Madame President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to address you today on behalf of the Republic of Estonia.
I would like to start with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt who played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
”What you don’t do can be destructive.” End of quote.
How relevant it still sounds today, when international organisations must play an increasingly active role in defending human rights around the world.
Allow me, at this point, to welcome the decision of the United States to reengage with the UN Human Rights Council.
To maintain and secure international stability, the three pillars of the United Nations system – human rights, peace and security, and development – have to be increasingly integrated and form one powerful pillar with various facets. We support the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights in this regard and hope that tangible actions will follow.
The protection of human rights is crucial for preventing violence and serious security threats. It is particularly dangerous and completely unacceptable when state authorities use violence against human rights defenders. These are the reasons why Estonia, as a member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly brought urgent human rights issues to the agenda of Security Council meetings.
At a time when we are simultaneously learning how to fight COVID-19 and trying to cope with life during the pandemic, we must be even more committed and attentive to defending people and their rights. At home, in our neighbourhood and worldwide. We must resist all attempts to use the pandemic as a pretext for undermining human rights. Any effective response must be based on solidarity and cooperation.
Women human rights defenders, who are often working in life-threatening circumstances, are particularly exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. There is mounting evidence that systematic and state-led strategies are used to silence defenders. Moreover, human rights defenders cooperating with the UN are often facing reprisals and must fear for their life. We must document incidents of violence and demand that those responsible are brought to justice. More importantly, we must do everything we can to prevent such acts of violence.
There has also been an increasing number of detentions and attacks against journalists, media workers and bloggers. We are gravely concerned about the lack of accountability and the impunity of perpetrators – this has to be stopped. Let me reiterate that free, independent and pluralistic media, both online and offline, is a crucial element of vital and strong democracies, and also critical for the response to and recovery from the pandemic.
Estonia has been vocal in advocating for a free and secure internet and stresses the importance of freedom of expression online and offline. We are deeply concerned about the growing trend of some governments restricting access to or even shutting down the internet to silence dissenting voices. Recent examples include the actions taken by those who seized power in a military coup in Myanmar. It is our joint obligation to stand up for freedom of expression and the principles of an open, free, secure, interoperable and reliable internet.
One of the ways Estonia is contributing to the promotion of these principles is its membership in the Freedom Online Coalition and the Media Freedom Coalition. In this capacity, we are glad to host the Global Conference for Media Freedom in Tallinn this year.
Estonia remains a strong supporter of the rights of indigenous peoples, including the participation of their representatives and institutions in meetings of relevant UN bodies on issues affecting them. We draw attention to the critical loss of, and urgent need to preserve and promote indigenous languages. The disappearance of a language, even a small one, means that the world has become poorer by one culture.
Estonia actively supports and promotes international efforts towards gender equality, the full enjoyment of all human rights by all women and girls and their empowerment. We continue to prevent and combat all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, offline and online, and hold perpetrators accountable. We reject any attempts to undermine the agreed normative framework and support progress concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights. To this end, we are actively participating in the core group of the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.
Estonia continues to strongly oppose all forms of discrimination, including on grounds of race, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, religion, political opinion and disability. All persons have the inalienable right to enjoy fundamental freedoms and a full range of human rights.
Estonia is deeply concerned about the developments that have taken place in recent months in the European Union’s immediate neighbourhood, Belarus and Russia.
In Belarus, after forged elections, the people took to the streets to demand new and fair elections peacefully. The authorities responded with unprecedented brutality and mass violence. We have learned about detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, rape, and other forms of horror and humiliation carried out on a mass scale. There are victims who have been killed by militarised special forces. These are crimes against peaceful protesters standing up for their right to be respected. The ongoing repressions against journalists seriously undermine the international community’s objective view of the situation in Belarus.
Unacceptable harsh tactics against protesters and journalists were used in cities throughout Russia. Tens of thousands of people gathered peacefully to protest against the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who, in August, had been poisoned with a military chemical nerve agent of the Novichok group. Thousands of peaceful protesters were detained in Russia. This has followed years of tightening restrictions on and repressive actions against civil society, independent media, and the political opposition.
As a member of the UN Security Council, Estonia considers conflict prevention an essential part of the Security Council’s activities and human rights violations an early warning of potential, more serious conflicts. It is highly important for all countries to cooperate and give access to Special Procedure mandate holders. Active and principled actions in protecting and promoting human rights are essential for global peace and security.
I wish you a successful session.