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Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council at the Council's 16th Organizational Session

16 December 2013

Madame Deputy High Commissioner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been a great privilege to me personally to serve the Human Rights Council as its President this past year, especially as it coincided with the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. It is also a great honour for Poland, which underwent peaceful and successful democratic transition based on the respect for human rights that its representative has been presiding over the work of this august body.

One year ago in this room, as the President elect, I promised to continue the excellent work of my predecessors by building upon their successes and achievements. In fulfilling this promise, I have been guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity and dialogue. My primary task has been always to strengthen the role of the Council as a unique body where all stakeholders, Member and Observer States, civil society and national human rights institutions, can work together to make human rights a reality for everybody everywhere.

In that context, today I would like to share with you my perspective of this past year. It has been an eventful year for the Council and therefore for me as well, and it has kept me and the Bureau busy throughout.

During my presidency, I have often stressed the efficient role played by the Council in addressing the increasing number of topics, both thematic and country-specific. This year I believe we have continued in that direction. In my view, the Human Rights Council is meeting up to its mandate as the United Nations’ premier body charged with promoting and protecting human rights. As a result, it is increasingly being seen as de facto one of the principal organs of the UN. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all delegations to undertake everywhere such actions, which further strengthen the role and credibility of the Human Rights Council as the only and primary UN body devoted solely to the promotion and protection of human rights. We should do our utmost to uphold the status of the Human Rights Council as a de facto principal UN body.

We should continue to strengthen human rights as one of the three pillars of the UN. In doing so we must also remind ourselves of the undisputable link between human rights, peace and security and development and how a crisis in one area will quickly lead to a crisis in another area.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of our main challenges now and for the years to come, is the lack of sufficient resources to implement the increasing number of mandates created by the Council. The HRC is a very active and dynamic organ, but we need to be aware of our financial limitations, in order to preserve the quality of our work. And yet, one cannot but notice that despite human rights serving as one of the UN pillars in the architecture of the Organization, less than 3 % of the UN regular budget is allocated to human rights. The expanding activity of the Council is not keeping pace with an appropriate funding and without additional resources the progress made in the recent years may cease or even reverse. We will face this challenge in the upcoming years.

The relationship with our counterparts in New York is crucial in this sense. During my missions to New York this year, I noted a need to reinforce the dialogue between delegations in New York and Geneva, and that the too should work more closely together. On this point I hope my successor will continue working towards facilitating an increased coordination and dialogue

The UPR constitutes a unique and important tool. It is the only mechanism that reviews the human rights situation in all UN member States. It offers the Council an important way not only to get a glimpse of the real situation on the ground, but also to induce positive changes. That is why I have spared no efforts to preserve the universality of the UPR, which makes it the “jewel in the crown” of this Council. We can be proud that, through our common efforts, we managed to preserve universality of the mechanism and I would like to deeply thank all those who have contributed to this success. I really should underline that the Council achieved this through joint efforts of States, UN top level officials, non-governmental organisations, and especially in a consensual manner.

I would also like to call on all of you to continue being vigilant to attempts to undermine the UPR credibility and weaken the mechanism. I hope my letter of 18 September 2013 to all missions on existing practices and rules of the UPR can serve this cause in the future. As the Council’s President, I have also particularly kept stressing that the UPR mechanism is not a place where issues of purely bilateral and territorial character should be raised.

Dear colleagues,

Let me take this opportunity to underline the crucial role played by SPs within the Human Rights Council and in general within the UN Human Rights protection system. Without their daily commitment for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Council would not be able to fulfil its mandate. As the eyes and ears of the Council, they contribute significantly to the Council’s work, providing objective expertise. For this reason, I have made every effort to preserve and strengthen their participation in the Council as well as their full independence. Independence is a condition sine qua non of the effective functioning of the Special Procedures system. For these reasons, every time these principles have been undermined by any stakeholders, I have reacted in a very strong way. There should be no personal attacks against the person of the mandate holder and everybody should be able to express their views in the Council with the inherent dignity and respect appropriate for discussions in the Human Rights Council.

This year we have also made great progress on accessibility for persons with disabilities to the Council’s work, in particular thanks to the continuous efforts of the Task Force composed of representatives of OHCHR, UNOG, States and NGOs.

I wish to commend the invaluable contribution of civil society and National Human Rights Institutions into the Council’s work. They have continued playing a crucial role in enriching our discussion and exposing us to a reality check. I have made every effort to preserve the Council as a special place in the whole UN system for dialogue and cooperation with the civil society. Indeed, there can be no true dialogue on human rights if affected people and those who represent them are not given a voice within this Council.

Furthermore, during my term, I have kept condemning acts of reprisals or measures of intimidation particularly against those who came here to Geneva to testify about their own situation or the on-going human rights violations in their countries. I wish to reiterate 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 effectively address all cases of intimidation or reprisals and to ensure an unhindered access to all who seek to cooperate with the UN mechanism. Such cooperation is a sine qua non condition of an effective and proper functioning of the Council and its mechanisms. The Council and its President will need to continue taking a strong stance on this issue and I count on my successor to reaffirm, when required, that reprisals or acts of intimidation against those cooperating with the Council and its mechanisms are simply unacceptable.

Finally, let me appeal to you to uphold good practices and the highest standards in the Council’s work. In this regard I am particularly concerned with a repeating and growing number of cases of the late submission of draft resolutions, which make it difficult for many delegations, especially small ones, to keep up with the work pace and stay abreast of the developments. We have clear rules, particularly tabling deadlines which we all must observe to ensure transparent and constructive negotiations process. There should be no exceptions from these rules and it is in the interest of all delegations and in the Council to strictly observe them.

Let me now conclude on a note of thanks.

I would like to, first of all, express my deep gratitude to all Bureau members– Ambassador of Maldives, Ms. Iruthisham Adam, Ambassador of Switzerland, Mr. Alexandre Fasel, Ambassador of Ecuador, Mr. Luis Gallegos Chiriboga and Ambassador of Mauritania, Cheikh Ahmed Ould Zahaf – for their unwavering support, inspiration and assistance throughout my whole presidency.

I wish also to express my deep gratitude to all delegations and civil society representatives for their excellent cooperation, kind assistance and wise advice.

I would further like to thank the High Commissioner and her Office for the professionalism and constant support to the work of the Council. In particular my gratitude goes to the Human Rights Council Secretariat led by Eric, as well as the UPR section and the civil society section, for facilitating the efficient running of the Council and for carrying the work with great dedication and professionalism. I am also very grateful to my office for their commitment and hard work during all these months.

Our work would not be possible without the support of UNOG conference services, whose staff, be it interpreters, translators or editors, have often been required to go the extra mile in order to keep the wheel running smoothly, in spite of a significant lack of financial resources. Let me also acknowledge the important work of all security officers, who are always the first to arrive and the last to leave this august chamber.

Dear colleagues,

Turning now to my successor. I am convinced that under a new leadership the Council will further advance the human rights cause all over the world. I wish the next President every success in fulfilling this not easy but very rewarding task of the President of the Human Rights Council.

Thank you so much to all of you.