Dear Minister; Dear Governor; Dear Mayor, Dear Director,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a real pleasure to be here with you at the inauguration ceremony of the International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights at the Local and Regional Levels under the auspices of UNESCO. I have to tell you that this is my first international trip as ADG for Social and Human Sciences.
I could not miss this opportunity. The creation of the Centre carries a lot of symbolism; it is the first UNESCO centre worldwide dealing with human rights at the regional and local levels. Moreover, its establishment marks a major milestone for the host City of Graz: its 20th anniversary as a Human Rights City. Congratulations!
I would like to acknowledge the commitment and the leadership of Minister Schallenberg, Governor Shutzenhoffer, Mayor Nagl and Director Starl for making it happen.
The creation of the Centre is extremely timely. If achieving Agenda 2030 seemed an elusive goal at the SDG Summit of September 2019, the prospects for sustainable human development for all everywhere are significantly bleaker today.
Indeed, the COVID pandemic has brought to the fore all the vulnerabilities in our economies and societies, that ultimately have a negative impact on human rights.
Notably, it has revealed the depth of inequalities in all countries, exacerbating these phenomena, which left the most vulnerable further behind. Two areas require, in the words of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, our utmost attention: “racism, discrimination and xenophobia. And gender inequality.” I would add, that in our agenda, these problems should be tackled in the real and digital world, and this should be done based on science.
It is widely acknowledged that the pandemic has fuelled a wave of racial hatred worldwide; with a significant number of recorded incidents globally of physical attacks, hate speech and conspiracy theories targeting people belonging to racial, religious or ethnic minorities. Beyond their adverse effect on the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, structural racial inequalities have left these groups disproportionately exposed to the social impact of emergency measures; job losses; disruption of education; worsened housing conditions: and so on. Deep challenges, very often cumulatively.
COVID-19 impact has also intensified discrimination and violence against women and girls, who have seen 1.8 times higher exposure, according to the IMF, to lose their jobs and economic security. What is worst, violence has increased. According to UN-Women, “globally, there has been an increase from 30 to 50% violence in all countries, no matter the development level! If women were lagging behind, the situation only got worst.”
On top of this, and in a context of high insecurity and fear, we have also seen an increase in populism, nationalism and authoritarianism, all those -isms that do not augur well for people. Just this week, we witnessed a horrifying act against freedom of speech. Unfortunately, these violations are a recurrent thing in some countries.
So in this context, it is great to be in the City of Graz to remember what it means to have a human rights-based approach. It is great to celebrate the Centre and is it great to have such high-level political commitment from the Austrian Government. At UNESCO, we need this kind of leadership,
to counter the trends I have mentioned.
Moving forward, we need to recognize the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, in our policies and programmes.
When fighting poverty, we must address it in all its dimensions, economic but also social and cultural. When promoting the right to food, we should remember this is the basis for a better enjoyment of the right to education. When fostering freedom of expression and thought, it is not only about the media, but all scientists and creators. Given this complexity, we also need complex answers, that bring together all levels of government and all parts of our societies.
UNESCO places human rights standards and principles at the centre of all its interventions. In the Social and Human Sciences Sector, we have three flagships on which we would love to partner with you.
First: the fight against discrimination and racism. This has been core to our mandate since the establishment of UNESCO. But we were proud that in December 2020 the Organization adopted a global call against racism and committed to elaborating a Roadmap to take strong action.
The Roadmap will deliver an anti-racism toolkit, that will help us ensure that governments, at all levels, have strong frameworks – legal and institutional – to fight racism and discrimination.
We will work with our Member States, but also with the network of Inclusive Cities to roll over the toolkit. The Roadmap will benefit from well-established programmes in my sector, such as the Slave Route Project; the General History of Africa; the Master Class Series against Racism and Discrimination; the “Art-Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue”; and Intercultural Dialogue. We count on the City of Graz, the Centre and our partners to translate the Roadmap into meaningful action.
We are ensuring that this Roadmap has a strong gender angle. Gender progress is way too slow, and not it has been sent back, even in countries where equality is part of the legal frameworks. This is why we are launching a flagship programme to change mindsets, attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate gender stereotypes.
A network of women leaders and role models to reimagine leadership will be leveraged to inspire young girls and to break the mould that keeps their ambition low.
Second: putting the spotlight on a rights-based approach to science. UNESCO is particularly committed to advancing a human rights vision for science. While there is unanimity about the critical place of science in addressing the challenges of COVID-19 and in accelerating progress towards the SDGs, the human rights anchoring of science remains inconsistent.
This has implications even to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits of scientific progress – as we have witnessed with the access to vaccines. But the impact is much broader. A lack of human rights anchoring prevents the creation of a science ecosystem favourable to upholding universal values,
and to ensuring access to scientific knowledge, methodologies and data. It limits diversity amongst scientists and trust in science and science-driven decision-making. This message was clearly articulated at the Centre’s Human Rights Academy that I had the pleasure of attending in February last.
We want to upscale this important narrative, taking as a basis our milestone Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers (2017) which provides for a holistic rights-based vision for science of the sort I mentioned above.
Talking about science, I want to refer to the fact that UNESCO has been at the core of an ethical reflection on scientific progress, starting with the human genome. Today, we are in one of the most meaningful projects, which is to ensure that Artificial Intelligence is developed with ethical standards that uphold universal values, and respect and promote human rights. I know you may find this interesting, as Austria has been a leader of digital humanism, and this is exactly what the Recommendation aims at.
Unfortunately, we are far from technological developments that brings us together. We know the impact of malicious use of these technologies – with disinformation, hate speech, tampering with democratic processes. But there are also non-intended consequences that need to be better framed, such as decision-making processes with incomplete datasets,
or with biased algorithms. This is happening, and this is why, with the Recommendation, UNESCO is ensuring human oversight and control of technological developments. We need the full rule of law online as much as we do offline.
Third: whole of government/whole of society approaches: the role of cities. Finally, to advance these meaningful agendas, we need everybody on board. National, regional and local governments. Businesses, civil society, academia. This is why we are so pleased to be here.
Since 2004, UNESCO has invested in mobilizing local governments and concerned stakeholders through its International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR. With more than 500 members worldwide, ICCAR promotes, through its seven regional and national branches, multistakeholder dialogue, mutual learning and joint action for inclusive development.
Much of the progress made throughout the years in the European region is due to the active involvement of Austrian cities, notably Graz and Vienna. The leadership of Graz’s Mayor and the City have been a source of inspiration for the network. Similarly, the association absorbed by the Graz Centre,
the ETC, has been a loyal partner, contributing with technical advice to steering ICCAR’s European branch.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of this event, the creation of the Centre, and the leadership of the Government of Austria at different levels. We count on you to continue pushing this agenda in UNESCO, and to ensure that the initiatives that I mentioned above deliver for good.
We are living uncertain times. Times of fear, times where trust is not high. But I am hopeful that we can make meaningful contributions to advancing better ways. Better ways based on full respect and promotion of human rights, and based on cooperation with powerful actors such as the one we have today with us. Count on UNESCO to advance this agenda, and we are looking forward to a wonderful new chapter of our already 70-years successful cooperation.
Thank you very much.