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Statement by Jane Connors Chief, Special Procedures Branch, Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

12 August 2013

Madame Vice-President of the Human Rights Council,
Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee,
Colleagues and friends,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today, on the occasion of the opening of the eleventh session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. Allow me to share with you, as is customary, perspectives from the Office of the High Commissioner on thematic human rights issues which are on the agenda of this session.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) by the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, OHCHR co-hosted together with the Austrian Government, the Vienna +20 Conference in Vienna on 27 and 28 June. Vienna +20 provided an opportunity, in the form of a High-Level Expert Conference, to review the progress made since 1993 identify gaps and challenges, and reaffirm commitments of Member States and those of other stakeholders.

In her address to the Conference, the High Commissioner pointed out that the goals set forth in Vienna in 1993 are still valid, and still worth fighting for in 2013. The VDPA built upon human rights laws, standards and principles, and paved the way for the creation of key mechanisms and institutions, most notably the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights itself, the International Criminal Court, and the Universal Periodic Review. However, alongside these achievements, gaps and shortfalls still remain in the global effort to fully implement the VDPA.

During the Vienna +20 event and the high-level panel convened by the Human Rights Council at its 22nd session in March, discussions on implementation of the VDPA revolved around difficulties and challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights, especially in light of issues that continue to undermine the realization of fundamental human rights. These include selectivity in relation to rights, discrimination, impunity and corruption, food-related illness and malnutrition, and poverty. New challenges continue to emerge. Amongst these we can cite the economic and financial crises, climate change, global terrorist movements and the invasion of privacy in cyberspace – a topic of much recent media attention - which all adversely affect the enjoyment by people all over the world of the full range of human rights.

During the Vienna +20 event, all participants agreed that much remains to be done in order to ensure that human rights mainstreaming is entrenched fully and that human rights is truly recognized as one of the pillars of the United Nations, alongside development, and peace and security and is reflected in our daily reality. Particular areas were identified, especially in the contexts of the post-MDG/post-2015 agenda, the follow-up to Rio +20, global migration and issues relating to business, transnational corporations and financial institutions, where it is essential to secure a solid human rights-based approach for the years to come. Poverty alleviation, attaining equality of opportunity for all, and dialogue and cooperation were recognized to be the principles that should guide our actions in the way forward.

Your Committee has, in line with the framework of the VDPA and pursuant to the mandates received from the Council, already addressed many of these issues, and will continue to do so in future. For instance, given that the integration of a gender perspective will continue to be a core part of your discussions, let me update you on the latest reports of several Special Procedures that focused on gender issues, especially in areas of particular interest to your past and present work. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food presented to the Council in March, focused on the role of gender equality in the right to food and the threats to women's enjoyment of the right to food. It examined the obstacles women face in accessing employment, social protection and the productive resources needed for food production, food processing and value chain development. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons also dedicated his last report to the Council in June to the singular situation of internally displaced women, identifying outstanding gaps in protection and assistance they experience.

Similarly, human rights treaty bodies addressed women’s and girls’ enjoyment of rights in their work. For instance, the general discussion organized by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in April 2013 was dedicated to the situation of women and girls with disabilities, in particular the inter-sectionality between gender and disability, violence against women and girls with disabilities, and sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) held a half-day general discussion on women and access to justice on 18 February 2013, as the first step in the process of formulating a general recommendation on this issue. From May 2013, our Office embarked on a joint programme with UN Women and UNDP which aims to strengthen women’s access to justice.

On the issue of poverty, while presenting her the report to the Council in June, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights emphasized the need to move to the implementation of the guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights, and called on States to ensure that a human rights-based approach was integrated in the post-2015 development agenda. The Rapporteur’s report focuses on the right to participation of people living in poverty, and underlines the utmost importance of participation to the empowerment of people living in poverty to tackle inequalities and asymmetries of power in society.

This brings me to the issue of international solidarity that has been affirmed to be a key approach to poverty eradication. In June, the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity submitted her report to the Council, in which she presented an update on her programme of work which will culminate in the presentation of the draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity in 2014.

Let me also brief you on the first session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group tasked with the negotiation and finalization of the draft UN declaration on the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, which took place from 15 to 19 of July. At the opening of the Working Group, the Deputy High Commissioner recalled the challenges faced by people working in rural areas, including small-scale farmers, fishers and pastoralists. She highlighted the need for Governments to review their laws and policies and find coherent and human rights-based strategies, particularly through free, active and meaningful participation of people working in rural areas in order to effectively address the issues they face.

The session consisted of panel discussions followed by a first reading of the initial draft prepared by your Committee. Several delegations expressed their appreciation for your Committee’s efforts in this regard, and their support for such a declaration. Panellists and participants alike stressed the importance of the recognition of and respect for the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, especially with regard to food security and the realization of the right to food, sustainable development, climate change, combating discrimination and the prevention and response to crises, including financial and food crises.

The Council will continue its work in the area of the right to peace as it decided in June to extend the remit of the intergovernmental working group on the subject, which will meet again for a second session in early 2014.

Regarding the issue of traditional values, as you know, in addition to the study presented by your Committee, the Council requested the Office to collect information from Member States and other relevant stakeholders on best practices in the application of traditional values while promoting and protecting human rights and upholding human dignity. A summary of the contributions received is presented to the upcoming session of the Council in September.

Distinguished Members,

Allow me to now turn to the new mandates emanating from the Council’s last two sessions that your Committee will be discussing during this week. In March, the Council adopted resolution 22/16, mandating your Committee to prepare a research-based report on best practices and the main challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights in post-disaster and post-conflict situations. Conflict situations and disasters, whether natural or human-made, result in immense human suffering, threats to, and violations of, human rights. It is only if appropriate attention to human rights concerns is given in the aftermath of humanitarian crises that a sustainable post-crisis recovery and development can be created. However, as we have seen in many situations, the international community struggles with the challenge of ensuring the full realization of human rights following humanitarian crises. The promotion and protection of human rights are therefore not systematically or inadequately taken into account as a strategic consideration in recovery processes and affected populations continue to suffer even in post-disaster and post-conflict situations. It is in this context that your Committee has been requested to seek the views and inputs of a wide range of stakeholders as it prepares the report on the main challenges and best practices in this area. You are also requested to take into account, as appropriate, the work done on the issue by competent United Nations bodies and mechanisms within their respective mandates. Let me highlight here the role played by our Office as key protection actor in humanitarian crises, in providing guidance to Humanitarian Coordinators, and engaging with Humanitarian Country Teams and protection clusters, and in ensuring that human rights is on the agenda of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, which is the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Distinguished Members,

At your last session you were informed that, by way of follow-up to the work of your Committee, the Council requested our Office to organize a seminar on the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, which took place on 15 February 2013.

The seminar focused on clarifying and discussing the legal definition of international cooperation in the field of human rights, sharing experiences and good practices in this area, and identifying challenges as well as the roles of key actors, including United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. The vital role of international cooperation in reinforcing economic, social and cultural rights and addressing contemporary and future challenges of our rapidly evolving world was reiterated. Participants found that the constructive study prepared by this Committee brought to light a number of positive elements, but that additional channels needed to be explored, based on the principles of the VDPA. International cooperation could help to overcome the gaps in the human rights performance of States, by supporting their national efforts and assisting them in building their capacities in the field of human rights through, inter alia, the enhancement of their cooperation with human rights mechanisms, including through the provision of technical assistance. In addition, the importance of shifting the focus from North-South cooperation to North-North and South-South cooperation was stressed. States were also called upon to take measures necessary to enhance bilateral, regional and international cooperation aimed at addressing the adverse impact of consecutive global crises on the full enjoyment of human rights.

Participants considered that there is a lack of coordination in multifaceted cooperation with different stakeholders and mechanisms. They stressed the need for UN agencies and Member States to work together, and more innovatively, in order to increase their efforts to promote and engage with the human rights machinery and architecture better. International cooperation should also be based on mainstreaming, transparency, good governance, monitoring and accountability, and respect through the systemized participation of stakeholders. Participants considered it equally important that an operational definition besides the legal definition be developed, which should based on the Charter of the United Nations, including a framework, benchmarks and evaluation tools.

The Council, at its June session, took note of the seminar and highlighted the importance of the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights as an essential condition for the full achievement of the purposes of the UN and as an effective and practical contribution to the task of preventing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In its resolution 23/3, it tasked your Committee with the preparation of a more focused and in-depth study on the ways and means to enhance such cooperation. In this process you are requested to, inter alia, identify areas where further progress could be made for the enhancement of international cooperation and dialogue in the United Nations human rights machinery, including the Human Rights Council.

Colleagues and friends,

Participants at the seminar also identified the elimination of corruption as an issue that often conditioned cooperation. Corruption exposes, in particular, the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society to violations of human rights. In an environment of economic inequality and instability, it exacerbates the trend of the growing governance gap by weakening institutions, eroding public trust in Government and impairing the ability of states to fulfil their human rights obligations. Human rights mechanisms, including the Council and the Office, are increasingly mindful of the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights and consequently of the importance of effective anti-corruption measures. In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that our Office is currently working with UNDP and UNODC on a publication on human rights and countering corruption. In addition, the Office is also preparing a report on the role of the public service as an essential component of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights, which will be submitted to the twenty-fifth session of the Council in March 2015.

Following up on the panel discussion on the negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights, held at the March session, at its June session the Council adopted resolution 23/9, giving a new mandate to your Committee. The resolution requests you to prepare a research-based report containing recommendations on how the Council and its subsidiary bodies should consider this issue. In preparing the report you are requested to seek the views and inputs of all stakeholders, including UNODC and OHCHR.

Distinguished Members,

As you take the opportunity that this session offers to consider new priorities for further research, especially in the context of emerging challenges and situations, I invite you to examine the work carried out by other subsidiary bodies and special procedure mandate-holders, which you may wish to build on. For instance, given that the number of migrants is expected to increase, with estimates reaching 405 million by 2050 compared to the 200 million people today living outside their country of citizenship, it is crucial that human rights are integrated in the governance of international migration. In this regard you may refer to the analytical report on migration and human rights, the preparation of which was led at the Secretary-General’s request by our Office, in view of the upcoming General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, 2013. Our Office also convened an expert meeting on migration, human rights and governance in June that identified important elements of a forward-looking global agenda on migration and human rights, including the need for more systematic interaction between relevant stakeholders. The work of the Special Rapporteur on migration is also very interesting, as it focuses on migration in the Mediterranean region. You may also find the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression submitted to the Council in June, which analyses the implications of States’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression useful. The Special Rapporteur underlines the urgent need to study further new modalities of surveillance and revise national laws regulating these practices in line with human rights standards.

I draw your attention to the large number of Special Procedures mandate-holders coming to the end of their terms as mandate holders in 2014. This poses a challenge for the Human Rights Council as it will need to appoint new mandate-holders. Our Office is currently working on an outreach strategy in order to ensure that the selection process for such a large number of upcoming vacancies is smooth. I encourage you to consult the webpage of the Special Procedures, where all relevant information, including the list of vacancies has been uploaded. I would also be grateful if you could disseminate this information amongst your networks so a broad range of candidates can apply and be considered.

It is with great pleasure, also, that I refer you to the brochure on your Committee that the Office has recently published in English, French and Spanish. We hope that this brochure will serve as a valuable outreach tool which will sensitize all about the important work carried out by your Committee.

I assure you of the Secretariat’s full support for your activities, and of the High Commissioner’s wish to be informed of any issues you may wish to raise.

With best wishes for the present session.