On the occasion of Human Rights Day, the UN special procedures call on all stakeholders, in particular States, to cooperate with them fully.
The first special procedures mechanism was established in 1965. Today, almost fifty years later, the system of special procedures comprises 51 mandates. Through our country and thematic mandates, we address all rights; civil, cultural, economic, political and social. We have endeavoured to contribute a wealth of expertise on a wide range of issues including combating all forms of discrimination; fighting impunity; establishing the rule of law; promoting the recognition of and consolidating support for human rights; and enhancing economic and social development.
Special procedures have enjoyed fruitful cooperation with many States and other stakeholders. Over the years more than 160 States have been visited by at least one special procedures mandate holder. One hundred and six States have extended a standing invitation to special procedures. These are encouraging signs of cooperation that we warmly welcome.
However, around 30 States have not yet accepted any visit by a mandate holder. Some do not react to repeated written requests for visits. Others have given access to only a select few. It is unfortunately a reality that a standing invitation does not necessarily guarantee that a visit will actually take place. Often special procedures’ recommendations go unheeded. In extreme cases, mandate holders have been the subject of derogatory remarks and personal attacks in the course of their work. Disagreement can always be expressed, even in a robust manner; however dignity and respect should always prevail.
Accepting a visit is only the first step in a longer process towards guaranteeing human rights. This process includes effective planning and dialogue. It also entails continued cooperation after the mission with a real commitment from the States to take into account the recommendations and views expressed by mandate holders and inform them of the steps taken towards implementation.
Cooperation is mutually beneficial. Special procedures have assisted States to revise legislation, facilitated national debate on human rights issues and helped States to respond to the expectations of victims of human rights violations. They have also drawn States’ attention to issues and signalled potential violations or gaps in human rights protection. This has led to crucial legislative and policy changes for the benefit of millions of people. Continued dialogue allows all views to be taken into account which leads to stronger policies and more effective remedies.
The work we do relies on our interaction with civil society, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, individuals working on the ground, and victims of human rights violations. It is of serious concern that some of those with whom we engage become victims of intimidation and reprisals. The protection of these vital partners is of utmost importance. We must all respond firmly against any act which threatens them and seeks to obstruct human rights work.
Reprisals are a critical challenge facing the UN system and its human rights mechanisms. The designation of a focal point on this issue is currently under discussion at the General Assembly. We look forward to the designation of the focal point as soon as possible.
As we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, we urge all States to cooperate with us and ensure that all other stakeholders can do so without fear of intimidation or reprisals.
As the whole world is gathering today in South Africa to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and his constant faith in humanity, let us remember what he told the General Assembly in 1998: “I will continue to entertain the hope that there has emerged a cadre of leaders in my own country and region, on my continent and in the world, which will not allow that any should be denied their freedom as we were, that any should be turned into refugees as we were; that any should be condemned to go hungry as we were, that any should be stripped of their human dignity as we were”.
It is up to all of us to ensure that Nelson Mandela’s hopes will translate into what Mandela called a realisable dream.