Situation Analysis: The region comprising Europe, North America, Central Asia (and the Caucasus) is unique because of the diversity of its constituent countries, the profound changes the region has undergone since the early 1990s, and the potential for the transfer of knowledge among those countries. The countries comprising the region vary significantly in terms of economic and social development. The human rights situation in the region ranges from established democracies with strong human rights protection systems to countries in transition struggling with an institution-building process. However, interlinkages between the countries are close.
Regional organizations, particularly the European Union (EU), play a leading role in the region. The countries of the EU have a strong record of cooperation with international human rights mechanisms. The benefit of regional cooperation extends beyond the countries of the EU, as all countries of the region are members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and most are members of the Council of Europe. Partnerships with regional organizations have given OHCHR opportunities to coordinate assistance to countries that have embarked on substantial human rights reforms, particularly the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Regional Priorities and Strategy: In helping countries to close gaps in their human rights protection systems, the Office will focus on encouraging governments to fulfil their human rights obligations through dialogue, assistance, and advocacy. The strengthening of existing regional offices and the establishment of new ones will help to engage with governments and civil society, while partnerships with relevant United Nations agencies and regional organizations, particularly the OSCE and the Council of Europe, will maximize OHCHR’s impact.
The posting of a Senior Human Rights Officer in Moscow will be an important first step toward providing adequate human rights expertise in the Russian Federation, a task the Office considers particularly important because of the size of the country and the cross-border nature of many of the country’s human rights concerns.
Strengthening the regional office in Central Asia will help to provide protection in an area where there are no regional human rights protection instruments or protection bodies, like the Council of Europe. At the same time, by emphasizing transfers of knowledge and building capacities to implement international human rights mechanisms, OHCHR, working closely with OSCE and other partners, will help Central Asian countries to benefit from positive experiences in human rights protection in the wider region.
The presence of a human rights officer in the Southern Caucasus (Tbilisi, Georgia) will make it easier to work with regional partners in an area that has shown a growing commitment to meeting its human rights obligations as it struggles with inadequate capacities.
Offices in southeast Europe, where OHCHR has had a long-term presence, will be phased out during the 2006-2007 biennium, except in Kosovo, where the office will be strengthened to respond to developments related to status talks. Activities will focus on ensuring that human rights become a cornerstone of future legislation and institutions. All offices in the region will be continuing the activities they have been implementing in close cooperation with governments, civil society, and international counterparts, providing technical assistance in integrating human rights into legislative, policy, and institutional reforms, and working to improve institutional and civil society capacities to protect human rights. OHCHR will remain focused on: protecting the most vulnerable; the fight against discrimination; access to economic, social, and cultural rights; and fighting impunity for war-related crimes and post-conflict acts of violence, with the aim of achieving local sustainability.
To take full advantage of the expertise available in the region, closer linkages with the countries of North America is crucial. The functions of the New York Office will be enlarged to ensure closer cooperation with these countries and with the multilateral financial and development institutions located there. The importance of ties with multilateral institutions should not be underestimated, as only by engaging with the main international development actors can the Office help to significantly reduce the human rights capacity gap.
The Office will continue to support country rapporteurs, such as the Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Countries where the establishment of a presence is not possible but where human rights concerns persist will receive enhanced coverage from Headquarters in close cooperation with the regional offices concerned.
The most prominent human rights challenges in the region include the establishment of the rule of law, the prevention of organized crime and corruption, the protection of human rights in the framework of anti-terrorism measures, the participation of civil society within the wider context of good governance, the fight against impunity for past human rights violations, trafficking in human beings, and discrimination and intolerance between different ethnic groups. The cross-border nature of many of these issues makes sub-regional approaches and cooperation among countries indispensable. OHCHR will also focus on the realization of economic and social rights within the context of the economic reform process, particularly in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
In the Europe, North America, and Central Asia region, OHCHR’s field deployment is projected as follows: