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Bachelet to Med Dialogues: “Good governance and human rights go hand in hand”

ROME/GENEVA, NOVEMBER 4 – Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile for two mandates and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was the last guest of the MED Dialogues platform, a series of interviews to high-profile political leaders introducing the 2021 7th edition of the Rome Mediterranean Dialogues Summit, an event co-hosted by ISPI and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which will take place from 2 to 4 December. The dialogue was moderated by Paolo Magri, Executive Vice President of ISPI, Tuqa Nusairat, Deputy-Director of the Rafik Hariri Center & the Middle East Programs of the Atlantic Council, and Federica Saini Fasanotti, Senior Associate Fellow at ISPI and at the Brookings Institution, and focused on MENA regions.

“Based on the realities of the ground, I would like to highlight some issues that require attention as a matter of priority: a common threat in the minor regions, as an example, is witnessed by demonstrators in Nigeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq”, started High Commissioner Bachelet. People demonstrating in order to achieve social, economic and political rights must be protected and safeguarded in their struggle, especially because many times the critical socio-economic situation is caused by mismanagement and corruption, and this is one of the OHCHR’s top priorities according to the High Commissioner.

Not only, but transparency and trust in the government and institutions are on top of the OHCHR’s regional agenda, because “good governance and human rights go hand in hand”. Most recently, the cause of this mistrust has been identified with the collapse of the health systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unequal distribution of vaccines. Further complicating the situation, MENA regions host the largest amount of vulnerable people, such as displaced persons, refugees or people affected by armed conflicts.

The discussion touched on the situation of Syria, which Bachelet assessed as very personal to her in light of the enormous amount of missing persons, a situation which resembles her own Chile a few decades ago. For this reason, the High Commissioner asked for participation and cooperation of all parties involved in the conflict in order to give families a reason to believe in human rights, accountability and justice. To address the problem, the establishment of an international mechanism supervising the process is necessary according to the HC. In Libya, a decade of conflict has not led to a stable government, and therefore the missions undertaken by UN agencies are several, including the protection and access to equal opportunities for women, a detention system respectful of human rights, fair trial rights, prevention against torture and protection for the freedom of speech of journalists, activists and civil society, among pivotal ones.

But the most serious emergency according to the former President of Chile is in Afghanistan. “The situation is terrible and it will become worst, because of the droughts, because of the coming winter, because of the lack of agricultural capacity – she warned – and the UN is currently feeding about 4 million Afghans, but we feel this number will increase to 22 million next year”. The issues at stake in Afghanistan are several and interconnected with each other, as the impact of COVID-19 has shown. Humanitarian aid in the country is aimed at sustaining the economic crisis, which left the government without cash and therefore limits the capacity to provide basic services such as education and healthcare. Moreover, a large part of this jobs are usually performed by women who are now left without a daily occupation, less opportunities and increased risks.

Last but not least, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tuqa Nuisarat introduced the condemnation of several UN agencies in respect of the inclusion of six Palestinian civil society organisations among terrorist groups by Israeli officials. Branding social activist organisations as terrorists has often been, in fact, a recourse to discredit claims made by the civil society. To this regard, Bachelet underlined the constant remarks made by her agencies to Member States that “counter-terrorism legislation must be in line with human rights standards”. (@giorgiodelgallo)

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