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The Future of Human Rights: Part 2: Birgit Van Hout

An event organised by the LIMUN Foundation, on 28th Aug 2020.

The pannel: Birigt Van Hout, Ambassador Jan Eliasson and Dr Youssef Mahmoud





Birgit Van Hout: Regional Representative for Europe for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

Birgit Van Hout continues this conversation, to discuss what she believes will be the future of Human Rights. She argues that today Human Rights are being questions and that they have even stepped back. Last year, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. The creation of the UN brought hope, the hope that it inaugurated the end of tyranny and war and the hope to create a new world, she adds. The aspirations of the UN charter were further developed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Ambassador Eliasson has previously touched upon. It was several decades after the adoption of the UN charter, that institutions like the international Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which Birgit Van Hout represents, were created. She explains, “our mandate is to protect and protect Human Rights around the world”.

The role of the UN

Since 1945, she believes that we have come a long way, the wave of decolonisation presents the UN’s first great success, many nations became independent. The UN also played a vital role in dismembering apartheid in South Africa, as racism had always been important in the organisation. She notices how today many countries have established Human Rights laws and institutions and are key actors in responding the HR violations. The language of Human Rights is becoming increasingly popular and popularised in society and in nations around the world, to articulate their demands such as the Black Lives Matters movement. Therefore, she adds, Human Rights has given us the vocabulary to speak out about injustices and a road land to what a better future looks like. However, the digital divide threatens to leave many behind, and the digitalisation has also led to new Human Rights challenges, like misinformation, cyberbullying, hate speech, surveillance, to name but a few. She explains that no country is free from Human Rights violations, and each county can and must still make progress.

Human Rights today

Yet today Human Rights are being questioned and, in some places, rolled back. The countries that criticize the most HR are those who are condemned for Human Rights violations. The current pandemic in which the world in plunged into today, had led to an increasingly polarised political context. Van Hout states, that this is paradoxical, because in a time where the challenges the world faces are more interconnected than ever before, more countries are turning away from each other. The UN had observed many countries retreating from multilateralism and international cooperation. Today, people who were vulnerable before Covid-19 are the most harshly hit, and here the social and economic inequalities are the reason for this phenomenon. She urges people and governments to act together to deal with the pandemic and avoid individualism of countries. The UN Secretary-General pushes cooperation even further and called for an international ceasefire to follow this demand of international cooperation. Finally, she agrees with Ambassador Eliasson observation that the youth today is, and should be, more and more involved in politics and Human Rights issues.


-Natalia Vasnier, BA History at King's College London-


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