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Statement by H.E. Remigiusz A. Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council Seminar on the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights

Excellencies,
Madam Deputy High Commissioner,
Distinguished Delegates, Experts,  
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to the seminar on the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights.  I am pleased to see that we have today with us representatives of Member States, international and regional organizations and civil society, as well as experts from human rights treaty bodies, special procedures and the Advisory Committee. I am confident that under your able stewardship, Professor and former Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan, today’s discussions will make a valuable contribution to the development of international legal thinking on the obligations of enhancing international cooperation in the field of human rights, which is grounded in the UN Charter and which has been a major thrust in the development of the international human rights system ever since. 

The Human Rights Council has ever since its inception dedicated its fullest attention to the issue of international cooperation, which is a cornerstone principle of the Council’s architecture.  Indeed, General Assembly resolution 60/251   in its preamble set out that “the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue and aimed at strengthening the capacity of member States to comply with their human rights obligations for the benefit of all human beings”   and coined the Council’s mandate to be  guided by the principles of “constructive dialogue and cooperation”. The Council should act as a forum for dialogue on thematic issues on all human rights; it should contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the promotion of human rights and the prevention of human rights violations; and work in close cooperation in the field of human rights with Governments, regional organizations, national human rights institutions and civil society.

In the field of international cooperation on human rights, as you would agree, a major achievement of the Human Rights Council is the creation of the universal periodic review. As the UPR enters into its second cycle, we can confidently speak of a major accomplishment, evidenced by high-level participation of all Member States during the first cycle and some very encouraging changes on the ground.  As you would also agree, the UPR has contributed significantly to universalising human rights, as it has offered a platform for dialogue and paved the way for human rights dialogue at the national level. It has also opened up unprecedented opportunities for States, the UN, regional organisations, civil society organizations, national human rights institutions and development actors to foster international dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights.   This unique mechanism - conceived in 60/251 as a “cooperative mechanism …based on dialogue” - has a crucial role to play in the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, as repeatedly reiterated by the Council, urging States to continue to support the UPR Voluntary Fund and the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance.

In its work, the Council has emphasized the role of international cooperation in support of national efforts and in strengthening the capacities of States in the field of human rights. It also called upon States, specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations to continue to carry out a constructive dialogue and consultations for the enhancement of understanding and the promotion and protection of all human rights, and encouraged non-governmental organizations to contribute actively to this endeavour. The Council urged States to take necessary measures to enhance bilateral, regional and international cooperation aimed at addressing the adverse impact of consecutive and compounded global crises, such as financial and economic crises, food crises, access to drinking water and basic sanitation, right to health and to housing, climate change and natural disasters, on the full enjoyment of human rights.

Since its establishment, the Council has taken a number of steps to take further the development of the concept of the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights. The concept itself is embedded in the Charter and in a number of international human rights treaties.  The debate around this issue is not a new one - it has been on the agenda of the General Assembly for quite some time now, which adopts a biannual resolution, and of the former Commission on Human Rights. However, it has gained a new impetus through the understanding of dialogue and cooperation and the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity which underpin the mandate of the Council.

As early as March 2007, the Council adopted decision  4/104  requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to consult States and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations on ways and means for the enhancement of international cooperation and dialogue, including obstacles and challenges, as well as possible proposals to overcome them.  Based on a succession of reports presented by the High Commissioner in 2008, 2009 and 2010 on such consultations, the Council at its thirteenth session commissioned the Advisory Committee to explore ways and means to enhance international cooperation in the field of human rights. In its resolution 19/33, building upon the study prepared by the Advisory Committee and the recommendations it made, the Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner to organize the present seminar.  I am particularly pleased that two experts of the Advisory Committee who have been involved in this study are present today, to make their contribution to the seminar.  Indeed, the Advisory Committee has been very active in producing substantive studies to respond to and enhance the debates of the Council on various important thematic issues. By the same token, I am satisfied to note the presence of thematic Special Rapporteurs in today’s programme. Their contribution to the promotion of international cooperation in the field of human rights is of crucial importance and deserves particular attention.

I am also pleased to acknowledge the progress made in the work of the Council in developing the concept of international cooperation and  in furthering the understanding of its effective contribution to the promotion and protection of all human rights – and  today’s seminar is an important opportunity to  enrich  this process. This is the first time that we will be able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the experts of human rights bodies and mechanisms in a wider discussion with a number of different stakeholders,  to clarify the concept, definition, legal framework as well as the role of the international cooperation.  We will also be able to exchange experiences to identify the outstanding challenges, and to learn from best practices. This is a very important opportunity to further the process of consultations, and to reflect on the way forward in shaping our approach to enhancing international cooperation in the field of human rights.  

This year marks a milestone for the human rights system, as we are preparing to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Conference, and let us reflect on the turning point brought about for the concept we are looking at today by the Vienna Declaration, which reinforced the commitment of the international community to human rights  and acknowledged that “the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights is essential for the full achievement of the purposes of the United Nations”. We will at the forthcoming session of the Council, hold a high-level panel discussion on the VDPA, to exchange views and experiences on its achievements, challenges and continued relevance. Let us also reflect on the fact that the substantive and institutional achievements of the VDPA were the result of agreements made possible through a spirit of cooperation in the pursuit of common goals.

At the same session, we will be holding our annual discussion on mainstreaming, which reflects the centrality of human rights in international cooperation in the broader UN agenda. As the 2015 MDGs deadline gets closer and the international community has mobilized to prepare the post-2015 development agenda, this year’s high level panel focus on human rights and the post 2015 development agenda, in particular as related to the right to education, The Council will also hold its annual panel on technical cooperation with the focus on the judiciary and the administration of justice.
Our seminar today is an opportunity  to provide a contribution to these processes through the variety of information, good practices, challenges, lessons learned and new perspectives which will be presented here and which can empower and guide new collaborations for more efficient action  for the lives of our peoples. I wish you a successful and rewarding discussion today.

Thank you very much for your attention.