COVID-19-Related Violations to Dominate UN Rights Council Agenda 

COVID-19’s impact on efforts to combat gross human rights violations will be a major focus of the 46th regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council. The four-week session, which starts Monday in Geneva, will be held virtually because of the pandemic.  It will kick off with a three-day high-level segment when nine heads of state and other dignitaries from more than 130 countries will address the U.N. Human Rights Council by video.     U.N. officials say the vast majority of their statements are expected to focus on COVID-19.  The pandemic also will be the theme of a special panel discussion Monday on the fight against racism and discrimination and its exacerbating effects on these efforts.   Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth says the council should examine how various governments have used the pandemic as a pretext to entrench their power by cracking down on the opposition.   He cites the example of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who seized power for a while to rule by decree without parliamentary legislation. ”Another example was the recent elections in Uganda, where President [Yoweri] Musevani used the pandemic as a pretext to preclude campaigning by his main opponent, Bobi Wine,” he said. “The repeated use of deadly violence, the arrest of people, the repeated arrest, the national beating of Bobi Wine.  You know, many of this just using the pandemic as pretext.”   Special panel discussions will be devoted to issues such as the death penalty, children’s rights, and the rights of people with disabilities.  The human rights records of numerous countries will come under council scrutiny.   A scathing report by U.N. Human Rights chief Michele Bachelet on Sri Lanka’s failure to address past violations and impunity for grave human rights violations will be reviewed.   Other highlights include the examination of Myanmar’s military coup, and continuing violations in countries such as Belarus, Venezuela, Iran, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and North Korea.  The list is long.   U.N. and human rights activists welcome U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the council, nearly three years after former President Donald Trump’s administration quit the body.    They say they hope the U.S. will use its muscle on the world stage to promote universal fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. 

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