UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reacts during the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session on February 24, 2020 in Geneva.
GENEVA - UN chief Antonio Guterres launched a "call to action" on Monday against rising attacks on human rights worldwide, highlighting the persecution of minorities and "alarming levels of femicide".
"Human rights are under assault," said the secretary-general as he opened the UN Human Rights Council's main annual session in Geneva.
"People are being left behind. Fears are growing," he said, pointing to swelling divisions and political polarisation in many countries.
"A perverse political arithmetic has taken hold: divide people to multiply votes," he said, warning that "the rule of law is being eroded".
Guterres said civilians were being "trapped in war-torn enclaves, starved and bombarded in clear violation of international law" as well as "human trafficking, affecting every region in the world, preying on vulnerability and despair".
He also said women and girls were being "enslaved, exploited and abused", "activists tossed in jail, and religious and ethnic minorities groups persecuted" and "minorities, indigenous people, migrants, refugees, the LGBTI community vilified as the 'other' and tormented by acts of hate".
Guterres launched a "call to action" to the entire UN system, to governments, parliamentarians, the private sector, civil society and to "people everywhere".
He laid out seven areas where he said concrete action could "achieve a quantum leap in progress or avert the risk of backsliding", including boosting efforts to halt violence against women and girls -- "the world's most pervasive human rights abuse".
"We see a pushback against women's rights, alarming levels of femicide, attacks on women human rights defenders, and the persistence of laws and policies that perpetuate subjugation and exclusion," Guterres said.
"We also continue to see chronic stagnation in women’s participation in political leadership roles, peace processes and economic inclusion," he said.
He stressed that work towards gender equality "starts within", pointing out that as of January 1 this year, the UN achieved "gender parity across our senior-most ranks".
"We pledge to reach gender parity throughout the UN system at all levels by 2028," he said, adding that the UN would apply "a gender perspective" to all its work.
Other areas of specific human rights focus, he said, included offering broader protections for people trapped in conflict situations, increased efforts to protect civic space, including free expression and assembly, and to recognise the rights challenges posed by the climate crisis and new technologies.