United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, from New York on Sunday, 23 February, for a trip during which he would speak at the opening of the forty-third session of the Human Rights Council.
On Monday morning, after meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the Human Rights Council session, saying that he had come there to launch a Call for Action. He added that he had decided to do it now — during the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations — because of the centrality of human rights in all of the Organization’s work, and because human rights are under assault.
The Secretary-General said that all our societies have benefitted from human rights movements led by women, young people, minorities, indigenous peoples and others. Our Call to Action, he said, singles out seven areas where concerted effort can achieve a quantum leap in the progress or avert the risk of backsliding. (See Press Release SG/SM/19985.)
Human rights issues were also discussed at a private meeting that the Secretary-General had a with a small group of prominent non-governmental organizations working in the field of human rights.
Later in the day, the Secretary-General visited the World Health Organization’s (WHO) crisis centre and met with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In remarks to reporters, the Secretary-General praised WHO colleagues for their courage and dedication — noting that he saw first-hand how their work to fight the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo helped save many lives.
On the COVID-19 outbreak, he commended WHO for its work to contain the epidemic. He appealed for all countries to assume their responsibilities and to do everything to be prepared to contain the disease, reiterating that this is possible.
He also called for donors to support WHO’s funding appeals. If there is truly something stupid to do, it is to not fully fund WHO appeals, the Secretary-General said, because they are vital to support Member States to avoid that these tragic diseases become truly global nightmares.
During the course of the day, the Secretary-General also conducted bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa Serraj of Libya, as well as Foreign Ministers Nikos Christodoulides of Cyprus, Jeppe Kofod of Denmark, Pekka Haavisto of Finland, David Zalkaliani of Georgia, Nikolaos-Georgios Dendias of Greece, Ine Eriksen Søreide of Norway, Sergey V. Lavrov of the Russian Federation, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, Ann Christin Linde of Sweden and Ignazio Cassis of Switzerland. He also received briefings on Syria from his Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and from his Special representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé.
On Tuesday morning, he called on the international community to face up to the devastating and complex issue of internal displacement as he opened the inaugural meeting of the new High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.
The Secretary-General said it is unacceptable that millions of people are so brutally dislocated from their home and then linger without solutions for years. Being displaced should not be an interminable problem, he said.
The Secretary-General expressed confidence that the High-Level Panel will bring fresh ideas to prevent forced displacement, better protect and assist displaced people and identify swifter solutions to displacement.
The Secretary-General also met with young people at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, as part of the global conversation on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations.
Following that discussion and two bilaterals with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Téte António of Angola and Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi of the Republic of Moldova, the Secretary-General travelled back to New York later on Tuesday, 25 February.