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Remarks by Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, dear colleagues,

First of all, let me extend my gratitude to Norway for this initiative and to all of you for your presence at this briefing. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss this topic with you just as Member States begin to engage in negotiations that will shape the outcome of the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

The stakes are high and so are the expectations. Rio+20 needs to set out a convincing plan for meeting our goals with regard to sustainable development, a greener economy and effective poverty eradication.

The world cannot afford Rio+20 to be seen as just another conference at which words are traded and empty promises made. The plan adopted at Rio must be credible and must lead to meaningful follow-up.

It should also be firmly rooted, we believe, in human rights. Not just because we can all agree that human rights are a good thing. But because human rights reflect human aspirations. And because the set of international human rights standards that we have developed over the past sixty years provide the best, in fact the only, legally binding framework capable of turning those aspirations into reality.

And around the world, the global economic and financial crisis has made its effects known, driving millions of people into unemployment and poverty. The real consequences of the crisis and the greatest burden has fallen on the poorest and most marginalized. The rights of women and youth have been particularly at risk.

The need for an approach to development that is anchored in human rights is demanded in the streets of cities and towns around the world - from Tunis, to Cairo, Rome, New York and beyond. We know that progress on human rights is instrumental in creating dynamic, peaceful societies. Poverty, discrimination and violence feed on each other.

To break this cycle of poverty, discrimination and violence, we must weave human rights into the work carried out right across the UN system – from sustainable development to peace and security. The three pillars of the United Nations Organization, peace and security, development and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

As the first round of the informal negotiations of the Rio+20 Outcome Document takes place this week, 22 of the Human Rights Council’s special procedures mandate-holders have issued, jointly, an open letter to the Governments of the world, calling for transformative changes to be agreed at Rio, based on universally-agreed international human rights norms and standards.

These independent experts have further called a double accountability mechanism. This could include the creation of a new State-led peer review mechanism, similar to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, at the international level, combined with independent monitoring at the national level, to evaluate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

But if Rio+20 offers opportunities for progress, there is always the risk to be guarded against that we could see some backing away from previously agreed commitments in certain areas. Just this morning, in a statement to mark World Water Day, the UN Water and Sanitation Expert warned that some States are apparently proposing the removal from the Rio+20 draft Outcome Document of an explicit reference to the right to water and sanitation. She is calling on Member States not to re-negotiate earlier decisions as the right to water and sanitation, which are also reflected explicitly in pertinent resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

As you know, in 2009, at the request of the Secretary General to institutionalize the mainstreaming of human rights in the UN’s development work, the UN Development Group established a human rights mainstreaming mechanism. This mechanism, aims to mainstream human rights into UN operational activities for development. It is chaired by OHCHR with a rotating Co-Chair – this year, UNICEF.

The HRM organized a policy retreat last month in New York, with Rio+20 very much in mind. I am sure Mr. Richard Morgan, the Co-Chair of the HRM on behalf of UNICEF, will be able to say something about the retreat and some of the ideas that emerged from the substantive discussions around Rio +20 when he speaks to you in a moment.

For now, I will end my remarks here and look forward to our further discussion of this important subject.