et les pays les plus vulnérables, y compris, si nécessaire, par un allègement de la dette.

Si nous voulons éviter une plus grande crise économique, nous devons mettre en place un mécanisme mondial qui renforce la transparence et la viabilité de la dette.

Cela nécessite également d'étendre l’accès des initiatives en matière d’allègement de la dette à tous les pays en développement et à revenu intermédiaire dans le besoin.

Je suis encouragé du soutien pour une nouvelle allocation de Droits de tirage spéciaux par le Fonds Monétaire International et la réaffectation des Droits inutilisés pour soutenir les pays vulnérables.

J’espère pouvoir compter sur votre soutien.

Mais nous devons aller bien au-delà.

Nous avons besoin de mesures audacieuses et ambitieuses.

Et plus que jamais, l´Agenda 2030 et les Objectifs de développement durable doivent constituer notre feuille de route collective.

This brings me to another global fragility: the state of our planet. On the climate front, the European Union has shown the way with the Green Deal, a commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, a higher 2030 target and just transition plans — also thanks to you, members of the European Parliament.

The global coalition for net-zero emissions is gaining momentum, and countries representing 70 per cent of the world economy and 65 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions have now committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.

This drive for net-zero emissions must become the new normal for everyone, everywhere — every country, company, city and financial institution, including key sectors such as aviation, shipping, industry and agriculture. And all commitments to net zero must be underpinned by clear dates to end fossil fuel subsidies and finance, as well as credible plans to halve emissions by 2030 at the latest.

We also need to re-establish trust between developed and developing countries. And we once again look to the European Union to become a powerful bridge-builder in the run-up to COP26 [Twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)].

The way to do so is by fulfilling the promises that were made in Paris, namely regarding the mobilization of $100 billion of support to developing countries, every year. And this is not a symbolic pledge, it is a vital commitment. We can only ask for more ambition if we provide additional support. And a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience must also be a global priority.

With many countries on the frontline of the climate crisis, we have a moral imperative and a clear economic case for supporting developing countries to adapt and build resilience to current and future climate impacts. And this requires adequate and predictable financing. Yet, adaptation represents a mere 21 per cent of climate-related financial support to developing countries.

I reiterate my call to donors and multilateral development banks to ensure that at least 50 per cent of climate finance is for adaption and resilience. The success of COP26 rests on achieving a breakthrough on adaptation and finance. I urge European countries to step up their technical and financial support to developing countries well ahead of the COP26.

Lawlessness in cyberspace represents another growing fragility. COVID-19 has laid bare both the potential and the challenges of digital technologies. Today, the online world is largely dominated by commercial interests and shaped in ways that do not always serve the public interest. Advertising models amplify sensationalist and misleading content. Big tech companies exercise extraordinary control over issues that profoundly affect people’s lives.

We need to have a say in the use of our data, which is not only used for targeted advertising, but also to manipulate our perceptions and to shape our behaviour. And surveillance and manipulation are also used by some States to control populations in undemocratic ways. Violence and harassment online targeting women and girls have massively increased, causing devastating damage and pushing many women out of the public conversation. And virtual threats have real life consequences.

We are no longer questioning if regulation is needed but asking what type of “good regulation” should be put in place. And we must address cyber insecurity and reclaim the online space as a public good. And confront hate speech, misinformation and human rights abuses.

And this also applies to artificial intelligence. Human beings must remain in control and lethal autonomous weapons must be banned. We must strengthen global governance in a domain where it is largely missing and ensure diversity in those who create and develop new technology, so that we do not amplify inequalities. This call for global action is the foundation of the United Nations Roadmap for Digital Cooperation issued last year.

The European Union is the world’s prime proponent of a more open, inclusive and secure digital future for all, and of safeguarding human rights online. From cybersecurity governance and open data to net neutrality and the digitalization of public services, the European Union has demonstrated global leadership and set global standards.

The international community has much to learn from the human-centric European approach to digital transformation, digital rights, consumer protection, privacy, and the ethical development of artificial intelligence. And we must close the digital divide and ensure that the 3.7 billion people currently excluded from the digital realm gain access as a matter of urgency. The aim is an open, free and secure digital future.

Senhoras Deputadas e Senhores Deputados,

As debilidades e constrangimentos que acabo de descrever não só se reforçam mutuamente, como se repercutem, também, nos domínios da paz e da segurança, agravando muitas das situações de conflito que o mundo conhece.

A incerteza gerada pela pandemia é explorada por grupos extremistas que não hesitam em recorrer à violência.

Vários países deparam-se, mesmo, com um círculo vicioso – a conflitualidade gera pobreza e vulnerabilidades, as quais, por sua vez, diminuem a resiliência das sociedades e as perspetivas de paz.

As novas ameaças suscitadas pelo terrorismo global e regional interligam-se, cada vez mais, com as dinâmicas dos conflitos.

E ao mesmo tempo, a persistência generalizada, em vários pontos do globo, de discriminação e violência baseadas no género constitui uma fonte de enorme sofrimento e um impedimento ao desenvolvimento harmonioso das sociedades.

Devemos continuar a prosseguir todas as vias diplomáticas suscetíveis de gerar soluções políticas para os conflitos, combatendo ao mesmo tempo as suas causas profundas.

Mas tão ou mais importante que resolver conflitos é evitá-los. A prevenção tem de tornar-se a nossa primeira prioridade.

Devemos reforçar a nossa capacidade coletiva de antecipar, prevenir e enfrentar riscos e ameaças, mobilizando Governos e a sociedade civil.

E o vosso apoio às missões de acompanhamento e monitorização de atos eleitorais constitui um exemplo de prevenção e mediação, nomeadamente em relação aos países vizinhos da União.

Señoras deputadas y señores deputados:

Los desafíos a la paz y la seguridad a los que nos enfrentamos hoy en día serán probablemente aún más complejos en los próximos años.

Nuevas áreas de fractura y enfrentamientos geopolíticos se están desarrollando en el ámbito cibernético.

Todo ello requiere más cooperación internacional, no menos.

Pero necesitamos un enfoque renovado – más eficaz – de la gobernanza mundial y la cooperación internacional, basado en valores comunes y responsabilidades compartidas y con los derechos humanos en su centro.

Necesitamos un multilateralismo en red, que incluya a todas las organizaciones multilaterales, regionales y subregionales, a las instituciones financieras internacionales y a los bancos de desarrollo.

Y necesitamos un multilateralismo inclusivo, basado en una interacción profunda con la juventud, con las mujeres, el sector privado y el conjunto de la sociedad civil, las autoridades locales, las instituciones académicas y filantrópicas.

Y debemos aprender de las lecciones de la crisis actual y examinar los ámbitos en los que necesitamos una mayor y mejor gobernanza, como las vacunas y otros bienes públicos globales.

The United Nations and the European Union have much in common. Both organizations were built on shared principles and a strong commitment to the international rule of law, with the aim to prevent past tragedies and build a more peaceful and prosperous world. We both aspire to put human rights at the forefront of our efforts.

Last year, I launched “The Call to Action for Human Rights”, a comprehensive framework to advance our most important work — from sustainable development to climate action, from protecting fundamental freedoms to gender equality, the preservation of civic space and ensuring that digital technology is a force for good.

Since then, the ongoing global health crisis has highlighted the indivisibility and interconnectedness of the full spectrum of human rights: civil, political, cultural, economic and social. And it has shown how easily some hard-earned gains can be undone. Using the pandemic as a pretext, some authorities around the world have deployed heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to criminalize dissent and basic freedoms and subvert electoral processes.

And the pandemic has also exacerbated entrenched discrimination against women and girls. Violence against women and girls in all forms has exploded, from domestic violence to online abuse, sexual exploitation and child marriage.

I welcome your efforts to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law worldwide. But we must also protect vulnerable people within the European Union’s borders. The rights of refugees and asylum seekers are protected by international law, regardless of how they arrive in a country.

As a fellow European and former Head of Government, I know that migrants and refugees are not a threat but a valuable contribution to our continent. As former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, I have seen what it means to rebuild your life while finding the strength to enrich the lives of others.

We must ensure the integrity of the international refugee protection regime. We must increase our support and solidarity with refugee-hosting countries. And we must pursue international cooperation among countries of origin, transit and destination to promote regular, safe and orderly pathways for migration.

Leaders — in all sectors of society — must invest in social cohesion, so that every community feels valued.

The European Union has brought decades of peace and prosperity and serves as an inspiration to the world. Over the decades, it has become a vital partner for the United Nations. Today, as the world is facing unprecedented challenges and transformations, the European Union must champion universal values and fundamental rights and help lead the way.

And in a context of distrust between State and society, the role of the European Parliament for building shared understandings is more crucial than ever. Parliaments are the beating heart of democracy. You are the bridge between politics and people. Your representation of your citizens — especially the most vulnerable — will be key to regain trust. And together, build a more sustainable, just and resilient future.

And I thank you.


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