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Statement by H.E. Remigiusz A. Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council at the annual consultations of OHCHR Heads of human rights field presences

7 October 2013

Madam Deputy High Commissioner,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me, in my capacity as the President of the Human Rights Council to address you today, who are on the forefront to protect and promote human rights on the ground all over the world.

Let me first seize this opportunity to express my thanks to the High Commissioner for inviting me to attend today’s session, which provides an opportunity for exchanging information and dialogue about the Human Rights Council, its trends, most recent developments as well as its impact on the work of human rights on the ground. I hope this can become a regular feature of your programme in the future.

I took up the office as the President of the Council last January, together with four Vice-Presidents we comprise the Bureau of the Council and represent the five regional groups: Ambassador Iruthisham Adam of Maldives (Asia), Ambassador Luis Gallegos Chiriboga of Ecuador (GRULAC), Ambassador Cheikh Ahmed Ould Zahaf of Mauritania (Africa) and Ambassador Alexandre Fasel of Switzerland (WEOG). We are mandated to deal with organizational and procedural matters relating to the work of the Council. As you may imagine, being the guardian of the organisation and smooth proceedings of the Council is not an easy task. This year for example, I have been involved in on-going negotiations on a series of important institutional and political issues, such as the UPR of Israel or the appointments of special procedures mandate holders and other experts. Throughout this year, I have also spared no effort to address the issue of reprisals against persons having cooperated with the Council’s mechanisms [I will come back to this issue later on]. In a resolution on reprisals entitled “Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights” adopted by the Council on 27 September (last Friday), the role of the President in this regard has also been formally acknowledged.

In 2013, the Council held three regular sessions, the last one, twenty-fourth session just concluded one week ago. This has been an extremely productive and eventful year for the Council. Because of the increasingly important role the Council has played in recent years, as the main body responsible for human rights, it is becoming de facto one of the main bodies of the United Nations The growing number of dignitaries addressing the Council, almost 90 during the last main March session, is a testimony of its increasing importance and relevance to the states.

Mid-November, I will present the annual report of the Council to the General Assembly in New York, and engage in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee. In this respect, I wish to provide you with some highlights today.


The 17th session of the UPR Working Group will begin in two weeks, on 21 October, during which fourteen States will be reviewed. This mechanism was considered as a major achievement by its universality and equal treatment of all States with regard to reviewing their human rights situations. The second cycle of the UPR, which commenced last year, focuses on the follow-up to recommendations from the 1st cycle, as well as sharing of good practices and challenges. The second phase also provides an opportunity to keep a spotlight on the human rights situations in these countries. For the Council, maintaining the 100% participation of all States as was the case for the 1st cycle is of crucial importance. In this regard, the Council has been making targeted efforts, with the support of the Secretariat, to enhance the capacity of Small Islands States and Least Developing Countries to participate in the work of the Council and the UPR. An interregional seminar for these States was organized in Mauritius this past July and I hope more will follow, so that all States, regardless of their size and geographical location, can participate in the work of the Council. I believe many of you have utilized UPR as an entry point in your work to engage governments, national human rights institutions, and UN agencies present in the country or region, as part of your human rights work on the ground.

I would be extremely interested in the context of the discussion today, to hear your views on the efforts undertaken by the Office at the field level to assist on the UPR follow-up process. I understand that many activities have been initiated at your level and would appreciate being acquainted with your assessment of the situation. Similarly, it would be important to learn about the results achieved in setting up clearing house at the regional level as was anticipated at the end of the review process of the Council. Indeed, it is of particular importance to develop pro-active policies aiming at ensuring universal coverage of the UPR follow-up process. The UPR is a mechanism which stimulates interaction, with national and international partners, civil society, national human rights institutions, UN agencies, and other stakeholders. We should all aim at furthering the implementation of UPR recommendations in the field. The follow-up process is our main priority for the second cycle, and I count on the Office of the High Commissioner and all of you in the field to help us in this regard.

Increased responsiveness to urgent or emerging human rights situations

The Council has not only swiftly responded to the Arab Spring and other country situations, but has also been actively dealing with emerging thematic issues.
Regarding country situations, the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria has been extended. By doing so, the Council has kept the human rights situation in Syria high on its agenda. On DPRK, in addition to the existing mandate of the Special Rapporteur, the Council has established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the situation of human rights in the country. This sends an important message and also provides an essential opportunity monitor the human rights situation more closely. At the same time, the Council has extended existing mandates on Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, DPRK, Iran, Haiti, Myanmar, Somalia and the Sudan. Moreover, this year two special rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Belarus and Eritrea presented their first reports. Furthermore, during the recent sessions, two new mandates on Mali and on the Central Africa Republic have been created. Additionally, following the violence against Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, a Presidential statement was adopted at the 23rd session in June.

In dealing with country situations, the Council has demonstrated creativity with regard to its methods of work thus facilitating the dialogue of concerned countries with the Council. Two interactive dialogues, one on the Central African Republic and the other on Somalia, were held with the participation of governments’ ministers and the Deputy High Commissioner; the Prime Minister was also present in the case of Somalia. This new format emerged at the initiative of concerned countries themselves, which were saluted by the Council for their commitment and willingness to address serious human rights concerns in an international forum.

At this juncture, I should highlight the important role of the regular update, at the beginning of each Council session, by the High Commissioner on developments in the world and the numerous reports presented, including on northern Mali, Guinea, Afghanistan, Libya, Colombia, Guatemala, Bolivia, Cyprus, Iran, Sri Lanka and Yemen, among others, which have tremendously contributed to the deliberations of the Council.

Thematic human rights issues

The Council has also been actively addressing a large number of thematic issues including emerging human rights topics. Panel discussions are one of the most innovative and significant contributions to the Council’s work. Just to mention a few examples, the Council holds a number of annual discussions, including on women’s human rights, the integration of a gender perspective, the rights of the child, the rights of persons with disabilities, the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as on technical cooperation and capacity building on specific human rights issues. In addition, the Council held panel discussions on specific themes, such as human rights and corruption, the contribution of Parliaments to the HRC and the UPR, and human rights and business. At each session, some fifteen to twenty Special Rapporteurs engage in interactive dialogue with the Council. At its last session, the Council has established the new mandate on human rights of older persons.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year is the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA).

To commemorate this anniversary, the Council held a high level panel during its 22nd session last February, in the framework of the high-level segment, where dignitaries from all over the world addressed the Council on the implementation of the VDPA, as well as on achievements, best practices and challenges in this regard.

During its 22nd session, the Council also held its second high level annual discussion on human rights mainstreaming in the UN system. The Secretary-General as well as several heads of UN agencies participated in the debate which focused on the integration of human rights in the post-2015 development agenda.

Challenges ahead

While taking an active approach to human rights issues prompted by the Arab Spring, the Council increasingly delivers outputs, some of which have a concrete and immediate bearing on the ground.

A key issue will continue to be the implementation and the follow-up on the ground to the Council’s activities and those of its mechanisms. This includes following-up on adopted resolutions, on UPR and Special Procedures’ recommendations, on the findings of the fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry.

Over the past few sessions of the Council, an increasing number of cases of intimidations against representatives of civil society or individuals who cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms have been noted, especially against those who have participated in the sessions of the Council and face reprisals back home. As President, I remain very vigilant and have continuously reiterated that any acts of intimidation or reprisals against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations and its representatives are unacceptable and must end. It is the Council’s and its President’s responsibility to address effectively all cases of intimidation or reprisals and to ensure an unhindered access to all who seek to cooperate with the Council. I encourage you, in your daily work to support civil society and human rights defenders to timely channel any relevant information on reprisals against those who participate in the Council to the Bureau, in order to take appropriate measures.

Dear colleagues,

Much more needs to be done to bring the Council closer to where human rights are being implemented, neglected and/or violated. The work of the Council is still unknown for too many rights-holders around the globe. More time and concreted efforts are needed for the words and actions of the Council to translate into real change on the ground.

The Council will appoint 18 Special Procedure mandate-holders at its upcoming March session; the largest number of vacancies being filled at one session thus far. In order for the Council to appoint experts of a high caliber to carry out the extremely important work as Special Rapporteurs, we should deploy all efforts to attract first-rage candidates from all regions. I call on your support to join the ongoing outreach efforts of the Secretariat, encouraging internationally recognized human rights experts to apply to for those vacancies. The Council cannot fulfill its mandate without the substantive and valuable work of Special procedures.

The Council is still a young body in the UN inter-governmental constellation. However, given its growing importance and role as I mentioned at the beginning of my statement, its ambitions should also be matched by adequate financial resources for the High Commissioner and her Office to implement the constantly increasing number of mandates and activities. In the context of the global financial crisis, this is of course a difficult issue. Nevertheless, advancing human rights must remain priority and must not be compromised at any cost. This will also be my message to Member States at the General Assembly.

Thank you.