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International workshop on “Enhancing cooperation between regional and international mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights”: Statement by Ms. Navanethem Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

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3 May 2010

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this second international workshop on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights. I am delighted to see representatives from regional human rights mechanisms, Governments, National Human Rights Institutions, and non- governmental organizations from all around the world, as well as regional and United Nations experts.  I look forward to the outcome of your discussion regarding ways and means to enhance cooperation between the UN human rights system and regional human rights mechanisms.

The very principle of cooperation in human rights advancement is grounded in the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of freedoms and entitlements. The General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have repeatedly recognized the important role played by regional human rights arrangements in the promotion and protection of all human rights. This was reiterated in GA resolution 63/170 and Human Rights Council resolution 12/15.

Regional human rights mechanisms have been instrumental in promoting respect for human rights in their geographical sphere of action. Commissions and Courts established within their structures have developed jurisprudence and policy that contextualize the international standards to address the particular needs of their regions.    Recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms are strengthened when they refer to the jurisprudence and other documentation of regional human rights mechanisms. In creating this sense of regional ownership, regional human rights mechanisms make a valuable contribution to the implementation of international human rights instruments.

The first workshop on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights, held in Geneva in November 2008, in addition to highlighting the great work accomplished by regional human rights mechanisms in promoting and protecting human rights, underscored the need for more coherent and regular cooperation between them and international human rights institutions.

Consequently, OHCHR has undertaken several activities aimed at enhancing the cooperation between the UN human rights system and regional human rights arrangements. In November and December 2009, regional consultations were held in Africa, the Americas, and Europe, in order to identify existing and potential areas for greater cooperation and dialogue between the two systems.

One of the main conclusions resulting from these consultations is that an enhanced cooperation between the regional and international mechanisms would bolster protection of victims of human rights abuses.  It would also allow human rights mechanisms to fulfill their mandate more effectively. 

Furthermore, these consultations identified multiple areas in which cooperation already exists, as well as initiatives to improve it.  For instance, reports from regional human rights mechanisms are taken into account by the Human Rights Council within the Universal Periodic Review.  In addition, joint actions have been undertaken by mandate holders of regional and international mechanisms, including joint press releases and country visits. Nonetheless, the consultations also showed that many practical difficulties still exist. For example, many of these initiatives remain isolated and often depend on favorable circumstances. In addition, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures may hamper and even stifle cooperation.

There are many issues that need to be tackled through the work ahead. The program of this workshop reflects some of the main areas in which cooperation and synergies between regional and human rights mechanisms could be enhanced.

The first regards vehicles and procedures to share information on a regular basis. I invite participants to explore the possibility of holding periodic meetings similar to this one, in order to pursue dialogue on possible ways and means to strengthen this cooperation. All relevant stakeholders should participate in these meetings, including existing, new and emerging regional human rights mechanisms, Governments, National Human Rights Institutions, non-governmental organizations, as well as regional and UN experts. A resolution from the Human Rights Council along these lines will reinforce the ongoing cooperation process.

Appropriate mechanisms to improve information sharing might include access to databases and the development of web-based resources.   In particular, a more regular and formalized system to share jurisprudence, reports, conclusions, recommendations, views and opinions should be established. This system would also allow exchanging information on individual cases, provided that the principle of confidentiality is respected.

In addition, thematic exchanges should also be held on a periodic basis.  This workshop can help to identify thematic priorities in order to establish cooperation strategies, including specific objectives, timelines and expected outcomes.

The second area concerns possible joint activities of regional and international human rights mechanisms. In this regard, I would like to encourage you to go beyond current practices.

For example, mandate holders from international and regional human rights mechanisms could conduct joint visits on a more regular and frequent basis, provided that the terms of reference of those visits are in line with their respective mandates. The goal is to generate more visibility and greater weight to recommendations formulated by mandate holders.

In addition, the possibility of issuing joint reports should be considered.  These reports could be either thematic or on specific situations that require special attention.  A successful example is the thematic report on security and human rights elaborated jointly by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, UNICEF and OHCHR.

Joint press statements have generated increasing interest and attention from the media. This practice should be pursued further whenever possible and advisable.

Opportunities to increase joint promotional activities by international and regional human rights mechanisms should also be explored. These could include training exercises and publications.

Thirdly, follow-up to decisions and recommendations resulting from both international and regional human rights mechanisms remains a great challenge. Joint efforts should be made in order to ensure that States implement the recommendations of both international and regional human rights mechanisms. Overlap or even duplication of requests should be avoided.    We need to prevent fragmentation of protection and approach the challenge of States’ compliance in a manner that enhances synergy among the various human rights mechanisms. To this end, it will be crucial to share best practices and lessons learned and develop strategies to better support follow-up and implementation of recommendations.

This brings me to my next point, which is the need to involve relevant stakeholders, such as National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and civil society, in this process.  Both play a fundamental role in monitoring the application of international human rights standards and in following-up on the implementation of judgments, decisions and recommendations resulting from UN and regional human rights mechanisms. They also actively contribute to the strengthening of States’ capacity to ensure implementation of international human rights norms. It is therefore necessary to enhance existing cooperation between them and international and regional mechanisms in order to facilitate their important work.

Dear Colleagues,

This workshop will also offer us the opportunity to deepen our knowledge of existing, new and emerging human rights regional mechanisms.  I refer in particular to the recently created human rights bodies within the League of Arab States, the Arab Human Rights Committee, and within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN, the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

In addition, representatives from the General Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) will share progress made with the establishment of the Independent Human Rights Commission, a human rights body within the OIC.

In this regard, I would like to reiterate that OHCHR stands ready to assist and support these new and emerging human rights regional mechanisms in their task of establishing effective human rights systems. 

Let me conclude by commending the efforts made by the co-sponsors of Human Rights Council resolution 12/15, which requested OHCHR to organize this international workshop, and by reiterating that the complementary nature of international, regional, and national human rights protection systems is a great asset. It is through systematic and regular cooperation that we will be able to confront together the many human rights challenges we face around the world.

Your deliberations will be a crucial step forward along this crucial path.  I wish you a productive discussion.

Thank you.