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Presentation on OHCHR by Mrs. Mehr Khan Williams United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

First Session of the Human Rights Council

Palais des Nations, 29 June 2006
Room XVIII


Thank you High Commissioner, and thank you Mr. President for this opportunity to address the Council on cooperation on human rights primarily in the areas of human rights education and learning, advisory services and capacity building. The Council’s interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner last week provided an opportunity to touch on many of these issues. We appreciate very much the strong support expressed for our work at that time. Today, I will attempt to provide an overview of how the Office supports cooperation on human rights.

Governments have the primary responsibility for protecting human rights. The United Nations has an obligation to support the full enjoyment of all rights for all people. OHCHR works with governments, legislatures, courts, national institutions, civil society, regional and international organizations, and the United Nations system to develop and strengthen capacity, particularly at the national level, for the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with international norms.

The High Commissioner’s Plan of Action, developed last year, provides a clear vision of how the Office will strive to play its part in closing critical gaps in the full implementation of human rights. In her first Strategic Management Plan, which seeks to make the Plan of Action operational for 2006-2007, the High Commissioner outlines how the entire Office will work closely together to assist countries to close the implementation gaps by supporting national efforts where appropriate and when requested. We are convinced that it is at the ground level, by involving officials and civil society, that the greatest difference can be made.


Technical Cooperation and Advisory Services: Country Engagement

Mr. President,

Technical cooperation is an integral part of our country engagement strategy which aims to support both rights-holders and duty-bearers in a timely and context-specific manner. Country engagement means interaction with all countries on all human rights. It is based on an office-wide assessment of the implementation gaps in each country in order to develop appropriate strategies for the protection of human rights through a consultative process.

OHCHR’s Technical Cooperation Programme provides substantive advice and assistance in the field of human rights within the framework of the United Nations Human Rights Programme. It takes a comprehensive approach to supporting national efforts to build sustainable capacities to implement human rights standards and to ensure respect for human rights. A range of interlinked areas need to be addressed. These include a strong legal framework, effective national human rights institutions, an independent judiciary, a vibrant civil society, and a society which is educated on rights and responsibilities.

Typical Programme activities include assistance for efforts to incorporate international human rights standards into national laws, policies and practices; advice on the establishment and functioning of independent national human rights institutions; advice to the judiciary, military, police and parliaments on international standards related to their work; advice on treaty reporting; support for national human rights action plans; and advice on human rights education.

Country offices, adequately staffed, with a full mandate and a long-term commitment, present the most effective way for OHCHR to carry out technical cooperation projects. It is here that OHCHR is best placed to link our assessment of a situation with the most effective assistance we can provide.

Recent examples of how we carry out this aspect of our work are the three Country Offices established last year, in Nepal, in Guatemala, and in Uganda. The High Commissioner visited Guatemala and Uganda earlier this year. In these countries the blend of hope, enduring problems, together with Government—as well as civic—engagement has made our involvement potentially successful.

OHCHR’s presence in the different regions of Nepal is credited for having contributed towards the protection of vulnerable populations, including detainees and human rights defenders. It is also believed to have promoted restraint on both sides of the conflict. The Office assisted the National Human Rights Commission to develop its own capacities to actively monitor and report abuses, as well as to effectively advocate the promotion and protection of human rights. The recommendations of the Special Procedures also proved to be helpful in assisting the Government of Nepal and the National Human Rights Commission to tackle cases of disappearances, to develop accessible lists of detainees, and to grant access to places of detention.

In Guatemala, the Office has embarked in a joint effort with the Government, including the Presidential Commission for Human Rights, the Ombudsman, the judiciary, Congress, and civil society organizations to address long-standing problems, including discrimination faced by indigenous peoples, poverty, and public insecurity, affecting women in particular. The challenges confronting Guatemala can be overcome with a broad political commitment to support and to appropriately fund the implementation of the necessary reforms stemming from the Guatemalan peace agreements. The Office is committed to assisting with these urgent tasks.

Finally, in Uganda, the Office has established open communication with the Government and with security sector institutions relating to the prevention and response to human rights violations. It is helping to strengthen capacity of relevant partners in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The challenges are daunting with some 1.7 million displaced persons living in squalid conditions in camps across northern Uganda. In the eastern part, the combined tragedy of high poverty levels, proliferation of small arms, and a lack of adequate government presence is striking. We are closely engaged with the Government in raising awareness and coordinating efforts, locally and internationally, to resolve this crisis.

OHCHR currently has 10 Country Offices. This year, two new Offices are expected to be established in Bolivia and Togo.

OHCHR also pursues its country engagement strategies through other UN partners in the field. The Office plays a central role in enabling the human rights components of peace missions to go beyond their traditional monitoring role mandated by the Security Council to provide technical cooperation and training. A common institutional framework is now also being established with Human Rights Advisors deployed to UN Country Teams. This will establish clearer and stronger linkages between OHCHR, Resident Coordinators, as well as UN agencies, departments and programmes in the country. It is part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to promote system-wide coherence.

The Office provides a comprehensive analysis of the findings and recommendations of the Special Procedures to countries as well as UNCTs. This indispensable information on human rights situations and trends, in turn, helps them to identify priorities and fine-tune their strategies and programmes of action. For example, based on the findings of the Special Procedures, the Government of Kazakhstan, together with the judiciary, adopted a number of legislative measures to enhance the role of courts in protecting human rights, to strengthen the training of judges and to reinforce their independence. UNDP in Kazakhstan is using these recommendations to bolster national institutions, including the judiciary.

This year, we are preparing to add five new Regional Offices to our existing seven. The Regional Offices will assist countries, where we have no country presence, to strengthen national capacity and to build links with regional institutions and civil society networks to address a broad range of issues including issues of regional and trans-national concern. Regional mechanisms such as those in Africa, the Americas and in Europe are key to advancing human rights.

In sum, as the High Commissioner pointed out last Friday, OHCHR’s presence in the field does make a difference. It broadens and deepens our understanding of a country’s dynamics and its needs. It affords us opportunities to strengthen Government and civil society’s capacity to protect human rights. It enhances the quality of our interaction with United Nations counterparts at the country level.

But, country engagement also includes working with countries where we do not have a field presence, for example through the convening of workshops and seminars to follow up with the concluding observations of Treaty Bodies. These have been held in Ecuador, Syria, Thailand, Qatar, and most recently in Argentina where more than 100 representatives of Governments, parliaments, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations officials met to discuss follow-up to the conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Last December, the Office organized, in cooperation with the Division for the Advancement of Women, a workshop in Cairo on the implementation of the conclusions of the Committees on Racial Discrimination and Discrimination against Women. Such regional workshops will continue.

An additional example is a multi-year project designed to facilitate the implementation of treaty obligations at the national level. The project builds capacity primarily among National Human Rights Institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the media. So far 20 workshops and four national-level seminars have been organized involving 23 countries.

The Office has on several occasions also set up fact-finding missions, commissions of inquiry and committees of experts composed of criminal investigators, forensic experts and human rights specialists.

Human Rights Education

Mr. President,

I will now address the issue of Human Rights Education.

In December 2004, UN member States proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education. The World Programme aims at supporting existing human rights education and learning initiatives, building on the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). The first three years of the World Programme focus on the integration of human rights education in primary and secondary school systems.

The Plan of Action of this phase, adopted by the General Assembly in July 2005, proposes a concrete strategy and practical ideas for implementing human rights education and learning at the national level. It draws on the principles and frameworks set by international human rights instruments and recognizes that the introduction of human rights education into school curricula is a necessary but complex process. Since the adoption of the Plan of Action, OHCHR and UNESCO have carried out joint activities to support the Plan of Action and progress is being made.

All of OHCHR’s work is geared towards strengthening the capacity of partners to protect and empower people. In our work, we are guided by one basic principle: progress towards the protection and promotion of all human rights is the primary yardstick both to assess the impact of our efforts and to ensure that our contributions inform Governments’ law and practice.

Thank you.