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Statement by H.E. Ambassador Joachim Ruecker, President of the Human Rights Council: HRC Organisational Session (farewell address; on appointment of 2016 Bureau)

7 December 2015

Excellences,
Mesdames et Messieurs,  

Ce fut pour moi et mon pays, l’Allemagne, un immense privilège d’avoir assumé la Présidence du Conseil des droits de l’homme pendant son neuvième cycle et d’avoir œuvré à ce que cette auguste instance remplisse ses obligations de promouvoir et protéger nos droits de l’homme et nos libertés fondamentales, des valeurs qui sont non-seulement indivisibles, inaliénables et interdépendants mais aussi interactives.

Sur le plan personnel, cela a été un grand honneur d’avoir pu servir la cause des droits humains.

Que de chemin nous avons parcouru, tous ensemble - représentants des Etats, des organisations internationales et de la société civile, presse et médias. Au terme de cette année, je peux dire que nous avons maintenu le cap même dans des eaux parfois agitées. Je vous remercie de votre soutien pendant toute cette année.

Finalement, je voudrais également vous remercier pour votre engagement continu en faveur de la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme et votre dévouement à celles et ceux qui ont besoin de notre soutien, aux victimes connues et inconnues des abus et violations des droits de l’homme. Ce sont elles qui constituent notre raison d’être. Il nous reste encore beaucoup à faire à cet égard.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Looking back on the year as President of the Council, I must say that it has certainly kept me busy from 1 January and it seems to be doing so until 31 December.

In my statement as the President-elect one year ago, I promised to continue the excellent work of my predecessors and to continue to address challenges that the Human Rights Council faces. I identified three overarching priorities that I committed myself to work on, together with you, in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, throughout the year:

  • Strengthening the UN‘s Human Rights pillar in New York, in Geneva and in the field and strengthening New York – Geneva cooperation;
  • Strengthening the efficiency and functionality of the Human Rights Council, including civil society space and participation in the Council, its mechanisms and procedures; 
  • Strengthening the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council, its mechanisms and procedures.

With regard to achievements, lessons learned as well as remaining challenges, I would like to sum up some of my reflections and thoughts:

Strengthening the UN’s Human Rights pillar

The Human Rights Council is at the core of the UN’s Human Rights pillar and its initiatives are echoing widely beyond Room XX. The range of topics and country situations considered by the Council are testimony to this. In this context, it is important that the Council continues to raise its voice and to add its unique perspective to key global issues, to the crises and conflicts that shake our world today, but also, for example, to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the new climate agreement that we will hopefully see emerge from COP21 in a few days from now.

In the same vein, it was good that we all participated in celebrating the UN’s 70th anniversary that we spoke out on issues like the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the International Covenants on Human Rights.

The Council’s work is being seen and heard within the UN system and beyond. It makes a difference for the lives of people around the world. In other words, it is undoubtedly the main political forum for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Therefore, looking at its statute, I believe today that it has somewhat outgrown, politically outgrown, its role of being a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. I assume that this will be discussed in the context of the next review.

An important and practical step on this way would be that the delegations in New York do not second-guess our resolutions and decisions and take note of the Council’s report in toto within the General Assembly.

In this context, I note that the item on our resolution 24/24 was closed by the 69th General Assembly. Therefore I would like to echo the call from my predecessors and States from all regions and express my support for the prompt implementation of 24/24.

Furthermore, a strong and independent High Commissioner and Office that is adequately resourced will continue to be in our common interest. As President of the Human Rights Council, I learned at the beginning of the year that the HRC Secretariat and the UPR Working Group are heavily dependent on voluntary contributions. This should not be the case, in particular not in times, when we – delegations and civil society representatives – demand more and more from the UN Secretariat. We must recognize that the regular budget has not kept pace with the rising demand for promoting and protecting human rights. Therefore we should all strive to address the funding gap constructively and with innovative approaches.

Strengthening efficiency and functionality

With regard to the efficiency and functionality of the Human Rights Council, let me express my gratitude to delegations and civil society representatives for having engaged so candidly in the past months in informal discussions and in the negotiation of the Presidential statement on “Enhancing the efficiency of the Human Rights Council”. I believe that we have made important progress through the PRST: the improved voluntary calendar was sent to delegations today and the adjustment of the calendar of the Consultative Group is on track. To my regret, I cannot present you yet with a template for the new HRC website yet, as it is still under development. But then the PRST foresees the thirty-first session for finalization of the project, which is still some weeks ahead.

Despite the progress made, however, I must also concede that the “inflation in our agenda” remains. HRC 31 will be a very busy session for all of us with 11 panels and 5 evening meetings already scheduled as of today. Of course, this is in itself part of the success story of the Council. If anything, the Council is somehow a victim of its own success. But I would also urge you - individually and collectively – to continue to reflect on how to increase our efficiency, given the scarcity of time and resources. Catchwords in this regard are “less is more”, multi-annualization, clustering and merging, sunset clauses, and better coordination with the Third Committee. And we must probably also learn to be courageous and maybe here or there terminate initiatives, mechanisms and intergovernmental working groups.

But the efficiency or the functionality of the Council does not stop there. It is absolutely vital that we keep to the spirit of 2006 that we focus on our core competencies and unique features including working in close cooperation with Civil Society. Civil Society is at the core of human rights, at the core of our work. Accordingly, I am deeply convinced that it was, is and will continue to be in our common interest to promote a culture of non-reprisals, free from fear of intimidation, when it comes to civil society, human rights defenders and individuals who seek to cooperate and work with the Council, its mechanisms and procedures. I have tried to promote such a culture this year, inter alia by documenting and by following up to each and every case that has been brought to my attention. I would strongly encourage the incoming President and Bureau, as well as all members and observers of the Council, to continue to do so and to remain committed to a culture of non-reprisals, free from intimidation.

Strengthening effectiveness

We are not striving for efficiency for efficiency’s sake. Looking beyond Geneva, we are striving to make a difference on the ground. Our work is important to many people; in particular the many victims of human rights violations and abuses, the many oppressed the many poor and the many suffering from conflict, crisis and terror. In this regard, I would like to echo the words of the High Commissioner who has expressed our common conviction that “there is no justification ever, for the degrading, the debasing or the exploitation of other human beings – on whatever basis: nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or caste.” It is our task to promote and protect human rights and to address violations of them. It is the Council’s task to “name the shame”, as the High Commissioner has said so eloquently at the opening of the June Council.

We, as States, play an important role in this regard. And in particular the members – past, present and future – of the Human Rights Council have a decisive role to play. In our founding resolution, the General Assembly decided that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, and fully cooperate with the Council.

Undoubtedly, this puts an obligation on states, for example when it comes to the important role of the Special Procedure mandate-holders. Special Procedures are our, the international community’s eyes and ears, as they monitor, report, and advise on human rights issues throughout the world. They help to build capacity and provide technical assistance. As of November 2015, 114 UN Member States and 1 non-Member Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. In line with resolution 60/251, I would like to call upon all States that have not yet done so to issue standing invitations to the Special Procedure mandate-holders and to fully cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, including by implementing their recommendations.

Allow me now to turn to the Universal Periodic Review. As we are now getting closer to the end of the second cycle of this unique and invaluable peer review mechanism, the UPR continues to get positive feedback from all actors involved. Despite this, challenges remain that require our attention and concerted action. While the principle of universality of the process continues to be preserved, also thanks to OHCHR, I am well aware that it is difficult for States which do not have a representation in Geneva or only a very small one to participate and be involved. Furthermore, we must focus more on implementation of recommendations. On the ground, governments, parliaments, civil society and national human rights institutions play a decisive role. At the Council, I believe we should refocus our national reports and presentations and refer more to the implementation of recommendations from the previous review cycle – this will also allow us to measure progress. 

Last but not least I would like to stress the important role of Technical Assistance when it comes to our effectiveness on the ground.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Coming to a close, I believe that within the Human Rights Council, trust is our most important commodity. It comes on foot and it escapes on a horse, as the saying goes. I hope that, as President of the Human Rights Council, I could contribute to building trust between and beyond all actors, in accordance with our fundamental principles of transparency, justice, objectivity and impartiality as well as procedural clarity.  

In this context, I would like to, first of all, express my deep gratitude to the Bureau members of the 9th cycle – to the Ambassador of Albania, Ms. Filloreta Kodra, to the Ambassador of Botswana, Mr. Mothusi Palai, to the Ambassador or Kazakhstan, Mr. Mukhtar Tileuberdi and to the Ambassador of Paraguay, Mr. Juan Aguirre – for their unwavering support, inspiration and assistance throughout my Presidency. We had so many interesting discussions and I have learned so much through the work in and with the Bureau. In this regard, I can only wish for the next President to enjoy the same spirit of cooperation, positive atmosphere and good personal relationships with his Bureau.

I also would like to thank Regional Coordinators as well as the States who served in the Working Group on Situations and in the Consultative Group. Your work, engagement and dedication throughout the year have been highly appreciated by all of us.

My gratitude also goes to the High Commissioner and his Office for the professionalism and continuous strong support to our work. In particular, I would like to thank the Human Rights Council Secretariat as well as the UPR Branch and Special Procedures Branches, for facilitating the efficient running of the Council and for carrying out their work with great dedication.

Furthermore, let me thank the Director General and 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.

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.

I am also very grateful to the staff of the Office of the President, to Elisa, Esther and Christina for their unwavering commitment, professionalism and incredible working hours during all these months. We need to be mindful that with the growing weight of the Council, the Office of the President is also increasingly burdened. Unlike foreseen in Council decision 17/118, the current arrangements are not sustainable. I have therefore been working on a joint understanding, together with UNOG and OHCHR, to allow for the full implementation of decision 17/118.

Excellencies,
Dear colleagues,

Turning now to my successor, I am convinced that under his leadership, the Council will further advance human rights promotion and protection. I wish the next President every success in fulfilling this very rewarding task as the President of the Human Rights Council. It will be an exciting year, marking our 10th anniversary!

In closing, I hope that you all feel as I feel today; that with our work in the Human Rights Council throughout the year we weren't just marking time. We were striving to make a difference for those who need us most. And I think we did.

Thank you so much to all of you.