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Statement of Ms. Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council, 19th Session Panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming

Geneva, 28 February 2012

Madame President,
Distinguished delegates,
Dear colleagues,

I applaud this initiative of the Council which will no doubt help to raise the importance of human rights mainstreaming in the UN system.

This is especially timely, as this year provides an important opportunity to advance policy coherence and ensure a more effective framework of support to Member States through the Rio+20 conference, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of UN operational activities (QCPR) under the General Assembly, and planning for the post-2015 development agenda.

Mainstreaming all human rights, including the right to development, is a critical aspect of my mandate as the High Commissioner, and a common endeavour for all UN agencies and staff.

Over the last decade, there has been significant progress in mainstreaming human rights in the work of the UN system, and increasing demand from Member States. 

An increasing number of UN agencies are not only integrating human rights into their internal policies, but also actively advocating for human rights through their mandated work – on the rights of people affected by HIV, on the rights to food, education, health and shelter, and on the fundamental rights of workers.

For UN country teams on the ground, human rights are no longer ‘add-ons’ to their long list of other priorities, but a foundation for more coherent and effective programming. The UN’s universal membership gives it unique legitimacy in this regard. 

Globally, there has been a surge of intergovernmental support to human rights mainstreaming over the last several years.  At the 2005 World Summit, the Heads of States explicitly supported the further integration of human rights into the work of the UN system, at the same time expressing resolve to integrate human rights into their own national policies.

Furthermore, the outcomes of the MDG Review Summit in 2010 and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Conference in 2011 contained a rich catalogue of references to human rights and commitment to rights-based actions to accelerate the MDG achievement and to meet the special needs of the LDCs, based on human rights principles of equity, non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

Today, the call for a coherent UN is stronger than ever.  The UN system has been challenged in the face of global food and financial crises, people’s uprising as seen in the Arab spring and elsewhere, and natural and man-made disasters.  All of these challenges have given renewed attention to human rights as a common pursuit of the entire UN system.

The standard setting work of the Council and UN human rights mechanisms provides the normative strength and legitimacy for the UN system’s work on the ground. 

From the ‘Delivering as One’ piloting experience, and elsewhere, progress in mainstreaming efforts by UN country teams in policy dialogue, communications and programming has contributed to advancing the UN system-wide coherence reform agenda.

In this context, the Universal Periodic Review has been instrumental in opening new opportunities and offering a comprehensive framework for the UN system to engage with Member States and assist, at their request, in strengthening national capacity and facilitating national dialogues for reporting and implementation.

The Universal Periodic Review process has also generated a significant body of recommendations, and consequently, greater need for international support.  This requires a more coordinated and coherent approach by the whole UN system.

While OHCHR has the normative mandate and substantive lead on human rights, the UN development agencies have enormous capacity and potential to respond to national needs to address implementation challenges and to support national capacity building efforts, guided by international norms and standards.  UN peacekeeping and peace building missions should exercise due diligence and uphold international human rights standards and principles in their work.

My Office is strengthening its engagement with UN partners working on development, humanitarian and peace and security issues.

In the area of development, under the United Nations Development Group, at the request of the Secretary-General, a dedicated coordination and support mechanism on human rights mainstreaming was established in 2009 to provide more effective and coordinated support to Resident Coordinators and UN country teams, so that they can better assist Member States in building strong national capacity upon request.  Last year, together with Helen Clark as the UNDG Chair, I launched a Multi-Donor Trust Fund to further mobilize resources to scale up our interagency support to UN country teams and their national partners.  I urge support for this Trust Fund from States.

Under the peace & security pillar, human rights is an integral component of all UN peace keeping and political missions.  There have been several important policy developments over the last year to further strengthen the coherence and integration, including a human rights and due diligence policy, which will ensure that UN support in complex and challenging environment is firmly grounded in core UN principles and international standards.

In all of these mainstreaming efforts, the Secretary-General has provided important leadership by putting human rights as his priority for the next five years.

Today, after more than a decade of mainstreaming efforts, we must move toward the full and robust integration of human rights in development cooperation and peace operations, with human rights as the touchstone and metric for policy coherence across the international system.

To further this policy coherence agenda, and to mainstream the right to development across the work of the UN system, I took the opportunity of the 25th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development last year to promote dialogues at the ECOSOC, as well as at the General Assembly together with the President of the Assembly and Chairpersons of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Committees. I am very encouraged by the leadership and commitment that Member States have shown.

This is an area where the Council can further support the UN system’s efforts, by strengthening links and promoting coherence with other intergovernmental bodies under the UN system.  I hope that this Panel discussion serves as an important step towards that end, and call on you to ensure the full integration of all human rights, including the right to development, into the upcoming global agenda on Rio+20, QCPR and the post-2015.

I look forward to your deliberations.