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Opening Address by Mr. Gianni Magazzeni, Chief Americas, Europe & Central Asia Branch Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division to the Human Rights Committee, 108th session

Distinguished members of the Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to open the one hundred and eighth session of the Committee and to have an opportunity to present you aspects of the operational work of OHCHR.  My role in OHCHR is to head the Branch which provides support to our field presences in the Americas, Europe and Central Asia, as part of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division (FOTCD).

I would like to talk today about how we support States in the implementation of their human rights obligations, including under the ICCPR and I will specifically refer to capacity building and technical cooperation in the context of the day to day work of the Office in the field with a focus on treaty body strengthening.

The implementation of recommendations from human rights mechanisms represents a critical dimension of OHCHR field-work worldwide, which is further linked to the mandate of the High Commissioner to support the promotion and protection of all human rights by all and compliance with international standards by all States.

The Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division is fully committed to sharpen the focus of the activities we already undertake in the field to ensure greater application at country level of international human rights norms. We believe that a more integrated approach to treaty body implementation is a key to better protection for rights-holders.  In this context, it is important to emphasize that a number of countries have taken the following steps in order to ensure timely and effective implementation of recommendations received from the international HR system: a) Have set up a senior level coordination mechanism of implementation led by the Government with the active participation of all relevant government ministries, state entities, the Ombudsman or NHRI, and civil society organizations; b) Have holistically clustered the recommendations by themes - making use of the Universal HR Index, a tool upgraded by OHCHR, gathering all recommendations emanating from the UPR, treaty bodies and special procedures as a basis for detailed prioritized national action plans with well-defined activities, responsible national actors, benchmarks and specific time frames for implementation;  and c)  Have brought international partners, donors, the international community, including regional organisations and the UN system more closely together in assisting the country in the implementation of these key priority human rights actions. 

These steps have also opened renewed opportunities for UN Country Teams to integrate, in close collaboration with OHCHR, recommendations from international human rights mechanisms into such processes as the CCA/UNDAF and national development plans through, among others, active engagement in the effective implementation of the human rights based approach from the outset of these planning and programming processes.   They have also laid the ground for much closer collaboration with other key actors, such as the World Bank as well as bilateral donors, so as to support national human rights priorities.

Today, OHCHR supports 58 human rights presences including country offices, human rights components of UN Peace Missions, Human Rights Advisers within UN Country Teams and regional or sub-regional offices and centres which cover a larger number of countries. Moreover, earlier in 2013, the United Nations Development Group Human Rights Mechanism, agreed to the deployment of 13 additional Human Rights Advisers in 2013-2014 all of them in countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Two of these new HRAs will be based in my region – namely in Jamaica and Dominican Republic.

In the context of the treaty bodies, OHCHR technical cooperation work has three key tasks 1) to encourage and support States to ratify the treaties 2) to support efforts by State institutions to incorporate their human rights obligations into national laws, policies and practices and 3) to support the building of sustainable national capacities to implement these standards.

I would like to underscore the indivisible and mutually reinforcing nature of State reporting and follow-up. The tools we use in designing action plans include the Universal Human Rights Index, and human rights indicators. They are practical tools to allow States to assess progress in implementing their obligations. The development of indicators, as you will recall, was undertaken, inter alia, at the request of the treaty bodies. I understand that the product of this work is a guide on human rights indicators and was introduced to the Chairpersons in New York last May. 

The implementation of human rights standards relating to strengthening the rule of law and the administration of justice is one area in which FOTCD has made much progress. We are involved in a large number of activities to strengthen the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary and more broadly of the administration of justice. These activities include normative guidance, policy development and capacity-building: our focus is on changes not only in laws - but also in implementing regulations, standing orders, content of manuals in professional schools for judges, lawyers, prosecutors or in police academies.  Needless to say, your concluding observations, Views and general comments, in particular general comment no. 32 on the Right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial, are an excellent source.  They provide us with a sound basis to ensure follow up action at the country level, in line with the ICCPR.

For example in Guatemala, OHCHR provided guidance to ensure that proposed reforms to the "Guatemalan Law on a Judicial Career" complied with international human rights standards. You will recall that this Committee made a recommendation to the State to approve legal reforms to the career system of the judiciary in your concluding observations in March last year.

Another good example of successful follow-up was in Kyrgyzstan. Following technical advice provided by OHCHR, the Parliament approved amendments to the criminal code and the code of criminal procedure that brought the definition of torture closer to compliance with international law and set stricter penalties for perpetrators of torture.

Also, in Mauritania, following visits to monitor the detention conditions in several civilian prisons, OHCHR — in close cooperation with the Government and relevant partners — put in place training courses on human rights. This training was designed to build the capacities of law enforcement personnel and prison guards. Ultimately this should improve conditions of detention, ensuring that they conform to international standards. I hope that you see some positive results when you examine the next periodic reports of these States at your forth coming sessions.

OHCHR also helps national authorities develop policies relevant to the administration of justice. In Paraguay, through the Human Rights Adviser, human rights indicators on the right to fair trial were developed with the participation of more than one hundred judges and court officials. These were endorsed by the Supreme Court of Justice in December 2012.

We try to respond positively to requests for technical assistance from States in a coherent, timely, efficient and cost-effective manner. However, our resources as an Office remain limited in view of the magnitude of the task and the expectations upon us. Thus, the Office is more aggressively pursuing fund raising opportunities for all its activities – including those linked to strengthening the TB system and ensuring proper follow up at the country level to recommendations. Furthermore, building on the lessons learned from the Arab Spring, we are more consistently arguing that development cooperation and development efforts generally - in order to be sustainable and successful - have to rest on the solid foundations of good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law.  Increasingly therefore we call on development cooperation actors to take into account recommendations from the international human rights system which represent an x-ray of the critical gaps in implementation.  

I am pleased with the collaboration OHCHR field colleagues have with you for your dialogues. I welcome HRTD’s initiative to keep statistics on the level of support our field offices provide. This allows us to develop best practices that can inspire all our colleagues in the field of the importance in contributing to your work.  

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your willingness to cooperate closely with our colleagues in the field.  They are a valuable source of information and they also are a critical element in terms of implementation and follow up to your recommendations.  Any suggestions or comments you may have on how best to develop the mutually beneficial relationship between the Committee and the Field Operations and Technical Operations Division especially in the context of the over 80 countries within my region - making better use of our 20 field presences – including 4 regional offices –would be most welcome.

I wish you successful deliberations and a productive session.