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Address by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Workshop on the Role of the National Institutions in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Line with Paris Principles: Challenges, Achievements and Aspirations for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States

Doha, Qatar 20 April 2010

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I address this important audience attending the Workshop devoted to the promotion and protection of human rights in line with Paris Principles, with its specific focus on the challenges, achievements and aspirations for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States.  I welcome the presence of the Director of the Legal Department of the GCC States as a sign of the commitment by these States to establish independent and effective National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).
  
I commend the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar for its strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and its continuing efforts to ensure compliance with the Paris Principles. I would also like to recognize the role Jordan has played as chair of the Asia-Pacific Forum and representative of the chair of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I began my visit to the region two days ago in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After my stay here in Qatar, I will proceed to Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman. This mission marks an unprecedented effort by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to engage more actively and effectively with the governments, National Institutions and civil society in the region.

I am attempting to gain first-hand understanding of current dynamics in the GCC region in relation to human rights, including reported progress in some areas as well as specific issues of particular concern. I am also looking into ways in which my Office can provide further support and advice to individual GCC countries.

By establishing the UN Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre in Doha, OHCHR has underlined its commitment to cooperate and engage with the countries of the region, and I would like to take this opportunity to salute the substantial support provided by the State of Qatar to make this centre operational.

The objective of the Workshop is to offer practical examples of how National Human Rights Institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles carry out their mandate to promote and protect all human rights. It also provides an opportunity to discuss how these experiences can be of greatest benefit to GCC States.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank practitioners from the National Human Rights Institutions of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine and Qatar, as well as participants from Yemen, for attending this event in order to share their views and experience.

Their experience will demonstrate that compliance with the Paris Principles is not only a worthwhile goal, but also an achievable one. They will also show that the establishment of such institutions should not be taken as an end in itself. I encourage you to use this Workshop to put forward your questions, as well as your concerns. While these two days of discussions may not provide all the answers, we nevertheless hope that we will all come away with a better understanding of the importance of National Human Rights Institutions being in compliance with the Paris Principles.

We stand ready to continue to provide appropriate assistance to all States that intend to establish an independent national human rights institution, as well as to all those that wish to strengthen existing institutions in order to help them become more independent and effective.

I do not wish to go too much into the finer details of the Paris Principles in this speech, since other highly qualified experts, including Anders Kompass, Director of OHCHR’s Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, will be doing that during the course of this workshop.  Instead, I will just outline some of the key elements that make the Paris Principles compliant NHRIs such a unique and valuable part of the international human rights system.

  • The Paris Principles, adopted by the General Assembly in December 1993 (Res 48/134), are the main normative source for National Human Rights Institutions. They establish the minimum standards required for the effective functioning of a NHRI, namely independence, pluralism, accessibility and functional autonomy.  Due to their unique mandate, which can include advising a government on its international obligations, reviewing legislation and administrative practices, monitoring the national human rights situation, and responding to human rights violations, these institutions act as an important ‘bridge’ within society as well as with regional and international fora.  
  • While the promotion and protection of human rights are in the first instance the responsibility and obligation of the State, National Human Rights Institutions that are in compliance with the Paris Principles are key actors in assisting governments to address critical human rights issues at the national level, by monitoring and addressing core human rights concerns such as torture, arbitrary detention and human trafficking. They can also contribute to the government’s efforts to eradicate all forms of discrimination.  

For all these reasons, OHCHR places a high priority on the establishment and strengthening of National Human Rights Institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles. OHCHR works at the country level supporting efforts by governments to establish or strengthen National Human Rights Institutions. This includes tailored advice on constitutional or legislative frameworks regarding the establishment of these institutions, as well as on their nature, functions, powers and responsibilities. OHCHR also undertakes comparative analyses, needs assessments on technical cooperation, and missions to formulate and evaluate projects which aim to establish institutions or strengthen their compliance with the Paris Principles. OHCHR closely monitors compliance, assists in strengthening the capacity of National Human Rights Institutions to work effectively and independently, and is increasingly encouraging interaction between these institutions and the international human rights system.

Excellencies, 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

National Human Rights Institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles also play a visible and important role at the international level. They should be involved in the human rights monitoring process and independently provide information on the national human rights situation to the UN human rights treaty bodies. They should also assist their Governments to implement the recommendations emanating from treaty bodies.  Furthermore, these institutions can and should actively support the UN independent experts and Special Rapporteurs in discharging their mandates.

In the framework of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), National Human Rights Institutions have been providing information on the situation of human rights as stakeholders.  The Paris Principles compliant institutions can address the Human Right Council’s plenary on any item on its agenda.  I have no doubt that the State of Qatar, which went through the UPR process earlier this year, will agree that the interaction between a National Human Rights Institution and international human rights mechanisms can be extremely valuable.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
     
Once a National Human Rights Institution is established and operational, the assessment of its compliance with the Paris Principles is carried out by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions for the promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC). OHCHR acts as the secretariat of the ICC. I would like to encourage the National Human Rights Institutions to apply for ICC accreditation in order to enter onto the international stage. They can then benefit from the opportunities to gain and maintain credibility, at the national, regional and international level.

In 2009, OHCHR helped the ICC review the compliance of almost 20 NHRIs with the Paris Principles. As of today, out of some 100 NHRIs in the world, 65 are fully compliant with the Paris Principles and are therefore accredited with the coveted “A” status by the ICC. OHCHR, together with UNDP and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, stands ready to provide advisory services or technical assistance to help National Human Rights Institutions meet the requirements set forth by the Paris Principles.  In this regard, OHCHR and UNDP have developed a toolkit for National Human Rights Institutions for the establishment and accreditation process. 

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope this Workshop will mark the beginning of a process which will lead to the successful establishment of independent and accredited National Human Rights Institutions in Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman,. They will then be fully equipped to join the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar in its important efforts to promote and protect human rights in the region.

I believe that when, in a few years time, all six of the GCC states have effective “A” status National Human Rights Institutions, everyone will experience tangible benefits, because such institutions can have an immeasurably positive impact on the entire fabric of nations.

Thank you.