Human Rights Council settles into new home in response to Coronavirus COVID-19 threat
In accordance with new coronavirus prevention measures proposed in consultation with host country Switzerland, the Human Rights Council on Tuesday adopted a series of precautionary changes so that its work could proceed safely at the UN in Geneva.
The development is also in line with UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s recent appeal “to step up and do everything possible to contain” COVID-19 “without stigmatization and with full respect for human rights”.
Among the new measures is a change in venue for delegates, away from Room XX – famous for its dramatic, multicoloured ceiling sculpture by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló – to the even larger Assembly Hall, also at the Palais des Nations in the Swiss city.
With room for around 2,000 people, the vast hall “will allow for adequate space between delegates” attending the 43rd session of the Council, as its President, Austrian Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, said.
The decision was taken after a meeting on Monday between the Council Bureau “and all the vice-presidents and the regional coordinators from all the regions as well as with our representative of our host country Switzerland to discuss how to go on against a background of the COVID-19 situation and its implications, as well as some of the worries which some of you have expressed”, the Ambassador explained.
It follows a decision taken a week ago to cancel all side events linked to the Council – some 200 in all – and moves to encourage Special Rapporteurs and other speakers to address the forum by video, rather than to attend in person.
Listing the other proposals to be adopted by the Council, Ms. Tichy-Fisslberger added that “any delegate sensing that he or she has the slightest problem in terms of coughing or fever or whatever should stay at home. And people over 65 or 70 should stay at home as well.”
Until the current session ends on 20 March, participants would be asked to be present with no more than two delegates in the plenary room and empty seats “would be used to space out the delegations”.
In addition to asking delegates to follow all sanitary measures proposed by UN Geneva, such as refraining from shaking hands and using hand sanitisers provided, the Council President noted that all informal meetings would be moved to larger rooms -“again, with the purpose of allowing for adequate spacing between delegations, and would not allow more than two people per delegation and delegations would be invited to send only the number of people necessary.”