GENEVA (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday stressed the importance of legal challenges against “climate-wrecking corporations” like fossil-fuel producers, ratcheting up his call for the fight against climate change—- this time before the U.N.’s top human rights body.
Guterres opened the latest session of the Human Rights Council, part of an address that decried summary executions, torture and sexual violence in places like Ukraine; antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and the persecution of Christians; inequality and threats to free expression, among other issues.
Guterres also sought to undergird the concept of human rights — which have faced “public disregard and private disdain — and tie them together with environmental concerns.
“Human rights are not a luxury that can be left until we find a solution to the world’s other problems. They are THE solution to many of the world’s other problems,” he said. “From the climate emergency to the misuse of technology, the answers to today’s crises are found in human rights.”
Guterres has previously said that fossil-fuel producers need to be held to account, but pressing the issue before the U.N.’s top human rights body — made up of 47 member countries, plus scores of observer states — raises the stakes.
Nearly half the world’s population — 3.5 billion people — live in “climate hot spots” that are “fast becoming human rights disaster zones where floods, droughts and storms mean people are 15 times more likely to die of climate impacts,” he said.
Then, he emphasized the role of the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s main judicial body, to improve accountability for the most serious crimes — and said he welcomed moves toward accountability for human rights abuses “including those committed by the private sector.”
“Legal challenges against climate-wrecking corporations are an important step forward,” Guterres said.
“Fossil fuel producers and their financial backers need to understand a crucial truth: pursuing mega-profits when so many people are losing their lives and rights, today and tomorrow, is completely unacceptable,” he added.
The comments came as the council opened its “high-level segment” at the start of its longest-ever session — more than five weeks. The presidents of Congo, Montenegro and Colombia were also speaking Monday, followed by envoys including the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Iran.
The session comes as the world grapples with rights concerns including Russia’s war in Ukraine, repression of dissent in Russia and Belarus, new violence between Palestinians and Israelis, and efforts to solidify a peace deal in Ethiopia that ended two years of conflict between the national government and rebels in the Tigray region.
Proponents say the Geneva-based rights body has grown in importance as a diplomatic venue because the U.N. Security Council in New York has been increasingly divided in recent years because of a major rift between affiliations among its five permanent members: China and Russia on one side, and the U.K., France and the U.S. on the other.