Geneva, UNOG Room XXVII
14 May 2012
Distinguished Mandate holders,
colleagues and friends,
It is a great pleasure for me to congratulate you on your appointment to the Special Procedures mandates by the Human Rights Council. I am also delighted to be able to meet you in person. The continued expansion of the Special Procedures system through the creation of new mandates bears testimony to the prominence and relevance of your work and recognition of your key position in the human rights machinery.
The Special Procedures are the Council’s most responsive, effective and flexible fact-finding, monitoring, reporting and advocacy mechanisms. As holders of these mandates, you play an important role in encouraging States through dialogue to comply with international human rights standards. You provide an advocacy framework for human rights which can be used by civil society, including national human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations, in their interaction with Governments. Your direct engagement with victims is vital as it gives voice to their concerns. Furthermore, your recommendations are essential tools for United Nations entities, including OHCHR, working at the national level to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights.
In this context, I would like to highlight the valuable role played by Special Procedures in providing early warning alerts and advocating for the prevention of human rights violations. The information you collect is critical to identify, assess and voice concerns over gaps in the implementation of human rights at the country level. Your active participation, through the Coordination Committee, in the Special Sessions of the Human Rights Council last year on the Syrian Arab Republic and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and your numerous communications and public statements are also vital.
Special Procedures also play an important role in contributing to the progressive development of international human rights law, notably through studies and consultations and the elaboration of Guidelines or Guiding Principles in a variety of specific areas. For example, the Independent Expert on Foreign Debt is presenting Guidelines on foreign debt and human rights to the Human Rights Council at its next session and the Special Rapporteur on Torture assessed and presented principles on the use of solitary confinement with a view of minimising or abolishing its use in his report to the General Assembly last year. The Working Group on the use of Mercenaries provides another example through its advocacy for the elaboration of a legally binding instrument on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies (PMSCs).
Special Procedures mandate holders are also well placed to engage and support the incorporation of international human rights standards at the country level. For example, in Kenya, the Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons actively engaged and contributed to the development of a draft national IDP policy and a draft IDP Bill. I encourage you to strengthen your national engagement to maximise the impact of your work and, in this process, to involve the UN Country Teams whenever possible as they are a crucial for ensuring follow-up and UN mainstreaming of human rights. Furthermore, OHCHR currently has 58 field presences and wherever we have colleagues present at the national level, we provide full support for your work.
I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to some of the challenges which you are likely to experience as Special Procedures mandate holders;
- There is limited space for effective follow-up by the Human Rights Council on Special Procedures recommendations and outcomes. The prevention strategies, urgent responses and remedies you recommend are not always heard or given due attention.
- You perform your functions in a politically sensitive environment. Lack of cooperation by States with the Special Procedures, including in honouring standing invitations, follow-up to your recommendations and response to communications, is a concern.
- Inappropriate resort by States to the Code of Conduct remains an issue, as is the misperception among some States that mandate holders’ independence and integrity may be affected by the external support they receive.
- Additional mandates and the visibility given to you through participation in Special Sessions, Panels or other debates in the Council have expanded your space for action, but at the same time, some resolutions have included detailed mandated activities which have constrained your space.
- The growth of the number of special procedures mandates has not been matched by commiserates growth in resources. There are issues with no easy answers or quick fixes but I hope we will be able to master our collective wisdom in the advancement of your work.
Independence and integrity are hallmarks of the Special Procedures. I am pleased that the Council review outcome, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 65/281 in 2011, reaffirmed these principles and again urged States to cooperate effectively with Special Procedures. The review outcome also strongly rejected any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals who cooperate with the UN in the field of human rights and urged States to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts. The Council review also enhanced transparency in the selection of candidates for the Special Procedures mandates.
In relation to the Code of Conduct, it not only regulates your conduct, but also provides for cooperation by States. The High Commissioner routinely reminds States of their commitments to issue invitations, facilitate your country visits, respond substantively to your communications in a timely manner, and ensure that individuals who engage with you do not become victims of reprisals. She has called on the Council to ensure that robust dialogue with States is not portrayed as overstepping mandates or violating the Code. The Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures mandate holders has reminded States and experts that issues raised under the Code can be addressed objectively through its Internal Advisory Procedure, which will be discussed during this Induction Session. OHCHR will continue to support you in your efforts to assume responsibility while preserving your independence.
I would like to refer specifically to the issue of reprisals, which regrettably continue to be reported against persons who have collaborated with human rights mechanisms, including Special Procedures. During the past Human Rights Council session this issue drew particular attention and the High Commissioner, the President of the Human Rights Council as well as several Special Rapporteurs repeated their condemnation of such acts. Guaranteeing the safety and security of those who cooperate with the UN human rights machinery is essential. OHCHR will do its utmost to ensure that States respect their obligation to protect and that there is accountability for any suspected acts of intimidation or reprisals. In this regard, I would like to bring to your attention that OHCHR, on behalf of the Secretary-General, documents reported incidents of reprisals against individuals who have cooperated with the UN in the field of human rights, and that these are contained in an annual report to the Human Rights Council.
Now, on partnership and collaboration, the human rights treaty bodies are key partners for the Special Procedures. Through collaboration, your mutually shared concerns and recommendations can be reinforced. I am pleased to note that there is increased cooperation between Special Procedures and treaty bodies on priority themes, and that joint activities and advocacy efforts are increasing, as well as cross-referencing between the two mechanisms. I encourage you to further strengthen such partnerships, particularly in relation to follow-up to recommendations. I am confident that you will have time to discuss these aspects and examples of best practices in detail during the next few days.
There are also strong synergies between the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council (UPR) and the independent work of the Special Procedures. The contributions of the Special Procedures are a key part of the review of each country under this mechanism. Also, the outcomes of the UPR can be used to support your work, including in planning for country visits and engaging with a broader constituency at national level.
The OHCHR’s Management Plan for 2012-2013 reflects our commitment to the Special Procedures in our six thematic strategy areas. One of these focuses on strengthening human rights mechanisms - including the Special Procedures. The work of Special Procedures has also shaped the development of the other thematic strategies, namely: migration, non-discrimination, impunity and the rule of law, armed conflict, and the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, including the fight against inequality and poverty.
OHCHR collectively here in headquarters, in New York and in the field, endeavours to work with you constructively and in a spirit of professionalism, trust and integrity, providing support that ranges from policy and legal advice to strategic guidance and operational, administrative and procedural assistance. We do this in a context of limited regular and extra-budgetary resources.
We will continue to work closely with all policy making organs and interested partners to ensure continuing political support for the Special Procedures system and your independence, as well as financial resources to support your activities. OHCHR is staffed by a group of highly talented, skilled and devoted individuals who will work with you in a spirit of mutual respect. They will learn from you, and feel privileged to contribute to your work.
This Induction Session will familiarise you with the working methods of the Special Procedures, the OHCHR mandate and activities and the support provided to your work as well as relevant UN rules and regulations and administrative procedures. It will also address working relations with the States in the Human Rights Council, and the media focusing on the communication skills expected of the mandate holders. During the coming days, you will meet with ambassadors, current and former mandate holders, as well as OHCHR staff who will discuss important practical issues related to your working methods.
Let me conclude by reaffirming our support for your work and our commitment to working closely with you. I wish you a productive and successful session and all the best as you carry out your important mandates.