Header image for news printout

Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, at the Council of Europe on the major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2013

Strasbourg, 14 February 2013

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege to me to address this august body today in my capacity as the Human Rights Council’s President.

At the outset, let me seize this opportunity to express my utmost appreciation for the Council of Europe’s key role played for over 60 years in safeguarding and realising the highest human rights standards and values in the European continent. Particularly for my country, Poland, the Council of Europe membership granted in 1991 was a symbol of historical, peaceful democratic transformations which followed the Round Table talks in Warsaw, the velvet revolution in Prague and the fall of Berlin wall in 1989.

I am very grateful for your invitation to participate in today’s meeting as I see it as a way of strengthening of cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Human Rights Council, respectively the main European and UN bodies responsible for promoting and protecting human rights. In fact, it is a part of a mandate of the Human Rights Council. According to its founding UN General Assembly resolution 60/251, the Human Rights Council should work in close cooperation with regional organizations. In my view, such a cooperation, including also the cooperation between institutions and mechanisms of the Council of Europe and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, should be further developed and enhanced for the benefits of all. It is crucial to share best practices, to identify jointly existing gaps and overlaps and to define common priorities in order to promote and protect human rights in the most effective way.

We can learn a lot of each other.

In this respect, I wish to welcome opening the CoE representation in Geneva and to commend your representative, amb. Dumitriu, for all his efforts to bring even close Strasbourg to Geneva. I look also forward to welcoming Mr. Secretary General, Thorbjorn Jagland, in Geneva, who will participate in the high-level segment of the upcoming Council’s session. I also note that Ambassador Mr. Zoltán Taubner, Director of External Relations will participate in the seminar organized by the Office of the High Commissioner on international cooperation in the field of human rights this Friday, tomorrow.

Ladies and gentleman,

Before turning to introducing the discussion under agenda item on major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2013, let me make a few general comments on the Council itself and its work.

When negotiations were carried out on the replacement of the Commission on Human Rights, there were proposals to make the Council one of the main UN principal organs. Finally, it was decided to establish the Council as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. In my view, now the Human Rights Council plays actively its role as the only UN body solely dedicated to human rights by its increasing political significance and expanding mechanisms and tools. There has been a very visible trend particularly for the last 2/3 years to better timely respond to human rights situations whenever and wherever they occur. It is becoming de facto one of the principal organs of the UN.

The Council has not only swiftly responded to the Arab Spring and other country situations, but has also been actively dealing with and developing thematic issues, such as, just to name a few, children’s right (development of Optional Protocol to CRC), migrants, racism and racial discrimination, climate change and human rights, the rights of persons with disability, national and ethnic minorities, freedom of expression on the internet, and rights of LGBT persons among others.
When I was elected as the Council’s President in December last year, I noticed a planning tool called “Calendar of the Council’s and the Council’s related meetings for 2013” of the Secretariat of the Council and it showed that out of 52 weeks for a whole year already 36 weeks had been already scheduled for meetings, all relate to human rights. It reflects the workload of the Council. It goes without saying that the Council would not be able to manage such a heavy workload without the continuous support of the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, and committed staff of her Office.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I must say that the Council’s agenda or main issues to be dealt with in the course of year may be unpredictable as the world is taken by events and evolutions, sometimes positive and sometimes not. Who could have imagined the Arab Spring just a few months or even weeks before it broke out? For that reason my statement will be informative and indicative in terms of what is coming up at the Council.

First, I wish to draw your attention to the highlights of the next session of the Council starting on 25 February with the high-level segment. It is the main session of the Council and to large extent covers all major topics the Council is dealing throughout the year.

We expect a great number of dignitaries, approximately 70, participating in the high-level segment, including the German President, Mr. Joachim Gauck, and the President of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremic. In the course of the first week we will also hold two important, high-level panels – one on Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the other on human rights mainstreaming.

As part of events to commemorate the twentieth of the adoption anniversary Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Human Rights Council decided last September to hold a high level panel on the first day of its 22nd session, on February 25, in the framework of the high level segment of the Council where dignitaries from all over the world will take the floor, to focus on the implementation of the VDPA, as well as on achievements, best practices and challenges in this regard.
Its adoption which followed the end of cold war represented a milestone in the way the international community addressed human rights issues. For the first time an unprecedented achievement was possible at international level to agree on the fundamental principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The VDPA also establishes a direct link between the respect for human rights, and democracy indicating that “Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives”.It also recognized that the human rights situations in different regions of world are of a legitimate concern of the international community.

Second panel on human rights mainstreaming is a result of the review of the Council’s work and functioning. In the outcome of the review, resolution 16/21, the Council decided to “hold a half-day panel discussion once a year to interact with heads of governing bodies and secretariats of United Nations agencies and funds within their respective mandates on specific human rights themes with the objective of promoting the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system”.

This panel is an unique opportunity for the Council to interact with heads of UN agencies and funds on how to integrate human rights into their respective work, and to promote the mainstreaming of human rights within the UN system. In 2012, the 1st high-level panel on mainstreaming of human rights focused on development and cooperation at the national level. This year, the discussions will concentrate on human rights and the post-2015 development agenda, with a particular focus on areas related to the right to education. It is a very timely initiative, as the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent persons will submit its report to the SG in May 2013 on post-2015 agenda. Therefore the debate can make substantive contribution to the work of the SG Panel, reaffirming the importance of integrating human rights, and in particular the right to education, in the post 2015 development agenda. The UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon will address the panel.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For the last two years one of the main features of the Council’s work has been to respond to the demand for human rights and democracy in the context of Arab Spring. In this respect, we look forward to the interactive dialogue with Commission of Inquiry on Syria at the March session. The Council has expressed its concerns on the worsening human rights situation on the ground and continuous increase of death toll of civilians in particular women and children, I hope the Council will be attentive and give full consideration of the report of the Commission.

Another report which will draw the attention will be the consideration of the report of the Independent Fact Finding Missions to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

In addition, a number of interactive dialogues with Special procedures of the Council, both country-specific and thematic, will be important for the Council’s attention as well. They include the discussion on situations in Myanmar, DPRK, Iran, Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti.

The High Commissioner will submit her reports on human rights in northern Mali, Guinea, Afghanistan, Libya, Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cyprus, Iran and Sri Lanka, at the request of the Council

As for the thematic issues, more than ten mandate-holders will engage with the Council during their annual interactive dialogues dealing with a wide range of thematic human rights issues. Members of the Council of Europe have been very active in sponsoring some of the thematic mandates covering all sets of human rights, civil and political as well as social, economic and cultural rights issues such as extreme poverty, migrants, freedom of religion and belief, sale of children, torture adequate housing and arbitrary detention, human rights defenders, minority rights.

Moreover, in addition to the already mentioned two panels, there will be:

  • Annual discussion on human rights and persons with disabilities;
  • Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a focus on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health ;
  • Panel on the impact of corruption on human rights (Poland and Austria are one of the main co-sponsors);
  • Annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation.

At the end of session, we may expect that more than 30 various initiatives/resolution will be put forward for Council’s action.

With respect to the June session, the Human Rights Council will hold a Panel discussion on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law.

At the same session, the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, whose mandate was established by the Council in June 2012, will present his first report. The establishment of the mandate followed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report findings that suggest the existence of a pattern of serious violations of human rights since the presidential elections in December 2010. The Council subsequently considered the matter and decided to follow it more closely through the establishment of a Special rapporteur.

Also at the June session, a report containing a summary of the discussions held at the workshop on regional arrangements (held in December 2012, CoE participated) will be presented at the June session.

In September, the Office of High Commissioner will present to the Council her report on the good practices on the protection of journalist, among other reports.
I would like to mention that many of members of the Council of Europe have issued standing invitations to Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and I welcome this trend as a meaningful way to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.

And last but not least, a number of the Council of Europe’s countries will undergo their Universal Periodic Review in 2013 such as such as the Russian Federation, Germany, Malta or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovakia. In view of not participating of Israel in its UPR at the scheduled date in January we will also continue working on ensuring the universal participation in the UPR as it was the case during its first cycle which ended in 2012. At this occasion, I wish to add that one of good examples of the very practical cooperation between HRC and CoE is the Council of Europe’s regular contribution to the UPR process. It is very much valuable contribution and benefited by a number of delegations in the preparation for the Universal Periodic Review. to ensure and safeguard the universality of the process.

Thank you very much for your kind attention. If there are some questions I’m ready to reply to them later on.