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Opening Remarks by Eric Tistounet, Chief Human Rights Council Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Opening of the twelfth session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

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24 February 2014

Geneva, 24 February 2014

Mr President of the Human Rights Council,
Madam Vice-Chairperson,
Distinguished members of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today at the occasion of the opening of the twelfth session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. I wish to extend a particular welcome to the new members Ms Elsadda, Mr Lebedev, Mr Obata, Mr Zhang and Mr Ziegler, and also congratulate Mr Karokora for his re-election.

As we are all aware, development and peace and security and human rights are interlinked. They are the three pillars upon which the organization is defining its policies and priorities. This will be the background against which I will offer some perspectives on the work of the Office as they are topical for the activities and the priorities of your Committee. In this regard, in order to sustain and build on the success of the  special event on the Millennium Development Goals held at the General Assembly last September, OHCHR will  remain steadfast in ensuring that the post-2015 development agenda provides a sustainable, meaningful, universal and balanced framework addressing freedom from fear and freedom from want for all, without discrimination.

With regard to the right to development itself, I am pleased to inform you that in December, OHCHR launched a landmark publication, “Realizing the Right to Development”, which reiterates the need for all persons to participate in their own economic, social, cultural and political development and for all human rights and fundamental freedoms to be fully realized. For its part, the Working Group on the right to development is continuing its work to consider, revise and refine the draft right to development criteria and operational sub-criteria that were developed by the high-level task force on the implementation of the right to development.

I am also pleased to inform you that the efforts of OHCHR further led to the outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development and the conclusions of the round table dedicated to the post-2015 development agenda to recognizing the importance of the human rights of persons with disabilities. Incidentally, please note that that since April 2013, the use of international sign language interpretation and captioning is now a regular feature at Human Rights Council sessions, as well as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is the result of the joint efforts of OHCHR and the Human Rights Council task force on accessibility, which strived to also improve the accessibility of buildings to persons with disabilities.

When we speak of development, we cannot forget the plight of the 232 million migrants worldwide, who away from their homes and families, are actively contributing to the economic, social and cultural development of both their host and home countries. They do so despite the many human rights violations and discriminatory attitudes they are subjected to. Both the High Commissioner and the Director-General of ILO raised the alarm and called for a paradigm shift in the way migration is perceived and for a more effective implementation of human rights and labour standards, by putting in place concrete measures to combat discrimination and xenophobia.

In September 2013, at the request of the Secretary-General, OHCHR issued an analytical report entitled “Migration and Human Rights: Improving human rights-based governance of international migration”, in which it identified important elements of a forward-looking global agenda on migration and human rights. The Office and the Council are also pursuing efforts to work together with all stakeholders to uphold the human rights of all migrants worldwide. In this regard, the High-level Panel on human rights mainstreaming next week, which will take place in the context of the twenty-fifth session of the Council next week, will discuss the protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants. This half-day panel will provide a significant opportunity to exchange views on the progress, achievements and challenges in mainstreaming the human rights of migrants throughout the United Nations System.

Distinguished Members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, an area that requires further examination is the nexus between financial crises, austerity measures, financial regulation and human rights. At least 15 special procedures of the Human Rights Council and several human rights treaty bodies have examined the human rights impacts of financial crises and/or austerity measures. Their reports and concluding observations highlight that many people have lost access to work, social welfare programmes, and affordable food, housing, water and other basic necessities due to the crisis and austerity measures, with disproportionate impacts on women, children and the most disadvantaged. Given this reality, the High Commissioner focussed her annual report to the Economic and Social Council on the impacts of the crisis and austerity measures on the enjoyment of the rights to employment and social security.  It is also worth noting that the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing will present a report to the Council next week (A/HRC/25/54) through which she recommends a set of guiding principles to assist States and other relevant actors in addressing the current tenure insecurity crisis faced by the urban poor in an increasingly urbanized world.

Distinguished members of the Advisory Committee,

Turning to the activities of your Committee, I am pleased to inform you that the recent study your Committee presented to the Council in September 2013 on terrorist hostage-taking is being considered by the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate. Indeed pursuant to Security Council resolution 2129, adopted in December, which specifically mentions kidnapping for ransom, the Directorate will now be looking more closely at terrorist hostage-taking as part of its mandate.

And while your Committee conducted a study on traditional values, it is also worth recalling that the OHCHR submitted its report on the subject to the 24th session of the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/24/22) containing a summary of information received from UN Member States and other relevant stakeholders on best practices in the application of traditional values while promoting and protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.  The report yields a variety of viewpoints from those who provided information; some found traditional values to be closely related to human dignity and human rights while others were of the view that traditional values were at times misused to justify human rights violations.  Moreover, respondents also underlined that traditional values could never be used to justify violations of universal human rights or as a basis for discrimination in any form. The norm of “positive traditional values” should help to bridge any possible gap between the different ways protection and enhancement of human dignity could be furthered across generations and cultures.

Distinguished members,

Allow me to now turn to the new mandates emanating from the Council’s last session that your Committee will be discussing this week. Indeed it is a satisfaction to note that the delegations at the Human Rights Council have reacted positively to the call from the Committee regarding its availability to conduct studies on a variety of topics. In September, the Council adopted resolution 24/1, mandating your Committee to prepare a study on the possibilities of using sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all and to strengthen universal respect for them. This should be done bearing in mind both the value of relevant principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter and the value of good sporting example. You are requested to present a progress report thereon to the Council before its September 2014 session. I understand that you will be holding preliminary discussions on this topic during this week and in this regard, I am pleased to inform you that you will benefit from the participation of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on sport for development and peace, as well as the Director of the International Olympic Truce Centre.  The event held on 21 March 2013 to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination focussing on the eradication of racism in sport bodes well for these overall initiatives. 

Last September, the Council also adopted resolution 24/2, which took note of the research proposal on local government and human rights made by your Committee in August 2012 (A/HRC/AC/9/6) and mandated your Committee to prepare a research-based report on the role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights. I am pleased to inform you that in the preliminary discussion on this topic this week, you will benefit from the presentation of the Executive Director of the Korea Human Rights Foundation and of a representative from the Institute of Federalism of the University of Fribourg.

The same resolution also encourages your Committee, when elaborating the above-mentioned report, to take into account, as appropriate, recommendations made by the human rights treaty bodies, the universal periodic review mechanism and special procedures, as well as the work done on the issue by relevant United Nations agencies, funds and programmes within their respective mandates. In this regard, you may consult the report that the Office has prepared on the role of the public service as an essential component of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights, and which will be submitted to the twenty-fifth session of the Council next week (A/HRC/25/27). The report provides some background information and best practices on good governance and human rights. It highlights the major challenges to public service in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Furthermore, Council resolution 24/14 mandated your Committee to prepare a research-based report containing recommendations on a mechanism to assess the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. You are expected to present a progress report to the March session of the Council in 2015. In this regard, the annual report of the Secretary General prepared by OHCHR on this theme might be of interest to your Committee. The most recent report of the Secretary-General on human rights and unilateral coercive measures (A/68/211) submitted last year reflects on responses from ten respondent Member States, all of whom rejected the use of unilateral coercive measures.  It is also useful to note the thematic study on the same subject presented by  OHCHR to the Human Rights Council in 2012 (A/HRC/19/33).

In addition, on 5 April 2013, the Office organised an expert workshop on the impact of the application of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights by the affected populations in the States targeted. The report of the workshop was submitted for consideration by the Council at its 24th session in September. During the preliminary discussions on this topic this week, you will also have the opportunity to be briefed by Mr Ziegler, who had participated in the workshop as an expert speaker.

The same resolution also requested OHCHR to organize another workshop on the subject, in particular their socioeconomic impact on women and children, in the States targeted, and to submit a report on the proceedings of the workshop to the 27th session of the Council (September 2014). I am pleased to inform you that this workshop will be held on 22 May 2014, here in Palais de Nations.

The Council, by resolution 24/33 on technical cooperation for the prevention of attacks against persons with albinism, mandated your Committee to prepare a study on the situation of human rights of persons living with albinism and to submit a report thereon to the March 2015 session of the Council.

This resolution is the second resolution adopted by the Council on this issue. It underscores the need for effective action to combat and eliminate attacks against persons with albinism and to adopt specific measures to protect and preserve the rights to life and to security of persons with albinism, as well as their right not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment. On 5 November 2013 the African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights took a very positive and much-needed step forward by adopting for the first time a resolution on people with albinism. The resolution notes with concern reports of systematic attacks against people with albinism and calls on States to ensure accountability through impartial, speedy and effective investigations, prosecution of perpetrators and access to appropriate remedies for victims.

It is worth noting that the Human Rights Council’s action on this important matter was accelerated by the fact that several special procedures mandate holders (namely, the mandate holders on torture, summary executions, minorities, racism, health and education) addressed the issue in a joint press release on 4 May 2013. You may also wish to note that, last September, OHCHR submitted a report to the Council on attacks and discrimination against persons affected by albinism, and, throughout the year, promoted greater awareness of their situation. In your preliminary discussion on the situation of persons living with albinism this week, you will be able to benefit from the presentation of a representative of OHCHR as well as that of the Director of the NGO Under The Same Sun.

Distinguished Members,

As from this morning you will also start discussing the draft preliminary reports on the promotion and protection of human rights in post-disaster and post-conflict situations, the negative impact of corruption on human rights and the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights. In this regard, I would like to thank the Committee for the important work it has already accomplished, particularly in the inter-sessional period, on these draft preliminary reports, and look forward to the Committee’s final reports on these issues.

With regard to your study on the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, let me also draw your attention to the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening UN action in the field of human rights through the promotion of international cooperation and the importance of non-selectivity, impartiality and objectivity (A/68/209), which contains a summary of the submissions received from nine Governments, as well as the WMO and UNODC.

In concluding, let me assure you the full support of the Secretariat for your activities, which will be led by Meena Ramkaun. 

I wish you very fruitful deliberations at the present session.

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