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Address made at Opening Ceremony of 29th General Meeting, International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

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22 March 2016

22 March 2016

Mr. Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee,
Madame Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Madame Assistant-Secretary-General,
Distinguished Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, I wish to thank ICC Chairperson Mushwana for the invitation to be here today. It is indeed an honour and a privilege for me to address this 29th Meeting of the ICC as President of the Human Rights Council.

I also wish to commend Chairperson Mushwana for his effective leadership of the ICC over the past three years. Mr. Chairperson, under your effective coordination, the ICC has indeed developed into a key international body, and the cooperation, collaboration and participation of the NHRI network at the international level have grown ever stronger. On behalf of the Human Rights Council, I wish to thank you most sincerely for your good work.

NHRI engagement is an essential piece in the intricate workings of the Human Rights Council. By providing and Council and its stakeholders with impartial first-hand information about the human rights situations on the ground, and following-up on the national-level implementation of recommendations and initiatives put forward by the Council, NHRIs have truly become indispensable to the Council as well as to their States. In working for awareness of, protection against and accountability for human rights violations, NHRIs unquestionably fill the gap between States and civil society.

I am very proud that the importance of NHRIs and the Human Rights Council’s practices and arrangements concerning them was acknowledged by the General Assembly in resolution 70/163 last December. I strongly encourage all relevant United Nations mechanisms and processes to enhance their engagement with and ensure the effective participation of Paris Principles-compliant NHRIs. I have no doubt that the work of the United Nations would greatly benefit by doing so.

Given the high level of importance that NHRIs are already playing in the Human Rights Council, and the great potential that they bring for other relevant UN mechanisms, I commend the ICC and its Sub-Committee on Accreditation for employing a thorough accreditation process guided by transparency, rigor and independence. I encourage the ICC, with the assistance of OHCHR, to continue its essential work ensuring that “A” status NHRIs are genuine, independent Paris Principles-compliant institutions. 

Given the unique position held by NHRIs in the Council as well as in the overall field of human rights, I strongly encourage “A” status NHRIs to actively participate in the Human Rights Council both during and outside of Council sessions. During a session, you can make oral interventions under substantive agenda items, and take the floor at the plenary meeting for the adoption of the UPR report of your State. Outside of a session, I encourage you to submit information to the stakeholder report for the UPR of your State, as NHRI contributions are afforded their own section in that report.

Furthermore, NHRIs are becoming widely recognized for promoting the implementation of human rights norms at national level. Therefore, I strongly encourage all NHRIs to ensure that human rights concerns that are identified through the UPR process are integrated into national programmes.

I am indeed honoured to be presiding over the Human Rights Council during this very important anniversary year. In just ten years, the Council has developed into the premier forum on human rights and has taken up a key role in developing human rights norms and shaping agendas. And the Council’s unique mechanisms of the Special Procedures and the UPR have proven to be powerful tools in illuminating human rights situations that demand our attention and in promoting change.

The celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the Council as well as the challenges it has faced. On this significant occasion, we should take time to consider what we have learned so far, and how we can further strengthen this august body as it moves into its second decade.

More specifically, I invite all of you to look back on and extract lessons from how the role of NHRIs in the Human Rights Council developed throughout the years. I encourage you to consider the increasing engagement of NHRIs at all stages of the UPR mechanism and with Special Procedures, beginning with Council Resolution 5/1 and strengthened four years later through Resolution 16/21. And I appeal to you to explore how we can continue advancing this relationship and further deepen such engagement.

Today we are witnessing an unprecedented level of human rights violations that demand our immediate attention. Issues like terrorism, climate change and migration, bring with them a host of new and complex human rights considerations that we must address. NHRIs have an important role to play in this context.

For example, the large humanitarian crisis and conflicts around the globe, and the recent developments in various countries towards more restrictive migration policies are of great concern. NHRIs can advocate for comprehensive and rights-based responses that would better address the multiple drivers of precarious involuntary  movements. They can also call on States to have migration systems and policies with a primary aim to protect the human rights of all people on the move, regardless of their status or their reasons for migrating.

NHRIs are also key actors in national protection systems and can be drivers for positive change. They can play an important role in protecting marginalised individuals and groups by ensuring that principles of non-discrimination and equality are incorporated into legislation and practice and advocating for appropriate measures to be taken against all forms of intolerance, xenophobia and discrimination.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Addis Ababa Declaration provide for the protection of the rights of migrants, aiming to ‘leave no one behind’. I welcome your discussions on the SDGs and I believe NHRIs have an important role to play in the implementation of the Agenda. The new Agenda provides for regular national reviews of progress towards its goals and targets. This is the level at which the SDGs will have most meaning in people’s lives, and NHRIs inputs will be a key factor in maintaining a strong framework for accountability between governments and the people they serve. By ensuring that a human rights-based approach is effectively applied in national level reviews, NHRIs can contribute to strengthening the accountability of State actors and others.

Lastly, I recognize that the overall situation of national human rights institutions in the world indeed raises great concern, especially with relation to the closing of space for NHRIs and the threat to individual freedoms as a result of the fight against terrorism.
 
To be effective in their work, NHRIs require financial and administrative independence and stability, and I encourage all Governments to provide their national human rights institutions autonomy and independence and ensure that they are free from political pressure and unjustifiable budgetary limitations.

I commend the NHRIs for their work to prevent and address cases of reprisals against human rights defenders. It is essential that we work together to protect individuals against reprisals and intimidation. I also acknowledge that national human rights institutions themselves face reprisals for their work. The States are ultimately responsible for protecting NHRIs, their staff members and individuals who cooperate with them, against all forms of pressure and reprisals. But the Human Rights Council shares in this responsibility. I assure you that as President of the Human Rights Council, I place great importance on preventing and addressing reprisals and intimidation, and I will make great effort to ensure that NHRIs, along with all other human rights defenders, can safely and freely carry out the work that the Council has grown to rely on.

I thank you all for your attention, and I wish you a very fruitful and successful 29th Meeting.

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