dcsimg


Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council opens twenty-eighth session

Human Rights Council 
MORNING 

2 March 2015

Hears from United Nations Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Chief of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its twenty-eighth session, hearing video messages from the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly and statements by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chief of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland.

Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, opening the session, said as the world commemorated the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations in 2015, the United Nations Charter’s triad of peace and security, development and human rights became key to a more peaceful and prosperous world.  To repeat the words of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan: we will not enjoy security without development; we will not enjoy development without security; and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.  The United Nations family could be proud of the Council and its achievements over the past almost 10 years.  At the same time, their awareness was also growing that they needed to further improve their efficiency and to focus even more on their impact.

Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly, in a video message, said that through its various mechanisms the Human Rights Council contributed to and promoted the rights of those most endangered, such as women, migrants, victims of sexual violence and conflict, children and persons with disabilities.  He reminded that various forms of discrimination and prejudices still had to be fought, such as racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, and said that more had to be done to explore the link between development and human rights. 

Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message, said the world faced serious human rights violations from discrimination, inequality and violent extremism and the challenge was to keep those from occurring.  The United Nations had the mandate and tools in place to act preventively and the biggest challenge to using those tools was the lack of political consensus between Member States.  The United Nations Secretary-General appealed to the Human Rights Council to support the work of local human rights actors who were the only guarantee of national sovereignty, and looked at Member States to generate that most needed shift in the ways of working.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that despite Member States making clear commitments to the principles of the United Nations Charter, human rights were disregarded, and violated, sometimes to a shocking degree.  The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights abuses around the world shared two characteristics: deprivation, and discrimination.  Human rights violations resulted from policy choices which limited freedom and participation, and created obstacles to the fair sharing of resources and opportunities.  High Commissioner Zeid urged States to align their actions with the recommendations of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and to truly bring its work to the streets and households of their countries.  He announced a significant reorganization of his Office which would boost the presence in regional and field offices.

Didier Burkhalter, Chief of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said that human rights applied to all persons equally, and that this had to be constantly reaffirmed vigorously wherever human rights were challenged.  When human rights were undermined, so were stability and peace.  It was necessary to combat torture, terrorism and the use of the death penalty.  Switzerland attached great importance to the security and safety of human rights defenders, as well as to combatting impunity.

At 10 a.m., the Human Rights Council will start its high-level segment. 

Opening Statement

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the twenty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council and welcomed all the dignitaries.  As the world commemorated the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations in 2015, the United Nations Charter’s triad of peace and security, development and human rights became key to a more peaceful and prosperous world.  To repeat the words of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan: we will not enjoy security without development; we will not enjoy development without security; and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.  The United Nations family could be proud of the Council and its achievements over the past almost 10 years.  At the same time, their awareness was also growing that they needed to further improve their efficiency and to focus even more on their impact.  He welcomed the initiatives of delegations aimed at informally discussing how to improve the working methods of the Council and how to focus even more on implementation.  It was not only part of the mandate of this Council but also in their common interest to maintain the space for active participation of civil society representatives.  The Bureau was convinced that a constructive atmosphere allowing for an open exchange of views and a frank discussion while respecting the dignity inherent in this body was essential for the credibility and effective functioning of the Council.

Keynote Statements

SAM KUTESA, President of the United Nations General Assembly, in a video message, said that the full protection and enjoyment of human rights was one of the pillars of the United Nations.  Through its various mechanisms, the Human Rights Council contributed to and promoted the rights of those most endangered, such as women, migrants, victims of sexual violence and conflict, children and persons with disabilities.  Any abuse carried out had to be condemned and mechanisms needed to be introduced to prevent them.  Such actions had to be applied in a balanced manner, and by assisting Member States with their participation.  The Human Rights Council remained a key international player in the protection of human rights.  In that context he stressed the importance of the Universal Periodic Review, as well as Member States’ participation.  Various forms of discrimination and prejudices still had to be fought, such as racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.  The Human Rights Council had done commendable work globally in preventing human rights violations.  However, more had to be done to explore the link between development and human rights.

2 BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message, said that the world faced serious human rights violations from discrimination, inequality and violent extremism and the challenge was to keep those from occurring.  The United Nations had the mandate and tools in place to act preventively and the biggest challenge to using those tools was the lack of political consensus between Member States.  The United Nations Secretary-General appealed to the Human Rights Council to support the work of local human rights actors who were the only guarantee of national sovereignty, and looked at Member States to generate that most needed shift in the ways of working.

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in his first address to the Human Rights Council he had spoken at length on the cruelty and moral bankruptcy of violent extremists, whose horrors perpetuated daily, and reaffirmed that international humanitarian law and international human rights law could not be trifled with or circumvented, but must be fully observed.  Turning to the broad conduct of Member States regarding their obligations to uphold human rights, High Commissioner Zeid said that despite making clear commitments to the principles of the United Nations Charter, human rights were disregarded and violated, sometimes to a shocking degree.  States claimed exceptional circumstances, picked and chose between rights: they would thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons’ communities, but balked at extending those rights to migrants of irregular status; they observed scrupulously the right to education, but brutally stamped out opposing political views.  The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights abuses around the world shared two characteristics: deprivation, and discrimination.  Human rights violations were rooted in these hidden and sometimes not so hidden factors, and resulted from policy choices which limited freedom and participation, and created obstacles to the fair sharing of resources and opportunities.  The most powerful instrument in the arsenal against poverty and conflict was the weapon of massive instruction, said the High Commissioner, stressing that respect for the human rights of all, justice and education, would build fair, confident and resilient societies, true development and a permanent peace. 

The real measure of a State’s worth was based in the real steps taken to prevent abuses, address social inequalities and honour the dignity of its people, and the extent to which it was sensitive to the needs and protected the rights of its nationals and other people under its jurisdiction, or over whom it had physical control.  Some policy-makers persuaded themselves that their circumstances were exceptional, creating a wholly new reality unforeseen by the law, in which arbitrary arrest, torture, spying on citizens, discrimination against minorities, and killing without any form of due process were justified by a new type of war, the requirements of the fight against terrorism, threats on communal identity, and others.  In closing, High Commissioner Zeid urged States to align their actions with the recommendations of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and to truly bring its work to the streets and households of their countries.  High Commissioner Zeid announced a significant reorganization of his Office which would boost the presence in regional and field offices, in order to assist Member States more directly and to make the work as effective as possible.

DIDIER BURKHALTER, Chief of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said that human rights applied to all persons equally, and that this had to be constantly reaffirmed vigorously wherever human rights were challenged.  In many parts of the world, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the rights of human rights defenders were undermined.  There was a need to stand up against intolerance and hatred and reaffirm their values.  When human rights were undermined, so were stability and peace.  Mr. Burkhalter referred to the situation of refugees and displaced persons, including in and from Ukraine and Syria.  He underlined the necessity to combat torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, including in the context of armed conflict.  Switzerland was strongly committed to preventing torture.  The Geneva Conventions were universal but remained nevertheless violated, he regretted.  Human rights were threatened anywhere terrorism existed.  Preventing violent extremism was a priority for Switzerland, where strategies had been implemented to offer alternatives to radicalism.  The use of the death penalty in cases of terrorism was not an answer.  This would only lead to more radicalism.  Switzerland would continue to advocate for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  Switzerland also attached great importance to the security and safety of human rights defenders, as well as to combatting impunity.  Switzerland called for the allocation of adequate resources to allow the functioning of United Nations human rights mechanisms and for improving the participation of non-State actors in the activities of the United Nations.  He finally underlined the importance of the post-2015 development agenda. 

 __________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr