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Opening statement by Mr. Adam Abdelmoula Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division at the 44th session of the Board of Trustees

United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture
(3-7 October 2016)

Palais des Nations, Salle XXIII
Monday, 3 October, 10:30 a.m.

Distinguished Chairperson,
Distinguished Trustees,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you in Geneva to this 44th session of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and to have the opportunity to meet with you in person.  I have re-joined OHCHR a few months ago as Director of the new Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division (CTMD), which comprises the Treaty Bodies Branch (within which the Humanitarian Funds’ team is presently located), the Human Rights Council Branch and the UPR Branch.

I am looking forward to initiating a regular exchange with you, as Trustees of the largest Trust Fund entrusted to CTMD along with other five, namely the Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the UPR, the Voluntary Fund for Technical Assistance for the Implementation of the UPR, the Voluntary Assistance Fund to support the Participation of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Human Rights Council, and the OPCAT Special Fund.

I was briefed by Ibrahim, Paulo and Laura on the achievements over the last 35 years of this unique victim-focused Trust Fund, in particular towards advancing the collective response to victims of torture in the five regions of the world. I could also see for myself the robust and effective outreach undertaken by the Fund in recent months through many communications outputs, including paper material, videos and social media. You and the Secretariat team should be commended for your engagement and innovative approaches and we should together look at how best to build further on these acquis. As I spent a great deal of my career working at country level, including recently in Iraq and Syria, I can easily grasp the importance of the work of the two Humanitarian Funds and their capacity to provide direct, efficient and concrete assistance to victims of human rights violations.

The High Commissioner is appreciative of the stock-taking exercise the Fund undertook since 2013, which yielded a renewed policy for the Fund adopted in 2014 around the following prongs: (i) more quality and less quantity to be achieved through a competitive review of project proposals; (ii) fairer geographic distribution of available resources; (iii) greater thematic focus and knowledge-sharing of rehabilitation expertise; (iv) increased rapid response capacity to assistance needs, in particular in emerging crisis situations; (v) stronger linkages with the other anti-torture mechanisms.

It would be timely to hear your plans for the continued implementation of these policy orientations into 2017 and beyond, in particular the expert rehabilitation workshops convened by the Fund annually and the cooperation with other UN anti-torture mechanisms. How can these important initiatives assist in pushing back renewed attempts to justify the use of torture?

Alarmingly, as noted by the Secretary-General in the last report to the General Assembly, the complexity of contexts and crises in which torture takes place has grown in recent years. The data gathered by the Fund is indeed worrying, with an increasing number of victims being children and adolescents. Similarly, with a net assistance of over 7 million U$ channelled to civil society programmes in support of victims in more than 80 countries, the Fund is well suited to bearing witness to attempts aimed at curtailing space for civil society in  a growing number of countries.

The Fund for Victims of Torture is also to be commended for its good practices in terms of working methods, as noted by audits undertaken by both UN auditors and OIOS. The Fund’s credibility built over years lies greatly in the professionalism of its awardee partners. Such professionalism is regularly verified through a solid desk review of project proposals and, to a large extent, through in situ project evaluation visits. Building on existing good practices, I am interested in clearly identifying how the work of the Fund complements and, at times, supports the human rights programme undertaken by OHCHR at the country level. Also, it would be interesting to map where the Fund is currently present in areas where the Office has no access and whether its activities and partners could open engagement windows for the Office.

I am also interested in learning from you about the advantages of a stronger and joint Secretariat team, which this Fund shares since 2012 with the other humanitarian fund, the Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. I am pleased to see that you are meeting this week with your colleague the Chairperson of the Board of the Slavery Fund. I am a strong believer of the added value as well as potential of Trust Funds, as complementary tools to effectively implement OHCHR’s programme.

As mentioned earlier, there are presently 6 Trust Funds in our Division, equipped with different mandates and levels of income, but all sharing the objective of pursuing partnerships with third parties.  We are currently exploring the possibility of establishing one managerial team in the Division in support of all Trust Funds in order to streamline procedures and working methods, ensure cost-efficient management and increase the visibility of OHCHR-managed trust funds inside and outside the Office. I am cognizant of the tension between the funding needs of the Trust Funds and the un-earmarked requirements of a growing Office. I am confident, however, that a stronger and more visible location for all Trust Funds within CTMD and the Office will provide the Funds in the longer run with the support and weight they deserve.

I trust that this will be the beginning of a regular and open dialogue and look forward to your insights on the functioning and prospects of this concrete mechanism, which makes a difference in so many lives in the forgotten corners of the world. From my end, I would like to reassure you of my commitment to build on the long-standing achievements of this Fund and your experience in order to further sustain the work and image of this important Fund and the unique cause it stands for. Thank you.