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President’s Farewell Remarks, HRC Organizational Session

Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset, I wish to congratulate the newly elected President, His Excellency Joaquin Alexander Maza Martelli, and the other members of the Bureau for the 11th cycle of the Human Rights Council. I am convinced that under your leadership, the Council will further advance in its work promoting and protecting human rights. I wish you every success in fulfilling this very rewarding task.

For myself, I must say that it has been a great honour for me to have served as President of the Human Rights Council this year, especially as the Council celebrated two significant milestones – its 10-year anniversary and the completion of the 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.

This year has been an extremely busy and productive one for the Human Rights Council.  We held a total of 155 meetings through three regular sessions, and adopted 149 resolutions, decisions and president’s statements. The Council also continued to expand its mechanisms, by creating two new special mandates – one on SOGI and another one on the right to development -- and establishing the Commission on Human Rights on South Sudan, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the independent experts on the human rights situation in North Korea.  

I am sure that all of these activities have made valuable contributions towards fulfilling the mandate of the Council to promote and protect human rights, and I am immensely proud that I, together with all of you, was a participant in this endeavor.

Yet, at the same time, I remain humbled that despite our valiant efforts, we continue to confront increasingly serious challenges to human rights and dignity around the world. Ongoing and emerging armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, refugee crises, economic difficulties and political repression keep the world far away from the ideal of the full enjoyment of human rights by all people. 

I hope that as we face these testing times, the Human Rights Council will remain strong and steadfast in its resolve to fulfil its noble mandate. It is in this regard that I would like to share with you some of my thoughts.

My first priority as President of the Council was to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Council and it work. It is an understatement that the Council has heavily packed programmes of work. Inevitably, this heavy workload affects the quality of our work and we do not have adequate space in the work programme to address important emerging issues. 

The Bureau worked very hard throughout the year exploring ways to increase the efficiency of the working methods of the Council. We were able to take some actions, and I am grateful to Ambassador Karklins for this. But the combined impact of these actions is rather modest and falls short of helping the Council reach its potential. In addition, now the Council is under added pressure to substantially reduce the number of its meetings as a result of the situation of stretched resources of the United Nations system as a whole.

I do not believe that the current situation of the Council is sustainable. We must maintain our focus and continue our efforts to enhance the efficiency of the Council. 

Another challenge that the Council faces is the so-called “gap” between Geneva and New York, relating to different perceptions about the work being done in the Council and in Geneva as a whole, as well as a lack of coordination among diplomatic missions in both cities and staff of the UN Secretariat.

This gap threatened to become a complete disconnection in the recent attempt in the Third Committee of the General Assembly to defer consideration and action on a resolution that was validly adopted by this Council. The General Assembly’s re-opening of a resolution of the Human Rights Council not only weakens the authority and competence of the Council, it risks undermining the integrity of the whole United Nations human rights system.

It is obvious that the success and impact of the Council depends greatly on coordination and cooperation between Geneva and New York, and I hope that we will continue working to bridge the gap.

What happened in the Third Committee is also a powerful reminder of the importance of strengthening efforts to enhance genuine and constructive dialogue in the Council, which facilitates consensus building. Strong differences in opinions and in positions exist inside of this Council, and that will not change. However, too easily resorting to votes, instead of constructive dialogue and cooperation, will often fail to achieve a viable solution to our differences as we witnessed in the Third Committee.

We held a Human Rights Council retreat in Evian in September, which all participants agreed had provided an excellent opportunity to speak about our differences in a frank and constructive atmosphere. But it should not be only at the once-a-year retreat that we can have genuine dialogue.  We should work to ensure that it always happens in Room Twenty and in Geneva.   

Consensus building needs inclusiveness. And indeed, the Human Rights Council is a place where all voices should be heard. I am proud that the Council achieved for the first time, universal participation during its 32nd session in June. Yet, we have to be concerned that, due to lack of adequate funding, the LDCs and SIDS Voluntary Trust Fund was afterwards forced to drastically reduce its activities. We should seek universal participation at all HRC regular sessions, and the LDCs and SIDS Voluntary Trust Fund plays a critical role in making this happen. To ensure that all voices are heard and continue to be heard in Room Twenty, we have to re-double our efforts to secure regular and sustained funding of the Trust Fund’s activities.

And finally, I wish to now turn to an issue on which I have placed great importance throughout my Presidency – the protection of the role of civil society and human rights defenders in the Council’s work. The active participation and contribution of civil society and national human rights institutions is central to the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. Unfortunately, however, I have often been apprised of alleged cases of intimidation, threats and reprisals against members of the civil society. I would like to reiterate that it is essential that representatives of civil society are afforded adequate protection to operate in a free, open and safe environment that protects and promotes their own human rights.

Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Before concluding, I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your excellent support, cooperation and constructive engagement. I really enjoyed working with you and I learned a lot from you. 

I would especially like to express my profound gratitude to the Bureau members of the 10th cycle – to the Ambassador of Ethiopia, Mr. Negash Kebret Botora, to the Ambassador of Panama, Mr. Ramon Alberto Morales Quijano, to the Ambassador of Latvia, Mr. Janis Karklins, and to the Ambassador of Belgium, first Mr. Bertrand Crombrughe and then Mr. Geert Muylle – for their constant support, cooperation and constructive engagement in our work. It was indeed a great pleasure and an honour to work with them.

I would also like to thank the Regional Coordinators as well as the colleagues who served in the Consultative Group and the Working Group on Situations.

My gratitude also goes to the High Commissioner and his Office for the strong support that they have provided to myself and my office throughout this year. In particular, I wish to thank the Human Rights Council Secretariat – especially Adam, Eric, Shahrzad and their staff – as well as the staff members of the Special Procedures Branch, for facilitating the efficient running of the Council and for carrying out their work with professionalism and dedication.

My great appreciation also goes to Director General Michael Moller and the UNOG Division of Conference Management, whose conference officers, interpreters, translators, editors, technicians and other staff, have often gone above and beyond in order to keep the Council running smoothly.

I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Department of Public Information, the press officers, the photographers, the staff of United Nations Radio and Television.

I also wish to thank the colleagues from the Security and Safety Service for their constant commitment in ensuring that the Council's proceedings take place in a safe environment, and for always being the first to arrive and the last to leave this august chamber.

And I cannot conclude these personal remarks without thanking my colleagues at the Office of the President – to Hyunjoo, my Special Advisor who actually acted as my guiding hand, Kristen, Esther and Jung Youn – for their unwavering commitment, professionalism, support and sacrifice. With the increasingly heavy workload of the Council, the Office of the President carries an immense amount of work. Throughout this year, these four ladies worked day and night, from Monday to Monday, to support my mandate, and I am extremely grateful for all of their work and efforts.

Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude, it was a wonderful experience and a wonderful year.  Thank you very much.