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Coronavirus Prompts Cancellation of Human Rights Events at UN

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The United Nations has canceled hundreds of human rights events because of coronavirus concerns in accord with the Swiss government’s decision to ban all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

In announcing the decision, the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, tells delegates she has received an urgent letter from the U.N. director-general in Geneva, spelling out measures that have to be taken in light of the coronavirus situation.

“The director-general specified that that would entail canceling all side events and encouraging representatives to refrain from traveling to Geneva for the rest of the session," said Tichy-Fisslberger. "She also suggested that those special procedure mandate holders who are not already in Geneva could be encouraged to participate in the session via video conferencing.”

Late last week, Swiss authorities took the unprecedented step of prohibiting large public events in response to a growing number of coronavirus cases. As a consequence, events such as the International Motor Show, which attracts a half-million people and Swiss watch exhibits, which draw enthusiastic crowds of thousands of people, have been canceled.

Human Rights spokesman Rolando Gomez says 200 side events will be canceled until the end of this council session on March 20. He says that is an unfortunate, but responsible measure to take in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

He tells VOA the meetings generally attract on average 4,000 to 6,000 participants during the course of the session. He says those side events are very important.

“I should point out just as a technical note they are not official council side events," said Gomez. "They take place in parallel and they are important as they inform the discussions in the formal proceedings. Of course, those lobbying efforts will continue unabated, which are important.”

Side events are organized by non-governmental organizations and states. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also has spent a lot of time and effort in organizing several gatherings aimed at exploring particular aspects of human rights that demand a more comprehensive hearing and analysis. They will not be held.

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