Almost two thirds of UN Human Rights’ income comes from voluntary contributions from Member States and other donors. The remainder is covered by the UN regular budget.
UN regular budget, approved by the General Assembly, is funded by “assessed contributions” from each Member State. These are determined according to a formula that takes into account the size and strength of their respective national economies.
The 2020 regular budget is the first annual budget prepared in accordance with the UN management reform agenda. Indeed, during its seventy-second session, the General Assembly approved the proposed change from a biennial to an annual budget cycle on a trial basis, beginning with the programme budget for 2020. The General Assembly will review the implementation of the annual budget at its seventy-seventh session in September 2022, with a view to taking a final decision.1
Human rights gets a tiny part of UN regular budget: only 3.7%
The UN regular budget should finance all activities mandated by the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs, including the Human Rights Council. Human rights are Charter responsibilities, recognized as one of the three pillars of the UN system, the other two being development, and peace and security. The Secretary-General’s “Human Rights Up Front” programme and Call for Action for Human Rights clearly underscored the centrality of human rights to the work of the entire UN Secretariat.
Yet, the regular budget allocates to human rights only a tiny percentage of the resources that are extended to the other two pillars. While approximately half of all regular budget resources are directed to these three pillars, human rights receives only 3.7 per cent of the total UN regular budget. More specifically, excluding funds it apportions to the human rights components of peacekeeping operations, out of 51.7 per cent of the total regular budget resources directed to the three UN system pillars, the UN regular budget allocates 7.7 per cent to the human rights pillar. The initial regular budget appropriation for the Office for 2020 was US$116.4 million, compared to allocation final appropriation of US$105.6 million in 2019.
UN Human Rights relies heavily on voluntary contributions
The 2020 regular budget is a continuation of “zero growth” as in previous years, but also reflects a number of across-the-board reductions decided by the General Assembly. Thus, although official human rights mandates continue to grow in number and scope, and Member States have formally requested consideration of an increase in the budget share for human rights, the reality is that the level of resources allocated to the human rights programme is in decline. As a result, UN Human Rights continues to rely heavily on voluntary contributions to finance as much as 23 per cent of the mandated activities that should be financed by the regular budget, primarily treaty body and special procedures work.
This challenging financial situation is further exacerbated by the ongoing cash flow difficulties due to Member States’ assessed contributions arrears and by the timing of allocations. Although most of the resources required for new mandates introduced by the Human Rights Council are approved each year, the delay in their presentation to the General Assembly means that the Office is forced to rely on existing resources to cover new activities with a more immediate timeline. With the UN Secretariat moving to an annual budgeting process, this issue is going to be even more acute.
Voluntary contributions, or extrabudgetary resources, represented, in 2019, around 62.9 per cent of the UN Human Rights’ overall budget. However, in order to respond to all requests for assistance and needs identified, the Office requires greater financial support from Member States and other donors, including the private sector.
Only 32% of extrabudgetary contributions are unearmarked
In 2019, the Office received US$179 million in extrabudgetary contributions, compared to US$187.1 million in 2018. This represents a decrease of 4.3 per cent. Furthermore, only 32 per cent of these funds were unearmarked, which represents the lowest amount since 2008. While some of the increase in earmarking can be attributed to more local funding for field activities and contributions from non-traditional budget lines that are restricted as earmarked funds, other contributions that were previously unearmarked have been transformed into more circumscribed funding. While all contributions are much appreciated, the ongoing trend toward earmarking limits the Office’s capacity to allocate resources to where they are most urgently required and demands more constant budgetary adjustments over the course of the year.
In 2019, approximately 58.5 per cent of all voluntary funding was used to support work in the field, which receives minimal support from the regular budget. The remainder of the voluntary funding was distributed between other areas of the Office’s work and often supplemented the limited resources available from the regular budget. This enabled the Office to achieve a far greater impact than would otherwise have been possible. The 2019 Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) assessment of UN Human Rights acknowledged that, despite the “chronic mismatch between OHCHR’s growing mandate and scope of operations on the one hand, and its human and financial resources on the other,” the organization used its scarce human and financial resources more efficiently, “performing remarkably well, and punching above its weight".2
Financial requirements in 2020
Total extrabudgetary resources needed for 2020 amount to US$375.5 million. These are the funds the Office would require, in addition to the regular budget allocation, if it were to address all requests for assistance received and needs identified. Contributions need to be as flexible as possible and preferably provided in multi-year agreements to help increase the predictability and sustainability of our work. Early payment is also critical as it helps to mitigate cash flow constraints during the year.
The Office demonstrates through this year’s Appeal the full extent of these requirements, as opposed to presenting only its operating cost plans. Nevertheless, the “needs-based” budget presented in the Appeal is still limited to what can realistically be implemented within a single year. For this reason, and due to the lengthy recruitment process to which the Office must adhere, some increases, notably in the field, remain modest. Expanding the reach of field presences requires a steady build-up of human resources and budgets over time.