A three-day high-level segment of the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was launched in a virtual format at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on February 22.
Gertrud Tauchammer, Editor-in-Chief of Society Magazine, Tourism Brand Ambassador of Uzbekistan to Austria
On the first day, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile, dozens of heads of state and government, and foreign ministers made speeches at the event. High representatives from about 150 countries of the world will speak during the 46th session of the UNHRC, which will continue over three weeks.
The first day of the UNHRC session has already set the tone for all subsequent discussions on issues of defending human rights in the world. The keynote speeches focused on the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inequality and the emergence of new human rights concerns. Many speakers raised questions about the rule of law around the world, including in Myanmar. The current session of the Council is also notable for the fact that the United States will officially re-engage with the UNHRC as an observer after a three-year break.
However, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was the first to deliver the speech at the session, became a real opening of the forum. According to observers, President Mirziyoyev’s address in the HRC session was historical and extraordinary, and there are several reasons for this.
First, Uzbekistan became a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in October 2020, gaining the largest number of votes in the Asia-Pacific regional group – 169.
It is well known that the Human Rights Council is one of the most authoritative intergovernmental bodies of the UN system, dedicated to protecting human rights around the world. All UN member states participate in the work of the UNHRC, but decisions are made only by 47 member countries of the Council. The Human Rights Council’s founding resolution says it expects members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and to cooperate fully with the Council”.
The election of Uzbekistan to this largest UN human rights structure was a recognition of its progress in the consistent strengthening and protection of universal human rights and freedoms, as well as vivid evidence of a strong commitment to active international cooperation in this area.
Second, the President of Uzbekistan addresses the UNHRC session for the first time. It was hard to imagine five years ago because the previous Government of Uzbekistan was subject to constant criticism from various human rights organizations. The progress on human rights issues achieved in this country in recent years is not only impressive but also inspiring, becoming an example for other countries in the region.
Uzbekistan has managed to completely eradicate child labor, eliminate the so-called “blacklist” of extremist organizations’ members, ensure accountability of state authorities to citizens, and take specific steps to ensure freedom of speech and the media, and much more. The U.S. State Department excluded Uzbekistan from a special watch list for violation of religious rights in December 2020. Uzbekistan has joined more than 80 international human rights conventions, including six basic treaties and four optional UN protocols. The adoption of the National Strategy of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Human Rights in June 2020 was a big step towards the implementation of human rights policy. Soon, the Government plans to introduce several new draft laws – “On public events”, “On equal treatment and non-discrimination”, as well as a draft Code on non-governmental organizations.
Third, during his speech, President Mirziyoyev proposed several ambitious initiatives, which indicates that the country will not stop implementing its reform agenda. He announced the readiness to adopt additional obligations on increasing the role of women in the public, political, and business spheres, ensuring further protection of youth rights, children, and people with disabilities.
The Government has already done a lot in all these areas. For example, Uzbekistan has adopted a strategy for achieving gender equality until 2030; the number of women in the parliament of Uzbekistan has doubled. A new Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been adopted; shortly, the Parliament of Uzbekistan will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 2021 has been declared the Year of Support for Youth and Public Health in Uzbekistan.
Demonstrating a personal example on human rights protection, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev called on the international community to move ahead and to take steps that are more effective in the human dimension. He proposed to establish a Regional Council regarding the self-realization of persons with disabilities, hold the World Conference on Youth Rights under the UN auspices, and take decisive measures to reduce the number of stateless persons. During his speech, President Mirziyoyev stressed that only last year 50k people acquired citizenship of Uzbekistan, this year more than 20k people will receive citizenship.
Despite all the successes achieved, the Government of Uzbekistan recognizes the ongoing problems on human rights protection in the country, and much remains to be done. The country’s leadership declares that it does not intend to turn off the planned path of reforms, prioritizing the interests of citizens.
It is undoubtedly gratifying to watch the widespread voluntary reforms in the field of democratization and liberalization in a country that was once closed not only to the international community but also to its population. At a time when many governments are taking restrictive measures and obstacles to civil society, including due to the coronavirus pandemic, positive news from Uzbekistan is like a “breath of fresh air” in the protection of universal human rights in the world.