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Statement by Human Rights Council President to the Third Committee, 67th session of the General Assembly New York, 14 November 2012

14 November 2012
New York

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I come before you today, for the second time, to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council and to participate in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee.

The report covers the three sessions of the Council which took place in 2012, as well as on the two special sessions on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic in December 2011 and June 2012.

 Distinguished delegates,
The year 2012 marks the sixth year since the establishment of the Human Rights Council and the first full year after the review on its work and functioning. Since then, the Council has been dealing with human rights situations in different parts of the world, aiming at addressing the root causes of human rights violations and raising awareness about them in the context of many different crises. This was done by successfully building on cross-regional coalitions and on a strong desire by all Members to deal with human rights challenges or deteriorating situations and emergencies in a non-confrontational, consistent and coherent manner.

An illustration of this approach may be found in the consideration of the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, which has dominated much of the Council’s attention this year; two special sessions and one urgent debate have been held and related resolutions have been adopted in every regular session of 2012, following interactive dialogues with the Commission of Inquiry. In its latest resolution, adopted at the 21st session in September, the Council decided to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. To strengthen its capacity, I have appointed two additional members to the Commission. I very much hope that these additional appointments will be accompanied by parallel strengthening of the OHCHR support to the Commission of inquiry, including by deploying more staff on the ground.

In addition to Syria, the Council has also adopted country-specific resolutions under item 4 on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Eritrea, Belarus, Myanmar and Mali. Allow me here to underline that the Council has closely followed the unfortunate developments in Northern Mali, since March and adopted a resolution in September, as human rights violations were taking place on a daily basis.

The establishment of the mandate of the new Special Rapporteur on Eritrea stems from the Council’s decision to transfer individual communications being considered under the confidential complaint procedure to the Council’s item 4. Let me here underline that the working methods of this said complaint procedure have improved recently, thanks to close cooperation between the Working Groups on communications and situations.

Other country specific resolutions relating to technical cooperation have also been adopted in the last year, including on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Cambodia, Sudan, South Sudan, Guinea, Somalia, Yemen and Sri Lanka. For Sudan and Libya, it is worth mentioning that these used to be item 4 resolutions, but that these are now under the technical cooperation heading. On Libya, it should be emphasized that the Council had been very active during the 2011 crisis and that it heard the last report of the Commission on inquiry on Libya last March. The Council will now undoubtedly do its best to accompany the Libyan authorities to achieve a successful transition.

The Council also discussed the longstanding human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories by, inter alia, establishing an international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlement on the human rights of the Palestinian people. The report of the fact-finding mission will be considered by the Council at its next March session.

I would like to highlight that the full implementation of these important resolutions very much depends upon the availability of additional resources that I trust will be approved by the Assembly.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
The Council continued to hold a number of panel discussions as a means of addressing specific and emerging human rights issues, with panellists from various perspective and fields of expertise, including government representatives, academia, civil society, professional associations, the media, UN human rights mechanisms, UN agencies, as well as international and regional organizations. Discussions have been held under an extremely wide-range of themes.

I would like to highlight in particular the first high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming within the UN system which was held in March 2012 and in which senior officials of UN agencies participated. It focused on development and cooperation, trying to enhance awareness-raising, cooperation and synergies among all stakeholders with the aim to address human rights challenges and have a positive impact on the development efforts at the national level.

The next high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming within the UN system scheduled in February 2012 is likely to focus on human rights and the post-2015 development agenda with a focus on education. It could provide a good opportunity to assess the progress, achievements and challenges in mainstreaming human rights in the UN system in light of the MDGs, as well as to provide input for the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons established by the Secretary-General and for a relevant special event of the General Assembly next year. Issues relating to the right to development continue thus to be at the heart of the work of the Council.

At its 22nd session in February/March 2013, the Council will hold six other panel and thematic discussions on a variety of issues, including, inter alia, the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights, work and employment of persons with disabilities, rights of the child and technical cooperation for the strengthening of the judiciary system and administration of justice. The Council will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on Monday 25 February, just after the opening of the session.

With regard to Special Procedures, the Council has established new mandates, including two country mandates, the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus and on Eritrea, and one thematic mandate, the independent expert on the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, thus bringing the total number of mandates to 48. In 2012, the Council heard for the first time the reports of the IE on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation & guarantees of non-recurrence, the Working on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice.

Finally, after receiving inputs from the Advisory Committee, the Council has decided to establish two new open-ended intergovernmental Working Groups, one to work a draft declaration of the right to peace, which will be holding its first session in February 2013, and another on a draft declaration on the rights of peasants and other people living in rural areas.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
The high number panels, interactive dialogues and general debates, while providing for a fruitful forum for focussed discussion on diverse human rights challenges, continues to result in a very loaded programme of work of the Council. In 2012, the Council adopted a total of 99 resolutions, decisions and President’s statements.

As already noted, the number of cross-regional initiatives continues to increase, affirming the capacity of the Council to take action on important human rights issues. Just to name a few of the new cross-regional initiatives, one may refer to the safety of journalists; business and human rights; corruption; human rights and the environment; as well as country-specific issues. 

In the last year, the Council addressed human rights issues relating to freedoms of expression and assembly, including by adopting several related resolutions, inter alia on the safety of journalists, peaceful protests and human rights on the internet. The Council further discussed issues related to the right to development, extreme poverty, right to food, maternal mortality and the enjoyment of cultural rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups such as older persons. Many of these resolutions were adopted without a vote, again demonstrating the capacity of the Council to agree on issues relating to the protection of those most in need.

The resolution adopted in March 2012 on freedom of religion and belief is of particular importance, emphasizing that freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing. In June, the Council held a constructive discussion on the fine line between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred. That was a most welcome follow-up to the landmark resolution 16/18 adopted in March 2011 entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief”. In this resolution, the Council had called on States and other stakeholders to take concrete actions to foster a domestic environment of religious tolerance, peace and respect. The OHCHR has also been particularly active on this issue with the organization of a series of expert regional workshops on incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, as reflected in international human rights law. The conclusions and recommendations stemming from these workshops will undoubtedly help the Council advancing the debates on this delicate issue.
Distinguished delegates,

The number of dignitaries addressing the Council during the high-level segment of the March session increases constantly and demonstrates the growing interest in the work of the Council, being the main UN body dealing with human rights issues. This is further testified by the increasing number of civil society representatives attending the Council proceedings, as well as that of the side-events organized in the margins of the Council: there has been an average of almost two hundred NGOs accredited and a hundred side-events organised at each session.

New features stemming from the HRC review outcome were set into motion to facilitate the participation of non-resident National Human Rights Institutions compliant with the Paris Principles or NGO in consultative status with the ECOSOC, so that they may now contribute to the work of the Council through video-messages.

Active participation and contribution of civil society organizations is central to the work of the Human Rights Council and makes it a unique forum among other UN intergovernmental organs.  It is essential for the credibility of the Council that human rights defenders and other civil society actors contribute to the work of the Council and its mechanisms in a free, open and safe environment that protects and promotes their own human rights. In this context, I must deeply regret the rise in the number of reported cases of intimidation, threats, physical attacks, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of persons who have cooperated with the UN, including the Council and its mechanisms. In line with the Council’s review outcome (paragraph 30 of Council’s resolution 16/21), I have condemned intimidation measures and reprisals in the context or margins of Council and UPR sessions. In this regard, I wish to thank the Secretary-General for his report on reprisals and for sending a clear message of support on this matter, when he addressed personally the Council last September, as well as during the related panel discussion at the last session. 

Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
I would like to draw your attention to Chapter I of the Council’s annual report and its addendum. It contains Council resolutions which make specific recommendations or suggestions to the General Assembly.

Resolution 19/18 on the follow-up to the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict recommends that the General Assembly consider launching an urgent discussion on the legality of the use of certain munitions, with the assistance of the relevant international organizations and specialized agencies and interested parties and stakeholders.

In resolution 20/14 concerning national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Council recommended that the General Assembly explore the feasibility of enabling national human rights institutions compliant with the Paris Principles to participate in the Assembly.

In resolution 21/6 on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights the Council requested the Secretary-General to transmit the technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity to the General Assembly, as a contribution to the review of the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.
In resolution 21/11, the Council decided to transmit the guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights to the General Assembly.

Resolution 21/24 entitled “Human rights and indigenous peoples”, notes with appreciationthe report of the Secretary-General on the ways and means of promoting participation at the United Nations of indigenous peoples’ representatives on issues affecting them and invites the General Assembly to consider and include the issue in its agenda.

Finally, in resolution 21/33 entitled “From rhetoric to reality: A global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”, the Council decided to transmit the draft Programme of Action for the Decade for People of African Descent to the General Assembly for its consideration, with a view to its adoption. I understand that the Chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has already presented the draft Programme to this Committee. 

Chapter I also contains the resolution on the composition of OHCHR staff, encouraging the General Assembly to consider further measures to promote geographical balance in the staff of OHCHR.

Mr. Chairman and distinguished delegates,
I wish to share with you a few remarks relating to the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. As you know, the first cycle ended with all 193 Member States having been reviewed by the UPR Working Group, making it a remarkable achievement of a truly universal mechanism. The UPR is definitely perceived as a valuable tool for national dialogue and reflection on action needed.

The second cycle, which started last May, is now looking into the implementation of recommendations made during those last four years, as well as into challenges ahead.

The second cycle will be crucial to consolidate the UPR as a significant tool in dealing with the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide in a non-confrontational, objective, depoliticized, constructive manner and action oriented. It is essential to ensure that the main achievements of the first cycle remain throughout the second cycle, and particularly the 100% record in terms of presentation of reports by high level delegations, a first in the UN system. I would like to appeal to you all to provide support for this valuable mechanism and ensure that it remains comprehensive during the second cycle, according to its constructive spirit and its legal foundations

In this regard, many among the distinguished participants today have helped to secure the presence of delegations coming from countries far away from Geneva and without a Permanent Mission there. In addition, bilateral and regional cooperation has also been extended for the preparation of various national reports. This has been particularly challenging and I would like to thank them for their endeavour. The Council has furthered its efforts to support the participation of least developed countries by the establishment of a Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Work of the Council, which provides, inter alia, for training and capacity-building. This Trust Fund will complement the already existing voluntary trust funds on technical cooperation and participation to the Universal Periodic Review process, and hopefully provide additional opportunities for small and developing countries to foster their participation in the work of the Council and that of the OHCHR. During my stay in New York I will personally be meeting representatives of some of the States that can benefit from these trust funds.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,
Before concluding, I would like to touch briefly upon the significant challenges facing the Human Rights Council in terms of resources required to continue its activities.

First, allow me to inform you that a Task Force has been set up to follow up on certain issues stemming from the review outcome, including the need to enhance secretariat services to the Council, access to the Council’s work for persons with disabilities as well as the use of information technology.

While most of the recommendations of the Task Force do not require additional resources for their implementation, I would like to emphasize in particular the need for UNOG conference services to be strengthened, in particular in the areas of translation and edition (due to the additional workload generated by the creation of the UPR mechanisms in 2008), and the need to secure resources from the regular budget for the webcasting coverage of the Council, which remains the only way to keep track of Council’s meetings since we have no more resources to do summary records.

With regard to other budgetary matters, let me underline that the Council has adopted 99 resolutions in 2012. The ever-increasing number of Special Procedures (now 48) and new mandates for OHCHR to support and implement carries significant resource implications. Indeed, while the OHCHR is requested to comply with an increasing number of mandates stemming from Council’s decisions, its regular budget has not kept pace with that growth. The OHCHR therefore has to rely on voluntary contributions to cover up mandated activities (which could limit its independence or possibilities to offer technical cooperation requested by States). For instance, the secretariat servicing the Council must draw on voluntary contributions to pay for 20% of its requirements. The regular budget covers 53% of the support for Special Procedures and only 10% of OHCHR’s field activities.

The OHCHR remains largely underfunded compared to other parts of the UN Secretariat (only 3% of the total regular budget), in spite of human rights constituting the third pillar of the UN.

This worrying trend, worsened by the budgetary cuts remains to be addressed by the General Assembly in terms of actual allocation of resources and timeliness of action. Indeed, coordinated efforts should be made in the 5th Committee and other relevant bodies, such as the ACABQ, to secure substantial strengthening of the regular budget of the OHCHR and thereby ensuring its independence in the fulfilment of its mandate, as well as freeing voluntary resources to meet the increasing demands from the field.

I therefore would like to urge you again to work with your counterparts in the Fifth Committee to address this serious challenge confronting the Human Rights Council. 

In conclusion, as my mandate will end at the end of the year, I hope you will all continue to work hand in hand with my successor in 2013.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to listening to your questions and comments in the framework of this interactive dialogue.