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2004 Heads of Field Presences Meeting Protecting Human Rights: Charting the Way Forward By Louise Arbour UN High Commissioner for Human Rights



22 November 2004



Dear Colleagues and friends,

This is my first opportunity to meet many of you as High Commissioner for Human Rights. I would like first of all to let you know how much importance I attach to your work and to your commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Indeed, I intend to enhance to the maximum extent the protection of human rights: this is crucial not only in itself but also in order to ensure the success and sustainability of the efforts of the UN system towards peace. The many challenges we currently face relate to a lack of compliance with respect to international human rights norms such as impunity for major human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity; they can only be successfully addressed if we work together as a team – field, headquarters and our New York office.

As you know, a Commission of Inquiry for Côte d’Ivoire was deployed just a few days after I arrived in Geneva in mid-July: their report, just finalized, is likely to recommend a credible and adequate mechanism of accountability as well as the possible intervention of the ICC. Another Commission of Inquiry – set up under a chapter VII resolution of the Security Council - has just been established on Darfur, Sudan, with the challenging tasks of characterizing abuses committed, identifying their perpetrators and determining whether or not genocide has been committed. I mention these two recent developments because they exemplify the direction of our future endeavors as we ensure that OHCHR increasingly plays an effective and much stronger protection role, especially in its work at the country level.

We are all too aware that the advances in the field of human rights during the past 60 years are now being openly challenged in the fight against terrorism. We must be conscious of these developments and remind our interlocutors - whether in Government or not - that the only effective way to win the fight against terrorism is in the full respect of international human rights norms. I may add that this is key not only to dealing with the manifestations of terrorism but, even more importantly, in preventing terrorist acts and ending the breeding ground that feeds terrorism.

The OHCHR mission statement drafted in 2001 highlights: “A number of OHCHR field presences have been established with a view to ensuring that international human rights standards are progressively implemented and realized at country level, both in law and practice. This is to be accomplished through the setting up or strengthening of national human rights capacities and national human rights institutions; the follow up to the recommendations of human rights treaty bodies and the mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights and the creation of a culture of human rights. An essential condition for the success of field presences is that governments, national institutions, NGOs, as well as UN country teams are increasingly empowered to take on human rights related activities on their own, within the context of regional and sub-regional strategies.”

This text seems to me still valid today. It does apply to each and everyone of you - whether you are in a DPKO, DPA, UNDP or an OHCHR mission. As heads of human rights units around the world, we all need to contribute to the development of strong national human rights protection systems and to the widest possible respect of international human rights norms.

As I become increasingly familiar with OHCHR’s work, I am fully convinced of the centrality of our field initiatives. Indeed, being on the ground, you are in a unique position to put into action our policies, to experiment our methodologies and to advise me on steps we can take in order to enhance our protection role with a view to greater compliance with international human rights norms. Since taking up my position, I have had the chance to meet some of you already. When I visited Addis Ababa, to attend the African Union Summit in July this year, I also had the opportunity to meet Ibrahim and Teferra – two of our regional representatives. More recently, when I was in Sudan/Darfur, together with Juan Mendez, the SG’s Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, I got to know Homayoun and Mazen, the coordinator of the Darfur team of human rights observers. I also met a few of you briefly here in Geneva.

The implementation of the SG's reform program, under Action 2, is central to OHCHR’s work in the field. Last month, in New York, together with the Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, Jan Egeland and Carol Bellamy, we launched the joint inter-agency project in support of its implementation. We have taken upon ourselves a great responsibility in translating the vision of the SG into concrete reality at the country level and in working ever more closely with our colleagues within the United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs). At the same time, human rights protection must be recognized as the first and foremost priority of OHCHR, as it is the basis for all human rights work: capacity-building, technical assistance and mainstreaming are of little or no value, and may even work to the detriment of human rights, if the basic fundament of protection is not secured. Human rights protection also lies at the very heart of OHCHR’s mandate and thus cannot and should not be delegated or mainstreamed.

Over the next five days, we will define better our strategy. While the overall objective must be ensuring greater protection, there will be different ways in which we carry out activities in our various field presences, in keeping with that objective. The distinction I would like to make is
between field offices with an explicit monitoring mandate and those without such a mandate. When we have a monitoring mandate resulting from a resolution of the Security Council or the General Assembly or the Commission on Human Rights or resulting from an MOU with the

Government concerned, then you may deal publicly with protection-related issues, the monitoring of the human rights situation and follow up to individual cases of violations.

All field missions however are encourage to:

· become active members of UNCTs and take responsibility for assisting the Resident Coordinator and the members of the UNCT on human rights issues;
· advise the UNCT on capacity-building and promotional work so as to facilitate the integration of human rights elements into the planning and programming of UN development and humanitarian actors;
· facilitate the establishment, and support the activities, of a thematic working group on human rights within the UNCT;
· use the Human Rights Country Profiles (CP) to offer guidance to UNCTs with respect to priority human rights work;
· develop, and regularly update, a matrix of human rights action by individual members of the UNCTs so as to identify what other agencies are doing in connection with further human rights work and facilitating the tasks of OHCHR in the areas that are not or cannot be undertaken by the UNCT;
· ensure integration of human rights into CCA (common country analysis)/UNDAF (UN development assistance framework) processes;
· work with your colleagues in the Treaty Bodies and Commission Branch to follow up on the recommendations of treaty bodies and mechanisms of the Commission on HR;
· ensure that human rights related information is properly channelled to the relevant UN procedures at HQs;
· work with our National Institutions Unit in establishing effective and credible national human rights institutions;
· keep me informed of any instance in which my voice, or that of the mechanisms of the Commission on HR, may assist in addressing or resolving time sensitive human rights situations.

Regarding our regional representatives, to date their key function has been to mainstream and integrate human rights into the work and programmes of UNCTs and UN regional economic and social commissions. They are expected to accomplish that through empowering UN colleagues to undertake human rights work. Priority for action should be in countries other than those where OHCHR is already carrying out project activities or where there is a DPKO or DPA mission with a human rights component.

Regional representatives are the keys to the development and implementation of our
policies within their respective regions. I realise that they must be given the minimum resources necessary to do their job well: we are not yet there and I will come back to this point later. As an office-wide resource, the work of Regional Representatives currently should focus on:

(i) Implementation of international human rights instruments and support to conventional and extra-conventional mechanisms;
(ii) Advancing the rights-based approach;
(iii) Education and Communications;
(iv) and with my authorization, engaging at the national level for purposes of conflict prevention, peace-making, or peace-building.

Since the Secretary-General’s 1997 reform programme, an important aspect of OHCHR’s field work has been the development of human rights components in complex UN missions. The cooperation of these components has improved following the establishment of a UN Peace Missions Support Unit in OHCHR. A great deal more needs to be done, however. When I was in Mt. Pèlerin last month, together with a number of SRSGs, the issue of the filling of vacancies and that of integrated missions came up.

Let me point out that where we have still stand-alone offices and HR components of UN Peace missions, OHCHR is taking steps to consolidate the OHCHR field presences and to plan for a their gradual phasing out within a reasonable period of time. Transfer of HR responsibilities and capacities are being accomplished in these missions not least through joint programs, the sharing of responsibilities and making available staff from OHCHR stand-alone missions to the HR components themselves. While OHCHR will maintain a separate office in DRC and Burundi in 2005, there will be significant reductions in the financial commitments in these two countries and a further reduction of these OHCHR offices is to be envisaged in 2006. Overall, this will result in significant increases in the support the UN provides to these two countries in the field of human rights. In the case of Haiti, MINUSTAH, the OHCHR pre-existing office in the UNCT (a human rights adviser) has been fully integrated within the emerging human rights component of the UN peace mission. This is an example that could be followed in future such situations.

OHCHR intends to work as a reliable partner within the integrated UN system and to consult widely – especially when the situation on the ground warrants. Yet, there may be times in which it may be in the best interest of all concerned if it is OHCHR alone to make full use of its strong protection mandate deriving by the application of international human rights norms or action by human rights treaty bodies or the mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights. We therefore shall maintain OHCHR stand-alone missions whenever this may support the wider efforts of the UN. Equally we will set up an independent office whenever this is welcomed by our UN partners – for instance, at the end of the mandate of MINUGUA in Guatemala later this year, or whenever it may be necessary. While considering how to respond to new demands in terms of mainstreaming and UNCT support, OHCHR should not lose sight of its own specific mandate: it must ensure that human rights does not become only an instrument or tool for programming or just another element in overall UN responses to situations. Human rights protection must retain its value as an end in itself. This being so, OHCHR needs to develop its role as expert-facilitator, but it should not become just a service provider: it must exercise its strong and unique human rights protection mandate which is the one quality that makes it stand out in the UN system. As part of its protection mandate, OHCHR must further generate and retain resources to carry out technically complex and demanding field investigations into large-scale human rights violation, including massacres.

In my view, OHCHR field presences have completed their mission once core human rights benchmarks have been accomplished, for instance the existence of national human rights capacities and infrastructures i.e. a functioning administration of justice in line with international norms, an independent national human rights institution and civil society organizations actively involved in human rights issues, laws and practices in line with international human rights norms. These benchmarks also include the capacity of the UNCTs to independently carry out human rights work based on the international human rights standards.

Human rights support for, and cooperation with, United Nations Peace Missions, has rapidly become one of our core functions. The Security Council as a rule now includes human rights provisions in its resolutions pertaining to peace-keeping and peace-building. This demonstrates that respect for human rights is increasingly recognized as central to conflict resolution. We should capitalize on this and strengthen our capacity to participate actively in UN conflict resolution efforts and ensure that human rights are fully integrated into peace agreements as they are being negotiated and drafted. To do so we need to better mobilize and coordinate in-house resources in related fields, such as transitional justice, including truth and reconciliation mechanisms, rule of law, humanitarian action and development. I am taking steps to strengthen support to human rights components of UN peace missions; develop a lessons learned/best practices capacity within OHCHR based on their experience so far; enhance the ability of OHCHR to manage in a much more effective way vacancies in these missions including the development of tools, such as a compendium of vacant positions in the field, facilitate rotation and enhance career opportunities.

We have expanded the number of OHCHR programme officers (international and national) working within UN country teams or closely with them in order to implement specific projects of technical cooperation. They implement project activities as agreed with the various Governments concerned. Human rights advisers within UNCTs have been placed in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Guyana and Uganda. Other such advisers are expected shortly to be appointed in Togo, and for the Great Lakes region.

In the context of Nepal, we have been particularly conscious of the fact that the protection of human rights, without an explicit monitoring mandate, could be undertaken best through national partners. Indeed, we are providing support to the National Human Rights Commission to better enable it to implement its statutory monitoring mandate for the protection of human rights throughout the country – including through the setting up of provincial offices. We are doing this in full cooperation with the UNCT as our activities in Nepal are part of a UNDP project and have been reflected in the overall UN strategy for Nepal.

However, while we will continue to reach out to our UN partners, as recommended in the
global review of the technical cooperation program, we must also retain the ability to undertake independent programming where there is no willingness to act within our UN partners.

Over the past few years, independent reports have assessed and evaluated our work. Such reports help guide the Office to establish priorities and develop strategies. These evaluations recommend that OHCHR:

i) Define its added value and role within the UN family and set clear priorities;
ii) Make more use of strategic synergies through the CCA/UNDAF process; and
iii) Focus more of its efforts on developing methodologies and tools rather than direct implementation.

As we have started our planning for the next biennium budget (2006-2007), I intend to strengthen the support derived from the regular budget for field related activities. I will also request that regional representatives of OHCHR be funded from the regular budget of technical cooperation: this will immediately release resources for these offices thus ensuring they have the minimum necessary to do effectively their job.

I am also considering enhancing the support that thematic units provide within OHCHR, especially in the area of National Human Rights Institutions, as we now support them in well over 70 countries, as part of the overall efforts to strengthen national human rights protection systems. The program management support function of OHCHR needs to be further strengthened with a special focus on field related activities. We have to focus on working more closely with Special Procedures mandated holders and the members of the treaty-bodies in order to enhance the convertibility of their recommendations into technical cooperation and field related actions. We also need to develop clear guidelines and methodologies for the evaluation and systematic gathering of lessons learned as well as indicators to measure results of all field work.

Over the next five days, we will address in greater depth these issues and I am pleased with the preparatory work done ahead of this meeting especially the several questionnaires that have been sent to you to solicit your input ahead of these discussions. This afternoon, there will be a report on enhancing the professionalism of human rights officers in the field (following an expert consultation held here in Palais Wilson during the weekend, which some of you attended). Some of the field staff recruited by OHCHR years ago may never have gone through a proper training session or may not have received up-dated information even if induction courses were provided at the very beginning. I intend to give top priority to both training and providing the necessary tools needed for us to be able to maintain a coherent approach in field work around the world.

Tomorrow, we will review best practices and lessons learned through the work in human
rights components of UN peace missions. The experiences developed thus far in some 13
missions will be studied. Later on, we will deal with transitional justice issues: especially the lessons learned in Sierra Leone and Timor Leste.

On Wednesday the focus will be on protection work, including human rights investigations of
massacres (such as Korhogo or Gatumba). Both OHCHR field offices with a protection mandate as well as human rights components of peace missions are called upon to investigate and report on the facts and circumstance of major human rights violations occurring within the mission’s mandated area. However, we must develop an OHCHR wide approach to dealing with investigations and other emergency/protection related activities. I am looking at establishing a leadership and coordination function in the executive office to deal specifically with this issue.

In the afternoon we will interface with the Board of Trustees of the VFTC to discuss the promotion of human rights. I hope that this discussion will provide an overview of practical experience from the field and offer some concrete suggestions for active implementation. I am convinced that the design of technical cooperation and field projects needs to take into close consideration the recommendations of treaty bodies and mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights.

We will then review administrative backstopping as well as security related issues, which are a
top priority for me, especially in the wake of the tragic events of 19 August 2003. Our IT staff
will share the latest techniques to access/process data from field locations. The RMU and ERB will then complement the range of issues that are linked to our work in the field respectively with funding requirements and a communication strategy more focused on the field.

On Friday, we will take a closer look at the role, functions and experience so far of OHCHR
Regional Representatives. Building on past discussions as well as the review held in May under the chairmanship of Thomas Hammarberg, we will consider lessons learned and best practices so as to maximize the role and function of Regional Representatives. My expectation is that Regional Representatives will be increasingly in a position to help shape OHCHR’s regional operations policy and be supported by HQ – not the other way round.

I really hope that your active participation in this meeting will allow me and my Deputy, Mehr
Khan Williams, the possibility to learn a great deal from your tremendous knowledge of human
rights and many years of experience in the field.

Thank you