New Delhi: India’s voice on the world stage can become more powerful and credible with a “strong commitment to inclusivity and respect for human rights at home”, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.
Gutteres made the remarks while addressing a gathering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay on the theme “India-UN Partnership: Strengthening South-South Cooperation”. He listed ways in which India could burnish its credentials in this area, including unequivocal condemnation of hate speech and protecting the rights of journalists and human rights activists.
The UN chief’s 26-minute speech largely focused on India’s achievements over the past 75 years as the world’s largest democracy, its current role as the fastest-growing major economy, and the part played by it as a founding member of the UN. He also focused on “India’s unique opportunity” to shape the global agenda and to “make or break the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs” as the home of one-sixth of humanity and the world’s largest generation of young people.
Ruchira Kamboj, India’s envoy to the UN in New York, told the gathering that the country is among the top 25 financial contributors to the UN and has proved to be a “voice of reason” that speaks for developing countries. She pointed to India’s contributions such as providing Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic and humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen and Sri Lanka.
India is also working for reformed multilateralism as the current global architecture, including the UN, doesn’t serve contemporary needs and remains “frozen in 1945”, she said.
Towards the end of his address, Gutteres, the 73-year-old former premier of Portugal turned to issues such as human rights and inclusivity, and said India has been a global leader from the moment of its birth and the country’s non-violent independence movement encouraged anti-colonial struggles across the world.
“India’s voice on the global stage can only gain in authority and credibility from a strong commitment to inclusivity and respect for human rights at home. The Indian model of plurality is based on a simple but profound understanding: diversity is a richness that makes your country stronger,” Guterres said.
“That understanding is the birthright of every Indian, but it is not a guarantee. It must be nurtured, strengthened and renewed every day in this and in every other society,” he said.
Guterres then listed the ways this could be achieved : “by practicing the values of Gandhi, by securing and upholding the rights and dignity of all people, especially the most vulnerable, by taking concrete action for inclusion, recognising the enormous value and contributions of multicultural, multi-religious and multiethnic societies, by condemning hate speech unequivocally”.
He also called for “protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists, human rights activists, students and academics” and “ensuring the continued independence of India’s judiciary”.
Guterres said: “This is the India that the world has celebrated. I urge Indians to be vigilant and to increase your investments in inclusive, pluralistic, diverse communities and societies.”
He pointed out that India’s victory in its movement for independence was a “catalyst that helped to end the long epoch of European imperialism everywhere”. He added, “As an elected member of the [UN] Human Rights Council, India has a responsibility to shape global human rights, and to protect and promote the rights of all individuals, including members of minority communities.”
During a subsequent question-and-answer session, Guterres highlighted the need for greater global cooperation to tackle issues such as terrorism, climate change and gender equality. He acknowledged that there isn’t enough collaboration in fighting terrorism, which is a global issue with terrorists moving from Afghanistan to Syria, Libya, Sahel, Yemen and even back to Afghanistan.
Terrorist networks use sophisticated technologies, the deep internet and other instruments that are difficult to detect, whereas international cooperation to fight the menace is “far from being sufficiently organised to be effective in fighting terrorist organisations”, he said. Geopolitical divisions too have contributed to difficulties in effectively addressing terrorism and not enough work has been done to build resilience in communities against terrorist ideas, he said.
The UN secretary-general, Guterres said, has “no power” but must remain loyal and faithful to the UN Charter and do everything to create conditions for dialogue and cooperation. The UN chief also has “sometimes to speak up and to say that some things are not acceptable”, he said.
Guterres noted that the world has “lots of manifestations of irrationality”, and the “eruption of forms of egoist nationalism”, which has been witnessed during recent elections in Europe. “We see different forms of religious fundamentalism, xenophobia, racism [and] those things unfortunately growing, the problems that the world faces,” he said.
However, he pointed out that young people today are more cosmopolitan and global than in his time, when people were less able to understand that everyone is part of the same world and that nationalities do not matter in the face of global challenges.