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UN chief tells Myanmar military: ‘Stop the repression’ | UNHCR News

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The UN’s top human rights body has opened its first and highest-level meeting of 2021, amid growing concerns on issues including the military coup in Myanmar, the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in Russia and the rights situations in countries including Ethiopia and Sri Lanka.

The four-week session of the Human Rights Council, which started Monday, has drawn several presidents and prime ministers for its “high-level segment”, with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro set to speak.

The United States is set to renew its council participation after a two-and-a-half-year walkout during the term of former President Donald Trump.

Concerns about China’s treatment of the Uighur minority, a squeeze by Ethiopia’s government on the country’s Tigray region and state-sponsored violence in countries including Nicaragua are likely to face scrutiny during the session.

“Every corner of the globe is suffering from the sickness of violations of human rights,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The military coup and violent crackdown on protesters in Myanmar since early February was among the most pressing issues on the council’s agenda.

“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately,” Guterres said, speaking in a pre-recorded video message at the opening of the Geneva-based council’s 46th session.

“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections,” he said, insisting that “coups have no place in our modern world.

“We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. The list goes on.”

An injured man sits in an ambulance after police fired rubber bullets during a protest against the military coup, in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 20, 2021 [Stringer/Reuters]

The session, almost exclusively online, comes as the fight against COVID-19 has become a pretext taken by some governments to curb human rights, as the pandemic worsened gender inequality and extreme poverty – even as vaccination efforts have largely been carried out in the world’s richest countries.

Guterres also decried racism, discrimination, xenophobia and the “transnational threat” of white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements – saying such groups are “engaged in a feeding frenzy of hate.”

“Far too often, these hate groups are cheered on by people in positions of responsibility in ways that were considered unimaginable not long ago,” he added, without elaborating.

Foreign ministers including Heiko Maas of Germany and Dominic Raab of Britain were to be joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in addressing the session.

Trump had pulled the US out of the Human Rights Council over what he cited as concerns that the council was “excessively focused” on Israel and had been too accepting of governments that regularly violate human rights – citing Venezuela in particular.

Pandemic ‘opened up new fractures’

Guterres also used his speech to criticise countries that are using the pandemic to justify cracking down on dissent, reining in the media and suppressing criticism.

“Using the pandemic as a pretext, authorities in some countries have deployed heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to crush dissent, criminalise basic freedoms, silence independent reporting and curtail the activities of non-governmental organisations,” he said, without naming the countries.

“Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, political activists, and even medical professionals are being detained, prosecuted and subjected to intimidation and surveillance for criticising government pandemic responses – or the lack thereof,” he added.

In some countries, he warned, “pandemic-related restrictions are being used to subvert electoral processes, weaken opposition voices and suppress criticism.”

The UN chief also decried widespread misinformation around the world about the coronavirus and the pandemic.

In a number of cases, he said, “access to life-saving COVID-19 information has been concealed, while deadly misinformation has been amplified, including by those in power”.

The wide-ranging effects of the pandemic “hit the world without mercy”, he added.

“COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing divides, vulnerabilities and inequalities, as well as opened up new fractures, including fault-lines in human rights.”



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US says it has jabbed 82 million people, topping the world | Coronavirus pandemic News

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But coronavirus rates have plateaued over the past week, raising concern over yet another surge in cases and deaths.

The United States has administered 82 million coronavirus vaccine shots, White House officials announced on Friday, more than any other country in the world.

During a coronavirus task force news conference, health officials said 55 percent of Americans aged 65 and older have now received at least one shot, up from 8 percent just six weeks ago.

“Altogether we’ve administered more than 82 million shots, more than any country in the world,” said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for the COVID-19 response team.

But the US has also suffered more deaths than any other country in the world – more than 518,000 Americans have lost their lives to the disease.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 100 million vaccines administered during his first 100 days in office [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden who took office in January has promised to make tackling the pandemic a top priority for his administration and has set a target to vaccinate 100 million Americans by early May – to coincide with his 100 days in office. He has said the country is well under way to meeting that goal.

Officials say 450 vaccination sites have been set up around the country which has sped up the effort and they have plans to open up more sites as vaccine supplies increase over the next weeks.

In an effort to further boost the campaign, last week the US gave emergency approval to use a third vaccine produced by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. Biden has also announced that the US will manufacture the J&J vaccine, a shot that requires only one dose, further speeding up the effort.

But even with the vaccination campaign well under way, officials said deaths and infection rates have plateaued in recent days, indicating that the nation could be at risk of yet another surge.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said amid the rapid spread of new variants across the country, Americans need to ‘double down’ on protection measures of wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, said over the past week, there have been daily 60,000-70,000 new coronavirus cases, and 1,900 Americans have been dying every day.

“The current numbers remain concerning,” Walensky said, “cases and deaths are still too high, and have now plateaued for more than week.”

Amid the rapid spread of new variants, which have been detected in 48 US states, she urged Americans need to “double down” on protection measures of wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing.

“I know that the idea of relaxing mask wearing and getting back to every day activities is appealing,” she said, “but we’re not there yet.”

Several states have in recent days announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions on businesses and have lifted statewide mandates to wear masks. Health officials have responded with concern and urged Americans to continue to wear masks and follow precautions set under federal guidelines.

Biden blasted the decisions by state governors on Thursday, calling it “a big mistake” and “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor said the current numbers are an indication of a likely fourth surge in cases.

“When you have that much viral activity in a plateau it almost invariably means that you are at risk for another spike,” he said.

During the briefing on Friday, officials also announced that the CDC is working on publishing guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, indicating which activities they may or may not be able to resume.



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