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Statement by H.E. Ambassador Remigiusz A. Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council at the Sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly

General Assembly Hall

13 November 2013, New York

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure and honour that I come before you today to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the newly elected Members of the Council and wish them a successful term.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,
The year 2013 marks the seventh year since the establishment of the Human Rights Council and it has achieved significant progress in dealing with human rights issues in different parts of the world.

Syria has continued to be high on the agenda of the Council throughout the year and the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria has been extendedagain. The Council has also established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity. The Council has also extended existing special procedures mandates on the DPRK, Myanmar, Iran, Belarus and Eritrea.

I would like to underline here the creativity demonstrated by the Council with regard to its methods of work which has greatly facilitated 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 the Minister of Justice and Judicial Reform and the Minister of Territorial administration, decentralisation and regionalisation of the CAR and the Prime Minister of Somalia. These dialogues were held at the initiative of concerned countries themselves, welcomed by the Council for their commitment and willingness to address serious human rights concerns in an international forum.

A number of other country specific resolutions have also been adopted in the framework of technical cooperation and capacity building, including on Cambodia, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Guinea, Haiti, Libya, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

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 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.
Mr. President, distinguished delegates,
During its past three regular sessions, among other debates, the Council has held a total of 13 panel discussions, on themes such as the impact of corruption on human rights, the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Council and its Universal Periodic Review, business and human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the human rights of children of parents sentenced to the death penalty or executed, gender integration, indigenous peoples, rights of children, rights of persons with disabilities as well as the promotion of technical cooperation in the field of the administration of justice. The Council also held a high-level panel discussion to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action during which we heard a video address by the Secretary General. The discussion focused on the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and a review of the achievements, best practices and challenges in this regard. In addition, this year’s high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming with heads and senior officials of UN agencies focused on human rights and the post-2015 development agenda, with a particular focus on the right to education. The participation of the Secretary General in this panel demonstrated his commitment to ensuring the integration of human rights in development efforts. The panels held throughout the year have benefitted from the expertise and perspectives of panellists including representatives of governments, parliaments, human rights mechanisms, international and regional organizations, academia, civil society representing affected communities, UN agencies, and journalists.

Finally, the Council has established new special procedures mandates, both country and thematic mandates, bringing the total number of mandates to 51.

The new mandates include the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
In 2013, the Council adopted a total of 107 resolutions, decisions and President’s statements. Also, the number of cross-regional initiatives has continued to increase, affirming the capacity of the Council to take action on important human rights issues by overcoming different political positions. For instance, the resolutions on local government and human rights, on elimination of child, early and forced marriages, on the role of freedom of opinion and expression in women’s empowerment, on the question of the death penalty, as well as country-specific issues were submitted by cross regional groups of States. Many of these resolutions have been adopted without a vote. At the September session, for instance, of 40 resolutions and decisions, 33 were adopted without a vote.

This also demonstrates the increased capacity of the Council to agree on issues relating to the protection of those most in need.

The number of cross regional joint statements has also increased covering a range of topics.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
Let me now turn to the role of civil society in the proceedings of the Council. Active participation and contribution of civil society organizations is central to the work of the Human Rights Council and makes it a unique forum among other UN intergovernmental organs. It is therefore essential that representatives of civil society operate in a free, open and safe environment that protects and promotes their own human rights. I have personally condemned acts of reprisals in the context of Council and UPR sessions and have repeatedly stated 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 responsibility to address effectively all cases of intimidation or reprisals and to ensure an unhindered access to all who seek to cooperate with the UN mechanism. In this regard, Council resolution 24/24 adopted last September on cooperation with the United Nations in the field of human rights is of utmost importance. It requests the Secretary-General, in cooperation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to designate a United Nations-wide senior focal point on reprisals and aims at promoting the prevention of, protection against and accountability for reprisals and intimidation related to cooperation with the United Nations. 

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,
I am also pleased to inform you that we have made some progress on the issue of making the work of the Council accessible to persons with disabilities pursuant to the legal obligations arising from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in line with the mandate given to the Council's Task Force on this issue.

At every session of the Council, one panel was made accessible, in addition to the annual panel on the rights of persons with disabilities. At the most recent session of the Council in September, the annual panel on the rights of indigenous peoples which focused on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was made accessible through the provision of international sign-language interpretation, captioning and webcast of these services. We remain committed at the Council through the Task Force to share best practices on accessibility. The Task Force will continue to report to the Council on progress on this issue.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,
Let me now make a few remarks relating to the Universal Periodic Review. We are now firmly engaged in the second cycle of the UPR and the process continues to get positive feedback from all actors involved. However, I have to point out that we have faced a number of challenges, such as upholding the principle of universality by ensuring the participation of all States and avoiding that issues of a bilateral, territorial nature negatively impact on a process.

Furthermore, it is my firm conviction that by applying all existing practices and rules in a consistent manner to all States under review, we will contribute to strengthening the UPR’s credibility and to the successful second cycle of the UPR, taking into account one of its principles, which is that of an equal treatment of all States under review. 

I wish also to acknowledge the fact that the constructive, consensual and non-politicised approach maintained by the Council throughout this year has encouraged Israel to re-engage with the UPR.

And I welcome Israel’s reengagement as it upholds the integrity and the universality of this important process.

Universal participation is essential to this process and many among the distinguished participants today have been involved in securing the presence of delegations coming from countries far away from Geneva and without a Permanent Mission in that city and I would like to thank them for their endeavour. In this regard, I participated in the interregional seminar to facilitate the participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review from 30 to 31 July in Mauritius.

This is the first time that such a seminar was organised. It focused on facilitating the participation of small-island developing states and least developed countries in the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review mechanism. 23 delegates from 14 LDCs/SIDs participated in the two-day seminar during which they were provided with comprehensive information and tools on the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary mechanisms, particularly the UPR. I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Mauritius for having hosted this seminar as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for having organised the seminar with success.

Mr. President, Excellencies,
Before I conclude, I would like to touch briefly upon the significant challenges facing the Human Rights Council in terms of resources required for it to continue its activities. 

As I said earlier, the Council continues to adopt a high number of resolutions/decisions, giving rise also to new mandates for OHCHR to implement, carrying significant resource implications. Indeed, while the OHCHR is requested to comply with an increasing number of mandates stemming from Council’s decisions, its regular budget has not kept pace with that growth. The OHCHR therefore often has to rely on voluntary contributions to implement mandated activities.

Although I am fully aware of the current financial situation, I would like to seek cooperation and support from all Member States to address this issue, through the Fifth Committee, by positively considering options on how to address the funding of new mandates arising from resolutions and decisions of the Council.

Mr President,
I have held the Presidency since January 2013 and will end my term at the end of this year.  In conclusion, I wish to assure you of my commitment to see a successful transition of Presidency and hope that the General Assembly continues to provide its full and efficient support to the Council during its eighth cycle.  

On behalf of my successor, I would like to welcome you all to the 25th session of the Council in March 2014.

I thank you for your attention.