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Statement by Michael K. Addo, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures at Thirty-first Session of the Human Rights Council, General debate under item 5

Geneva, 15 March 2016


Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to take the floor today as Chairperson of the Coordination Committee to present the report of the 22nd Annual Meeting of Special Procedures, including updated information on the special procedures (A/HRC/31/39).

As indicated in its title, the report before you reflects the main points of the discussions held and conclusions reached by mandate holders at their annual meeting last year.

Annual meetings offer us the opportunity to discuss issues of common interest, coordinate our work and meet with external stakeholders. More specifically, our last meeting focused on working methods aiming at enhancing coordination and developing common approaches to cross-cutting issues. The meeting discussed a number of key issues in this regard, including engagement with the UN system, reprisals, the communications procedure, follow-up to recommendations, organization of consultations and working visits, responding to public and ad hominem attacks against mandate holders and support to special procedures, including resources. Mandate holders also agreed on a course of action to coordinate further country specific action, in particular in relation to country visits.

Mandate holders also exchanged views on thematic issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, discrimination related matters and special procedures’ response to crisis situations, prompted by the issue of migrants at sea.

With this report, we aim to make information on our work and its impact more easily accessible. The report therefore contains facts and figures about what special procedures have done in 2015, including through numbers, tables and graphics as reflected in its 13 annexes.

The first annex for example consists in a one-page 2015 factsheet on special procedures. You will find there information such as the number of mandate holders, the composition of the SP system, the number of visits conducted, the number of communications sent, the number of reports presented and the number of press releases issued. Should you take only this page out of the report, you will have an excellent glance at what SP did in 2015.

But the report contains much more information, for example:
- the geographical distribution of the SP system;
- the list of countries visited and their geographical distribution;
- the list of States that have not yet been visited by a mandate holder;
- or detailed statistics on communications.

The report also lists all the themes addressed in SP reports in one year. In 2015, SP focused on issues as varied as the role of forensics investigations in protecting the right to life, copyright policy and the right to science and culture, encryption and anonymity in exercising freedom of expression, climate change and the right to food, the human rights of IDPs on the context of the post-2015 development agenda, the World Bank's approach to human rights or preventing violence committed in the name of religion.

The report also shows that mandate holders work increasingly together. These actions are reflected inter alia in joint communications, statements, country visits and reports.

Several of these joint activities are facilitated by the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures whose work is also reflected in the report.

In 2015, steps have been taken to consolidate the role of the Committee as the main body representing and acting on behalf of special procedures.

As part of that ambition, the CC strengthened its capacity to advice and support our fellow mandate holders in their work, including by expanding its meeting time to respond to the increasing demands of an expanding SP system.

Next, our interface role towards this Council, Member States and NGOs was consolidated. The presentation of the annual report of special procedures is an important moment of engagement with the Council that would deserve to be further developed. The CC also participates in each Special Session of this Council, for which we are grateful. We however look forward to a deeper and more regular cooperation with this Council and a stronger recognition of the role of the CC in all matters related to special procedures.

The CC also continued to facilitate dialogue and provide guidance on issues relating to the independence of special procedures, conflict of interest and the code of conduct, also as part of the Internal Advisory Procedure. Let me reiterate in that context my availability as CC Chair to discuss special procedures related matters, in particular working methods, with all stakeholders.

Finally, the CC has enhanced its outreach with United Nations counterparts and addressed issues related to human rights mainstreaming and the Human Rights up Front initiative with various high-level United Nations representatives, including the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, and various senior representatives of UN Departments and Resident Coordinators. All interlocutors expressed willingness to further deepen their cooperation and engagement with special procedures.

Mr. President,

This report also reflects some of the priorities of special procedures, including ensuring implementation and follow-up to our recommendations is among these priorities. This was also recognized by the Secretary General on the first day of this session when he stressed that special procedures, commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions are essential tools towards ending impunity, but that we must do much more to ensure there is consistent follow-up.

Special procedures have increased their efforts in this context. More mandate holders undertake follow-up activities, the list of which is available in the report. However implementation of recommendations is primarily the responsibility of States that should give the same attention to recommendations stemming from all human rights mechanisms. In this context, we welcome initiatives taken by some States to establish national mechanisms to follow up to all recommendations and we call on others to adopt that practice. We would also call on States to share more systematically information on measures taken to implement human rights recommendations with the Council. The Council agenda item 5 provides a good opportunity to do so.

Implementing recommendations from special procedures will also contribute to other important UN processes such as the SDGs. As stressed by the High Commissioner at this session, the Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies, and Special Procedures generate a wealth of recommendations that can help to guide the Agenda`s implementation. In this context, UN Country Teams should systematically engage with the international human rights mechanisms and facilitate the implementation of their recommendations.

Engagement and collaboration with other parts of the UN system is another priority as special procedures cannot work in isolation. Mandate holders have been actively engaging and organizing joint actions with the wider United Nations system. Several examples are included in the report. For example mandate holders engaged with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, OCHA, UNHCR, UN Women, UNDP, UNEP, UNICEF, WHO, ILO, IOM, UNCTAD, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, several of the regional mechanisms and many others.

This engagement is also reflected in our support to the Human Rights Up Front Initiative to which special procedures can contribute in many ways. Special procedures’ reports, recommendations and actions are an important source of information to keep abreast of human rights developments. Information and analysis from special procedures also contribute to the identification of early warning signs of serious human rights violations. Moreover, engagement with special procedures could also be considered as a means to enhance visibility on a situation, engage in dialogue with the authorities on sensitive issues, or support advocacy efforts at the country level. Similarly, action by special procedures can help prevent or respond to serious human rights violations. Special procedures are also key partners in fostering constructive relations and engaging on human rights issues with States, at the country, regional and global level.

We therefore call on the UN system, including this Council, to rely better on special procedures. In this context, we welcome that the Council has called on special procedures to contribute to the OHCHR investigations on Sri Lanka and Libya. Two mandate holders are also currently involved in fulfilling the mandate established by this Council on Burundi. We encourage the Council to pursue its efforts in this regard.

Mr. President,

The report also highlights the challenges we face and the steps we have taken to address them.

Intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN, including with special procedures, is undoubtedly among the most serious concerns we have. Such acts must not only be seen as aimed at preventing or stopping anyone from cooperating with us but as aimed at attacking the special procedures mechanism as a whole. We therefore urge for the United Nations focal point on reprisals to be appointed as soon as possible in order to develop a much needed United Nations system wide coordinated response.

We also recognize our own responsibility in developing a coordinated response to such acts. To this end, we adopted an agreed course of action outlining steps to be taken to enhance our response when faced with cases of intimidation and reprisals and established a focal point among the members of the Coordination Committee. A section on reprisals is now systematically included in the annual report of special procedures.

The continued lack of adequate resources for special procedures is another challenge that we face. We therefore thank Members States for their financial contributions to support our work. In this context, we also agreed on the need for greater transparency of external funding received outside OHCHR and we decided to rend disclosure of external funding received mandatory and make it publicly available through this report. The information is contained in a table attached to the report (Annex X).

The lack of cooperation or selective cooperation from States is another serious and continued challenge.

As of 31 December 2015, 167 States had been visited by at least one mandate holder and 115 States have issued a standing invitation to special procedures. These are positive signs of cooperation to be saluted.

However some States continue to refuse to cooperate with us, in particular country mandates. This is a serious obstacle in the fulfilment of their mandates. While mandate holders have developed other ways to gather information, in-situ visits are essential to get first-hand knowledge. It also allows for direct contact with the authorities in the country and offers them a unique opportunity to share their point of view on the situation. There are also cases where States refuse to cooperate with the country mandate while engaging with some thematic mandates. Some States deny or don't respond to repeated requests for visits by some mandate holders and cooperate with only a selected few. We therefore call on all States to cooperate with us and accept requests for visits.

The fact that a number of mandate holders have again become the subject of public and ad hominem attacks for carrying out their work is another serious concern. While mandate holders appreciate frank dialogue on their work and accept criticism, including in the media, a threshold is reached when criticism is no longer directed at the work of the mandate holder but rather at the person.

In recent cases, the legitimacy and authority of special procedures were directly put into question, thereby risking undermining the whole system of special procedures. Let me reiterate that we don't expect States to always agree with our assessment. But in case of disagreement, we expect States to engage on the substance of the matter, not on attacking the reputation of the messenger. Member States of this Council having established our mandates to assess their own human rights situation have the corresponding responsibility to secure and respect our authority and legitimacy and give due consideration to our recommendations.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, let me stress once again that our intention with this report is to offer to the Council and all stakeholder a tool for engagement and dialogue. We hope that by providing you with consolidated information on our achievements and challenges, we have demonstrated the potential of the system of special procedures and identify ways for further engagement with all of you.

As we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of this Council, special procedures are keen to play their part in ensuring a solid and dynamic human Rights council able to address emerging issues and urgent situations in a timely manner. We hope that special procedures will be associated with events or reflections that will be held in the context of this important anniversary.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce that the next annual meeting of special procedures will take place in Geneva from 6 to 10 June. As usual we look forward to exchanges with Member States, NHRIs and NGOs in this context.

I thank you.