H.E. Ms. Katya Todorova, Chair of the Minister’s Deputies, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and privilege for me here today at the meeting of the Minister’s Deputies of the Council of Europe. I would like to thank H.E. Ambassador Todorova and the members of the Council of Europe for giving me the opportunity to make a presentation in my capacity as President of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2016.
Before I move forward, since it is still the first week of a new year by the lunar calendar, I would like to convey my new year’s greetings to all of you. Happy New Year et bonne année!
I visited Strasbourg, the headquarters of the Council of Europe, ten years ago for the first time as a tourist. Attracted by the beauty of the city and pressed for time, I missed the opportunity to visit the Council of Europe at that time and reflect on its historical meaning. I am grateful, therefore, that thanks to the kind invitation of the Council, I now have the chance to think about the profound message that the city and the Council of Europe offer to the mankind.
As we are all aware, the Council of Europe was founded after the Second World War which represents one of the darkest periods of humanity. But the wisdom and perspective that we gained through those difficult times enabled us to set up the principal human rights body of Europe in this war-stricken city. Strasbourg as a historical city painted with tension and distrust between the once rival European countries now is a symbol of peace, reconciliation and respect. And the Council of Europe is a beacon of human rights.
As part of the mandate given by the General Assembly in 2006, the Human Rights Council places great importance to cooperation with regional mechanisms. Regional institutions play an important role in promoting and protecting human rights and reinforce universal human rights standards. The Council of Europe is a best example of regional mechanism for human rights.
Since its establishment in 1949, the Council of Europe has made a profound impact and achievements in the promotion and the protection of human rights. It has been instrumental in safeguarding human rights and implementing UN standards on the European continent. Hence, cooperation between the Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe as the main UN and European bodies, respectively, responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, is as essential as it is beneficial.
I therefore welcome and encourage all initiatives that can help foster synergies between the Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe, like the joint activities undertaken by the Special mandate-holders of each body as well as the joint declaration on the reinforcement of cooperation signed between the Secretariat of the Council of Europe and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this respect, I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the active participation in the work of the Human Rights Council by the Geneva Office of the Council of Europe, headed by H.E. Ambassador Murat Adali.
Excellencies, Distinguished delegates Ladies and gentlemen,
This year, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council. 2016 also marks the golden jubilee of the adoption of two core pillars of the United Nations human rights treaties, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. High-level events are planned both in New York and Geneva. These will provide an opportunity for a renewed recognition of the historical significance of the Covenants as cornerstones of human rights. They will also provide an occasion to take stock of the Council’s achievements, reflect on challenges and discuss the ways forward.
Despite its short history, as the premier United Nations body dedicated to human rights, the Human Rights Council has lived up to the noble mandate entrusted by the General Assembly: promoting the universal respect for the protection of human rights and addressing critical situations of human rights violations. Importantly, it has done so in a spirit of dialogue, cooperation and inclusiveness.
We cherish these principles, which are the keys to the efficient functioning of the Council. The voices of all stakeholders, including those of the civil society, have their place in the Council. It is therefore in the interest of all members to maintain a safe and enabling space for effective participation of the civil society. As I have reiterated on various occasions since my election, it is precisely the balance of perspectives that ensures our strength as a body.
The Council disposes of what many regard as a central element in the international human rights machinery, covering all human rights: the system of Special Procedures. The members of the Council of Europe have been very active in sponsoring the Council’s thematic mandates and I am very glad to note that many members have issued standing invitations to Special Procedures mandate-holders. For those who have not yet done so, I will encourage to consider extending an invitation. You might be interested to know that last year the Human Rights Council established two new mandates of the Special Procedures: the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism and the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
The Council of Europe has also been actively contributing to the work of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. I am glad to note that the recommendations which stemmed from the second cycle of the UPR have been regularly disseminated by the Council of Europe as part of its monitoring and cooperation activities. Belgium, Estonia, Denmark and Latvia were reviewed last January by the mechanism. The reviews of Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania and the Republic of Moldova will follow, in May and November.
The Human Rights Council has proved its mettle in responding to urgent and emerging human rights situations, addressing protection gaps and advancing broader recognition of human rights standards. However, the progress the Council has achieved has been less stellar when translating its recommendations into reality. This is why I believe that “reducing the implementation gap” should be one of our priorities. In the Human Rights Council this year, we must work together to reduce this gap and be more implementation-focused. Simply put, we need to be more effective.
This goes hand in hand with improvements in our efficiency. From my predecessors, you have heard a good deal regarding the increasing workload that the Council faces. This has become unsustainable now. It is also affecting the effectiveness and quality of our work. It is important to find a way to ensure that the Council has sufficient time and space to address emerging issues, while at the same time, focusing on the implementation of existing norms and standards. In the same vein, in order to enhance the effectiveness of the Human Rights Council, I am committed to continue strengthening the relation between New York and Geneva.
These words, efficiency, effectiveness and enhancing New York-Geneva relations might be familiar to you. Indeed, these were also priorities for my predecessors. In 2016, I do not intend to start from scratch but to build on and continue the work already initiated. (Meeting these challenges requires hard work and I am ready to work hard. But this work has to be done by many, because the Council needs all the support and assistance it can get).
Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and gentlemen,
On 29 February, the Human Rights Council will open its main, four-week session, starting with a high-level segment, where approximately 90 dignitaries are expected to participate, among them the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, and several European ministers.
At this session, the High Commissioner for Human Rights will present his annual report to the Council and we will hold interactive dialogues on a wide variety of issues of special interests for the Members of the Council of Europe.
These dialogues includes the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and belief, privacy, torture, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, adequate housing, human rights defenders, minority issues, sale of children, the rights of persons with disabilities and all other important mandates holders. The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and summary executions will present a joint compilation of practical recommendations for the proper management of assemblies, which was requested by the Council in its resolution 25/38 and which follows on extensive consultations at the national, regional and international levels.
Numerous country situations will also concentrate our attention, either from a monitoring perspective or through technical cooperation notably on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syrian Arab Republic, Eritrea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Myanmar. The High Commissioner will present an oral report to the Council, focusing on the findings of each of the periodic reports of the Office on the human rights situation in Ukraine.
This March session will have an unprecedented number of panel discussions. The topic of this year’s annual high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming is “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and human rights, with an emphasis on the right to development”. This will be a timely discussion. Solidly grounded on human rights, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can serve as platform for the Human Rights Council to continue promoting the mainstreaming of human rights in the UN system.
Another high-level panel will take place, focusing on the fiftieth anniversary of the International Covenants on Human Rights. Moreover, the Council will hold panels, discussions and interactive debates on issues including climate change, rights of person with disabilities, rights of the child, HIV/AIDS, violent extremism, racism and technical co-operation and capacity-building to promote the rights of all migrants, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
In 2015, the Human Rights Council clearly demonstrated to the international community that it can respond to human rights emergencies in a timely manner: an enhanced interactive dialogue on the rights of migrants was held in June, and a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi took place in December, where the decision to send an expert mission on the human rights violations was made.
However, to our dismay, 2016 has not started in the most promising way. Regional conflicts in various parts of the world show no sign of improvement. We are seeing a dramatic human exodus. The scourge of terrorism is still rampant and the devastating effects of climate change on people is a distinct reality. Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg on the challenges we face. We cannot sit idly by as we witness daily human suffering, especially of those most vulnerable.
In a fast-paced interconnected world, these are not challenges of a specific region but of the entire globe. United efforts, genuine dialogue and cooperation at all levels, including with regional mechanisms as yours, are required to effectively promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all.
In 2016, the Human Rights Council stands ready to continue addressing human rights violations whenever and wherever they occur. If we fail to do so, we would undermine our very mandate. As Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Jagland, said in his address to the Human Rights Council in 2013, the United Nations and the Council of Europe are bound together (and I quote) “by history and purpose”. It is my hope and belief that we, the two most important human rights mechanisms, can cooperate by addressing emerging challenges together and discussing implementable strategies on the ground. Let us be bound further by our common commitment to a better and safer world.
Je vous remercie de votre amiable attention.
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