Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has called on protesters around the world to commit to nonviolence as they seek change while urging world leaders “to listen to the real problems of real people”.
The UN chief told reporters on Friday that “disquiet in people’s lives” had sparked protests around the world from the Middle East to Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
“It is clear that there is a growing deficit of trust between people and political establishments, and rising threats to the social contract,” he said.
“The world is also wrestling with the negative impacts of globalisation and new technologies, which have increased inequalities within societies. Even where people are not protesting, they are hurting and want to be heard.”
Guterres said people want their human rights respected, including the right to have a say in the decision-making process.
“[People] want a level playing field – including social, economic and financial systems that work for all.”
The secretary-general reiterated his deep concern that some protests have turned violent and led to the loss of life, stressing that governments are obligated to uphold freedom of expression and assembly and “security forces must act with maximum restraint, in conformity with international law”.
“There can be no excuse for violence – from any quarter,” he said.
In response to a question about deadly protests in Iraq, Guterres said the UN has been “systematically appealing for non-violence and for restraint” by Iraqi authorities and other actors.
He pointed to recent UN preliminary findings which showed “substantial violations of human rights that took place and need to be clearly denounced and condemned”.
As for protests in Lebanon, he said, his message is that the country must solve its problems with dialogue.
“I urge maximum restraint and no use of violence, both from the side of the government and the side of the protesters,” he said.