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Human Rights Violations Eroding Fundamental Freedoms Globally, Bachelet Says

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is seen on a screen as she speaks via video-link during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Feb. 25, 2021.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns a proliferation of human rights violations around the world is eroding fundamental freedoms and heightening grievances that are destabilizing.

Presenting a global update Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva,
Bachelet zipped through a long litany of global offenders. No region was spared. Few countries emerged with clean hands.

She criticized repressive policies in powerful countries such as Russia, which she said enacted new legal provisions late last year that further limited fundamental freedoms.

“Existing restrictive laws have continued to be harshly enforced, including during recent demonstrations across the country. On several occasions, police were filmed using unnecessary and disproportionate force against largely peaceful protesters and made thousands of arrests,” she said.

Bachelet noted problems in the U.S. with systemic racism. She took the European Union to task for anti-migrant restrictions that put lives in jeopardy. She denounced the shrinking civic space across Southeast Asia, condemning the military coup in Myanmar and death squads in the Philippines.

She condemned corrupt, discriminatory and abusive practices in Venezuela, Honduras and other countries in the Americas that have forced millions of people to flee for their lives. She deplored the terrible suffering of millions of people victimized by conflicts in the Middle East.

Specifically, Bachelet expressed concern about alleged abuses committed by all parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. She called for a credible investigation into allegations of mass killings, extrajudicial executions, and other attacks on civilians, including sexual violence in the province.

“I am also disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray—some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces. At least 15,000 Eritreans who had taken refuge are unaccounted for following the destruction of their shelters. Coupled with growing insecurity in other parts of Ethiopia, the conflict in Tigray could have serious impact on regional stability and human rights,” she said.

Bachelet called on the Ugandan government to refrain from using regulations to combat COVID-19 to arrest and detain political opponents and journalists. And, she warned of the dangers posed by apparent official attempts in neighboring Tanzania to deny the reality of COVID-19.

“Including measures to criminalize recognition of the pandemic and related information. This could have serious impact on Tanzanians’ right to health. I note reports of pushbacks of hundreds of asylum seekers from Mozambique and the DRC, as well as continued reports of torture, enforced disappearances and forced returns of Burundian refugees,” she said.

Bachelet noted people in every region of the world were being left behind and excluded from development and other opportunities as the coronavirus pandemic continued to gather pace. She said building trust and maintaining and expanding freedoms were central to global efforts to contain and crush the coronavirus.