Human rights, impact of COVID-19, access to vaccines and social protection: priorities at the heart of Minister Meryame Kitir’s working visit to Geneva

Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir is going to Geneva from June 28 to 30. She will meet with several multilateral partner organizations active in the fields of human rights, health, humanitarian aid and migration. Itclude meetings with the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the Director-General of ILO, Guy Ryder, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, the Director-General of IOM, Antonio Vitorino, and the CEO of GAVI (Vaccine Alliance), Seth Berkley. Minister Kitir will take this opportunity to announce Belgian funding for multilateral partner organizations for the period 2021-2024.

Meryame Kitir wanted to make this first visit abroad to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva at a time when developments regarding human rights around the world are of particular concern, both in conflict-affected areas and due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and its impact on the most vulnerable countries will be central to Minister Kitir's discussions. Access to vaccines and medical treatments in the context of COVID-19, as well as access to technology, local production capacity and access challenges in complex areas (conflicts, refugee camps) will be priority themes during her meetings. The meeting with Guy Ryder of the ILO will focus, among other things, on the impact of the pandemic on the socio-economic situation of people. The theme of decent work for all will be on the agenda.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of good social protection. In countries without such protection, the socio-economic consequences were felt much more acutely. Social protection is an important theme for Minister Kitir: "The COVID-19 crisis has increased global inequality. It is more important than ever to have a safety net for the people". The right to benefits and quality health care make it possible for people to be self-reliant. Minister Kitir also advocates the creation of a global social protection fund, an idea developed by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier de Schutter. She will also raise this idea during her Geneva visit with various interlocutors.

Human rights are the guiding principle of the Belgian development cooperation policy. In that light, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is an important partner for Belgium. The organization shows, often in very challenging circumstances, that there can be no sustainable development without respect for human rights.

Through its dialogue with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and its financial support for projects and partners on the ground, Belgium aims to enable local civil society to continue to play its role. The commitment of citizens who stand up for their rights must not be put under pressure. In this context, the Minister will also meet with the NGO International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), which has been active in protecting human rights defenders for more than thirty years.