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



Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure and honour that I come before you today, for the second time, to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly. I would also like to congratulate the newly elected Members of the Council and wish them a successful term.

Mr. President, 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 ordinary 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, and to strengthen its capacity. Therefore, I have appointed two additional members to the Commission. I very much hope that these additional appointments will be accompanied by strengthening of the OHCHR support to the Commission of inquiry, including by deploying more staff on the ground.

The Council has also adopted resolutions concerning Eritrea, Belarus, Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Mali, as well as on Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Cambodia, Sudan, South Sudan, Guinea, Somalia and Yemen.

With the establishment of the mandate of the new Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, the Council decided to transfer the communications being considered under the confidential complaint procedure. Let me here underline that the working methods of this said complaint procedure have been improved recently, thanks to close cooperation between the Working Groups on communications and situations.

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 settlements 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. President, distinguished delegates,
During its past three ordinary sessions, among other debates, the Council has held a total of 16 panel discussions, on themes such as freedom of expression on the internet; sexual orientation and gender identity; reprisals; people living with, and affected by HIV/AIDS; the rights of minorities; children’s rights and administration of justice; sport and the Olympic Ideal; the promotion and protection of human rights in a multicultural context, including through combating xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance; remedies and reparations for women victims of violence and women human rights defenders; indigenous peoples and access to justice; as well as technical cooperation in the context of the UPR.

All these panels, having benefited from the expertise and perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders, including States, academics, civil society, UN institutions, international and regional organizations, as well as the media, have triggered substantive and constructive discussions on topics which may sometimes seem challenging or difficult to apprehend.

In addition, the first high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming was held last February. Senior officials of UN agencies participated in this panel which focused on the area of human rights, development and cooperation. Hopefully, the holding of this annual panel will contribute to enhancing awareness raising, coordination, synergies and technical cooperation among relevant stakeholders to address human rights challenges and positively impact the development efforts.

The next high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming within the UN system scheduled in February 201 is likely to focus on human rights and the post-2015 development agenda with a focus on education. It could provide a good opportunity for improvement on the basis of the assessment of progress and achievements made, as well as remaining challenges in mainstreaming human rights within the UN system in areas related to the current Millennium Development Goals. This panel could also provide a timely input for the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons established by the Secretary-General and for the relevant special event of the General Assembly next year. Issues relating to the right to development thus continue to be at the heart of the work of the Council.

With regard to Special Procedures, the Council has established new mandates, including two country mandates on Belarus and on Eritrea, and one thematic mandate 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 Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, as well as the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
The high number of panels, together with the interactive dialogues and general debates, provide for a fruitful forum for focussed discussion on diverse human rights challenges. However, we should avoid overloading the 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. Among the new cross-regional initiatives, allow me to refer to the safety of journalists; business and human rights; corruption; human rights and the environment. Increasingly, more country-specific issues are also being dealt in a cross-regional manner. 

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 lines of demarcation between freedom of expression and incitement to hatred and to violence. 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 advance the debates on this delicate issue.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
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 as the main UN body dealing with human rights. This is further testified by the increasing number of civil society representatives attending the Council proceedings, as well as that of 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 remote participation, through video-messages, of National Human Rights Institutions compliant with the Paris principles and local NGOs accredited by NGOs with ECOSOC status, in order to contribute to our work.
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 or threats, as well as of 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, I have personally 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 the Council last September, as well as during the related panel discussion at that session. 

Mr. President, 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 UN 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 and into the national challenges that lie 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, forward-looking and constructive manner. 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 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 offered for the preparation of various national reports. Ensuring that participation 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 establishing 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 and to provide, among others, training and capacity-building.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
Before I conclude, 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 Council’s secretariat services, 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. This could be done within existing resources with the transfer of existing translators and editors’ vacant post from New York to Geneva. This is indeed of utmost importance in order to provide adequate conference services to the UPR, which has actually been underfunded since the very beginning of its establishment in 2008.

As I already stated last year, an increasing number of reports are not being made available in all languages before their consideration. This is a serious impediment for meetings such as the UPR Working Group, which relies on the capacity of States to consult and review in advance the pre-session documentation of each State under review.

Other recommendations made by the Task Force which require additional resources for their implementation include the need to ensure sustainable webcast coverage of Council meetings by strengthening the capacity of the Department of Public Information in Geneva, as well as by securing regular budget resources to the OHCHR for that purpose. Indeed, so far, the OHCHR has relied on voluntary contributions to provide this essential service to the Council. Bearing in mind that the Council has no more resources for summary records, it would be crucial to at least secure regular budget resources for the webcast, which constitutes the only official archives of the Council and UPR meetings.

Another area where resources would also be needed is the accessibility of parliamentary documents, as well as other fundamental documents, for persons with disabilities. 

Let me now refer to other budgetary issues concerning the Council.

This past year has confirmed that the number of resolutions and decisions adopted by the Council remains high, and the ever-increasing number of Special Procedures and new mandates to be supported and implemented by the OHCHR carries significant resource implications. The total of new resource requirements emanating from HRC mandates in 2012, according to the preliminary estimate of OHCHR and including conference services, amounts to over USD 12 million in total.

In response to time-sensitive mandates created by the Council, proposals were made last year by the Secretary-General on the financing of unforeseen and extraordinary expenses arising from resolutions and decisions of the Human Rights Council. However, the ACABQ recommended that the existing procedure for meeting these unforeseen and extraordinary expenses not related to peace and security be utilized. This means that the Secretary-General and therefore the Council must explain why the additional requirements cannot be immediately absorbed within the approved resources, which we hope will still allow the Council to fulfil its core mandate, i.e. that of responding in a timely manner to emerging human right crises in the world.

Although I am fully aware of the current financial situation, due to the crisis, I would like to seek cooperation and support from all Member States to address these issues through the Fifth Committee, by positively considering options on how best to address the funding of new mandates arising from resolutions and decisions of the Council, while at the same time not forgetting the OHCHR needs, if we want it to deliver more on technical cooperation.

Mr President,
I have held the Presidency since June 2011 and my term will end in December this year. In concluding, I wish to assure you of my commitment to a successful transition of the Council Presidency and hope that the General Assembly will continue to provide its full and efficient support to the Council during its seventh cycle.  

This morning, on behalf of my successor, I have invited the President of the General Assembly to attend the opening of the 22nd session of the Council on 25 February 2013 and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
I thank you for your attention.

Existing staffing levels which are currently funded with XB resources for the coverage of the ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the HR and of the UPR WG (total: 18 weeks) (one G5 staff: 275’600 USD and three G staff: 157’836’60 USD) for a total of 433’436’60 USD for the 2014-2015 RB biennium. PLUS computer equipment for a total of 23’000 USD for the 2014-2015 RB biennium PLUS archival storage costs for 18 weeks for a total of 39’500 USD for the 2014-2015 regular budget biennium. TOTAL = 495'936 USD