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Human Rights Council holds High-Level Panel discussion on the occasion of its tenth anniversary

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13 June 2016

AFTERNOON

GENEVA (13 June 2016) -

The Human Rights Council this afternoon marked its tenth anniversary by holding a high-level panel discussion, reflecting on its achievements and challenges. 

Choi Kyong-lim, President of the Human Rights Council, in his opening remarks, said that since its first session 10 years ago, the Council’s work had led to meaningful results worldwide, but that much work still remained for it to reach its full potential.  The victims and the vulnerable looked to the Council for protection and the world pleaded with it to find solutions to grave situations.

Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, highlighted the role of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms in combatting and preventing human rights violations, in underscoring the need for accountability, and in amplifying the vital voice of civil society, while strengthening the links between the three pillars of the United Nations agenda.  Referring to ongoing conflicts, the current migration crisis, violence against women and climate change, he highlighted the importance of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and of the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative, and called for a renewed commitment to adopt human rights based approaches to development.  The victims and the vulnerable must be placed at the heart of all efforts, he concluded. 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Human Rights Council’s embrace of civil society was unmatched by any forum in the United Nations system.  It was vital that the Council intensified its focus on improving human rights on the ground, and that its Members consistently promoted all human rights within their own countries.  The success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda could constitute a vital force for prevention.  Finally, he underlined the importance of more systematic follow-up of recommendations by the Council’s mechanisms.

Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, said that today’s meeting was unprecedented in a number of ways, including by the full participation of representatives from all the United Nations’ 193 Member States. 

Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora, former President of the Human Rights Council, speaking in a video message, welcomed the innovating role of the successor of the Commission on Human Rights, and its role centred on objectivity and non-selectivity. 

Doru Costea, former President of the Human Rights Council, when asked about the worst moment of his presidency, recalled a moment when a report had been requested, with the note that it should be only seven pages long, neglecting to mention a word count.  A Member State had submitted a report that was indeed seven pages long, but without margins and written in font size 5.

Laura Dupuy Lasserre, former President of the Human Rights Council, when asked about ways to further mainstream the work of the Council, underlined that respecting women’s rights would lift millions out of poverty, and stressed the importance of the universal implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Martin I. Uhomoibhi, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that one of the most ensuring attributes of human rights was their universality.  The Commission on Human Rights had failed because it had not been broadly based, or not enough.  The Council upheld this principle of university, which was obvious for example in the composition of its Presidents. 
Baudelaire Ndong Ella, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Commission on Human Rights had failed because it had not been broadly based.  The Council was a victim of its own success, he said, noting that there were always more meetings and resolutions. 

Laila Matar, United Nations Advocate at Human Rights Watch, when asked whether the Council had done well in strengthening dialogue with civil society, said that acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders unfortunately continued, and referred to a prominent Bahraini human rights defender that had just been arrested. 

Joachim Rücker, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council had become a central forum for addressing human rights concerns worldwide, including through the Universal Periodic Review.  Strengthened cooperation between Geneva and New York was an important achievement, he believed.

Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Universal Periodic Review was a tool which needed to be developed based on the international community’s current experience, and should focus even more on implementation. 

Alex Van Meeuwen, former President of the Human Rights Council, stressed that it was important to look into the political context in which the Council operated, and noted that seeking consensus often brought a lot of political agreements. 

Catarina de Albuquerque, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that some of the challenges included not being allowed to visit certain countries, the lack of follow-up and implementation of recommendations, and the lack of resources.  But the major and most important of all challenges was the lack of support to human rights by some members of the United Nations family.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow, former President of the Human Rights Council, referred to the review of the Council undertaken during his presidency, and said that the key question in this regard had been how to do better in addressing urgent situations, and which tools in addition to Special Session it could use, to ensure that the action was taken with the consent of the country concerned. 

A video was shown giving examples of the Human Rights Council’s work over the past 10 years.

In the ensuing discussion,  speakers expressed their views regarding the achievements and challenges faced by the Human Rights Council 10 years after its creation.  Speakers particularly highlighted the achievements of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in addressing the situation in all Member States on an equal basis.  Speakers underlined the importance that the Council did more in addressing pressing human rights concerns, and in preventing gross human rights violations.  Speakers affirmed the importance of cooperation with civil society organizations and condemned acts of reprisals against them.  Other speakers stressed the importance of international cooperation and technical assistance, while calling for more focus to be put on the right to development.  Several speakers warned the Council against politicization, double standards and selectivity. 

Speaking were Honduras, International Committee of the Red Cross, China on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, European Union, Rwanda on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, United Kingdom on behalf of the Rule of Law Core Group, Viet Nam, Egypt on behalf of a group of States, Cuba on behalf of 24 like-minded countries, Morocco on behalf of the International Organization of la Francophonie, Switzerland in a joint statement, Qatar on behalf of the Arab League, Dominican Republic speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Iceland on behalf of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, South Africa on behalf of the African Group, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, Ireland on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Bangladesh, Ecuador and United Arab Emirates. 

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Arab Commission for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, CIVICUS and Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme. 

The Council will resume its work on Tuesday, 14 June at 10 a.m., to continue its general debate on the update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Opening Statement

CHOI KYONG-LIM, President of the Human Rights Council, in his opening remarks, introducing the panellists, said that eight former Presidents of the Human Rights Council were among them: Joachim Rücker of Germany, Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon, Remigiusz Achilles Henczel of Poland, Laura Dupuy Lasserre of Uruguay, Sihasak Phuangketkeow of Thailand, Alex Van Meeuwen of Belgium, Martin I. Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, and Doru Costea of Romania.  Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora of Mexico could not join the debate but would address the Council in a video message, said the President, introducing also Catarina de Albuquerque, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and Laila Matar, United Nations Advocate at Human Rights Watch.

Since its first session 10 years ago, the Council’s work in promoting and protecting human rights had indeed led to meaningful results worldwide, but the Council was still young and much work still remained for it to reach its full potential.  The victims and the vulnerable looked to the Council for protection and the world pled with it to find solutions to grave situations, said Mr. Kyong-lim.

Address by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that at its inaugural session 10 years ago, the Council had entered uncharted waters after a long, intense and arduous negotiation period; hopes and expectations had been high, but so had uncertainties and reservations.  It had been clear to all that the Council had the potential to vitalize the work of the Commission on Human Rights and to address the shortcomings that had undermined its work and its standing over several years.  Turning to the Council’s achievements over the past decade, the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the Universal Periodic Review which shone a light on all corners of the world and presented, for the first time, a picture of the global state of human rights.  The Council’s Special Procedures had played a pivotal role in highlighting specific human rights issues around the globe and had shaped the Council’s agenda to cover an impressive breadth of themes and also acted as early warning and action mechanisms.  The Council also played a role in sounding alarm bells ahead of impending or worsening crises, drawing global attention to deteriorating situations though its Special Sessions, seeking urgent responses and reminding States to fulfil their human rights obligations by placing victims in the centre.  The Council was also a force for responding to protracted crises, while its Commissions of Inquiries and Fact-Finding Missions underscored the need for accountability and stressed the importance of combatting impunity and ensuring justice.  The Council had amplified the vital voice of civil society and the grassroots activists who complemented its own work, while its discussions in Geneva had stimulated debates in the Security Council and the General Assembly in New York, strengthening the links between peace and security, development, and human rights - the three pillars of the United Nations agenda. 

But these were troubled times and it was not possible to lean back and say that the work was done.  Tensions and deadly conflicts were on the rise, often exposing blatant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law; the number of refugees and displaced persons was at an all-time high – over 60 million people -  they were desperately seeking safety and a better life, and yet often faced closed borders, walls and hostility.  Terrorism and violent extremism were serious threats to international peace and security, wanting to create fear which in turn could lead to polarization and division in societies.  The space for civil society and the media was shrinking in many parts of the world, human rights defenders often faced threats and violence, and perpetrators of human rights violations, more often than not, went free, leaving victims to struggle for decades for accountability.  Another disturbing reality was the continued discrimination and violence against women and girls, everywhere.  Deep social and economic crises and injustices, and the devastating effects of climate change contributed to leaving the human rights promise of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unfulfilled for far too many people around the world.  Those negative trends must be reversed and human rights violations must be prevented, said the Deputy Secretary-General, highlighting some of the available tools including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its commitment to leave no one behind, and the Secretary-General’s ground-breaking Human Rights Up Front initiative.  Finally, there must be a commitment to adopt human rights-based approaches to development which built on free, active and meaningful participation, on accountability, non-discrimination, on equality and on the empowerment of all.

Mr. Eliasson said the Human Rights Council gave new life to all efforts to advance human rights across the United Nations system; it provided a vital arena to discuss issues which other United Nations bodies initially would not address, such as all forms of discrimination; and it demonstrated many innovative ways to highlight issues.  Much unfinished work and many new challenges were ahead.  The victims and the vulnerable must be placed at the heart of all efforts.  Freedom, security and dignity for all men, women and children who wanted to see and deserved a better future must be placed in the centre of policies’ resources and actions.

Address by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA'AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that human rights built societies in which people were able to make choices, develop opportunities, peacefully resolve disputes and resist threats with confidence and unity.  The Human Rights Council’s embrace of civil society was unmatched by any forum in the United Nations system, which contributed greatly to the Council’s relevance.  He said that in today's world of turmoil, signals were seen of faltering commitment by States to fundamental human rights norms.  It was vital that the Council intensified its focus on improving the implementation of human rights commitments on the ground.  Looking ahead to the next 10 years, he expressed hope that all actors would be addressing the root causes of human rights violations much more forcefully. 

Members of the Council needed to ensure that they consistently promoted all human rights within their own countries.  They could also ensure that their development assistance policies worked to encourage other States to implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms, and to uphold human rights.  Particularly when good governance and the rule of law were at issue, that could contribute very significantly to the success of the 2030 Agenda, and could constitute a vital force for prevention.  The Council could take a leadership role in that drive for much more systematic follow-up of recommendations.  On that point, his Office would be publishing good practises on coordinated national follow-up to human rights recommendations, which he said he hoped would inspire all Member States.  The international community needed to work together to strengthen the impact of the Council’s work at the country level, and to enhance the United Nations support for stronger national human rights systems, in order to enable greater freedoms, rights and dignity of people across the world.

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

A video was shown giving examples of the Human Rights Council’s work over the past 10 years.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, said that today’s meeting was unprecedented in a number of ways, including by the full participation of representatives from all the United Nations 193 Member States.  She introduced the ninth, eighth, seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, third, and second former Presidents of the Human Rights Council as participants in the panel discussion.  A video message was delivered by the first President of the Human Rights Council.  She invited the panellists to appraise the Human Rights Council “as a ten-year old” receiving a report card before taking off for summer holidays.

LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA GONGORA, the first President of the Human Rights Council, in a video message, welcomed the innovating role of the successor of the Commission on Human Rights, and its role centred on objectivity and non-selectivity.  He stressed the importance of modern elements such as the Special Procedures, underlined the need for closer cooperation with the General Assembly and other key organs of the United Nations, and called upon some States to open the space for civil society organizations.

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW, former President of the Human Rights Council, recalled his mandate from June 2010 to June 2011, and thanked the Secretariat and Conference Services for their support.  The Council’s review process had not been easy, especially in the case of emergencies; the tools available to the Council to do this were limited, especially if one aspired to greater involvement of Member States. 

DORU COSTEA, former President of the Human Rights Council, recalled the worst moment of his presidency, when a report had been requested, with the note that it should be only “seven pages” long, neglecting to mention a word count.  A Member State had submitted a report that was indeed seven pages long, but without margins and written in font size 5.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, said that the intention was that the Council would broaden the dialogue and create a real sense of universality of rights. 

LAURA DUPUY LASSERRE, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that she hoped she would not be the last female President of the Human Rights Council.  One of the messages that had emerged from the first high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming was how working on respecting women’s rights would lift millions out of poverty.  Those were important messages which must be heard.  She hoped that through the universal implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals no one would be left behind and the international community could combat violence against women and all forms of discrimination, amongst other things.  It was those goals that brought together all other rights, including the right to development and fundamental freedoms which allowed the growth of inclusive and democratic societies.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked how the Council made the universality of human rights relevant to all.

MARTIN I. UHOMOIBHI, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that one of the most ensuring attributes of human rights was their universality.  The Commission on Human Rights had failed because it had not been broadly based, or not enough.  The Council upheld this principle of university, which was obvious for example in the composition of its Presidents.  The Council also ensured that issues that it discussed were truly global and universal, and that civil society contributed to discussions.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked whether the Council had done well in strengthening dialogue with civil society. 

LAILA MATAR, United Nations Advocate at Human Rights Watch, said that despite achievements and the hopes it had brought with it, challenges remained in the way the Council engaged with civil society.  Acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders unfortunately continued, while the global trend of harassment against civil society continued.  Just today, she said, a prominent Bahraini human rights defender had been arrested. 

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked whether the Council had played a positive role in promoting fundamental human rights?

JOACHIM RÜCKER, former President of the Human Rights Council, said the Council had become a central forum for addressing human rights concerns worldwide, including through the Universal Periodic Review.  When looking back at the last 10 years, there were reasons to be proud, and reasons not to be satisfied.  Strengthened cooperation between Geneva and New York was an important achievement, he believed, as it had highlighted the close links between human rights, peace and security and development.  There were, however, ways to make the Council more efficient, and a need to make it more relevant on the ground, he concluded. 

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked for an evaluation regarding the Universal Periodic Review mechanism.

REMIGIUSZ ACHILLES HENCZEL, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Universal Periodic Review was a success story.  It was a tool which needed to be developed based on the international community’s current experience, which should focus even more on implementation.  Unsatisfied progress of implementation was often the result of insufficient funds, especially in the case of the least developed countries. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should highlight more the level of implementation of recommendations.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked whether successes stood out or whether frustrations were recalled.

BAUDELAIRE NDONG ELLA, former President of the Human Rights Council, said there had only been challenges during his presidency.  The international community had seen the Council’s legitimacy taking root.  He had had the entire “Permanent Five” as members of the Human Rights Council during his presidency, he said, telling the assembled dignitaries that he was sure they could imagine the threat of politicization that Council had had to get around.  A constructive dialogue had been achieved, he said, adding that there were three aspects that needed to be stressed.  They included the appointment of mandate holders, which had also been his first challenge.   The Council was a victim of its own success, he said, noting that there were always more meetings and resolutions.  Having gone from around 30 resolutions to more than 100, he asked whether that was effective and efficient, adding that he believed there needed to be a discussion with the department of budgetary and administrative affairs regarding funding.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, noted difficult negotiations, high-pressure agenda, sitting down for too long: if you could, would you do it again?

ALEX VAN MEEUWEN, former President of the Human Rights Council, stressed that it had been a very unique experience, mixed with patience and discovery, and a desire to be successful.  It was true that the Council often seemed too diplomatic, to outsiders it often seemed that it sought agreement and consensus at any costs, even at the cost of ambition lost.  However, it was important to look into the political context in which the Council operated, and seeking consensus often brought a lot of political agreements.  It had not always been easy, there had been a situation when the Council had been locked for more than 48 hours and even moments when the whole project of human rights seemed at risk.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, noted that Ms. De Albuquerque had seen the Council from many different angles, and asked her what, in her opinion, stood out in the Council’s “report card”.

CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that there had been sweet and bitter moments, and  that the best professional experiences in her life had happened in the Council’s Chamber.  It was exciting to hear diplomats pronounce words she had never thought she would hear from their mouths, such as open defecation, menstrual hygiene, and urination, but it was important because what had been discussed were human rights violations.  Some of the challenges included not being allowed to visit certain countries, the lack of follow-up and implementation of recommendations, and the lack of resources.  It was very hard to understand the impact of actions on the life of people.  But the major and most important of all challenges was the lack of support to human rights by some members of the United Nations family.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, said that the ultimate examination of the Council must be conducted by those who lived in preventable human suffering, who suffered violations, and were deprived of their rights and freedoms.  What was the impact of the Human Rights Council?

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW, former President of the Human Rights Council, recalled that as the fifth President of the Council, he had had to undertake a review of the Human Rights Council, under very unclear terms of reference which were very hard to agree upon.  During the review, the Council was asking itself how best to make the impact on the ground and make a change in the lives of the people, and the key question in this regard was how to do better in addressing urgent situations, and which tools in addition to Special Sessions it could use, to ensure that the action was taken with the consent of the country concerned. 

Discussion

Honduras said that cooperation and constructive dialogue, in particular through the Universal Periodic Review, could lead to significant progress on the ground, and regretted the lack of resources allocated to the work of the Council.  International Committee of the Red Cross underlined the importance of the Council, and of the Universal Periodic Review in particular, and noted the importance of expending protection systems at all levels.  China, speaking on behalf of China, the Non-Aligned Movement and Sudan, noted with concern the practices of double standards, politicization and naming and shaming, and underlined the right of countries to adopt their own systems for human rights protection.  European Union said that the Council still failed in providing early protection to many victims, and underlined the importance of observations by Special Procedures and treaty bodies in that regard.  Rwanda, on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Responsibility to Protect, said that the Council had the potential to play an important role in preventing mass atrocity crimes, through the creation of early warning mechanisms and its work on many country situations.  United Kingdom, on behalf of the Rule of Law Core Group, stressed the importance of the principle that everyone should benefit from equal access to protection and justice, which required more effective and accountable institutions and which required collective effort within the Human Rights Council. 

Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said that the tenth anniversary was an opportunity for the Council to reflect on the way forward in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and stressed that the primary responsibility in protecting and upholding human rights must always be taken into account.  Egypt, in a joint statement, recognized the success in bringing forward the Universal Periodic Review and the improvements in technical assistance and cooperation, but expressed concern about the Council heading the way of its predecessor and said that the practice of naming and shaming must stop.  Cuba, speaking on behalf of 24 like-minded countries, stressed that the Council had a very real role in the promotion and protection of human rights; dialogue and cooperation must remain at the core of its work and the Council must not become a proxy for Security Council actions.  Morocco, speaking on behalf of the International Organization of la Francophonie, said that the Council was a vital body in the United Nations system, and stressed the important role of the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures.  Switzerland, speaking also on behalf of three countries, stressed the collective responsibility of the Council to ensure that its responses, particularly with regard to country-specific situations, were commensurate with the nature and seriousness of the situation and asked about the most appropriate measures to enhance the effective implementation of its decisions and recommendations.  Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Arab League, was concerned that the work of the Council was moving toward politicization and double standards with regard to developing countries.  Cultural diversity was a reality, and universality did not mean the imposition of values and cultures on any society.

Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, representing an alliance of 72 national human rights institutions, said that national institutions should be able to participate in the Council’s work, adding that it was vital for the Council to take a clear position when faced with terrorist attacks against those who worked with the Council.  Arab Commission for Human Rights said that over the last 10 years, the Council had set up a number of mechanisms, which had led to a number of challenges, asking how such challenges could be overcome, noting also that Palestine was still occupied.  International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of severals NGOs1, said the Council had to find ways of making sure that grave human rights situations were dealt with, and that all 193 members of the General Assembly should commit to electing members of the Council only from competitive slates and that only those who merited being part of the Council should be elected.

Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that the region had contributed with clear leadership since the first resolutions of the Council, and that the region’s consistent participation was the product of the commitment of its Heads of State to respect all human rights.  Iceland, also speaking on behalf of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, asked in which way the Council could increase its impact on the ground, and also how the preventive aspect of the Council could be strengthened.  South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that prematurely reviewing the Council was a worrying trend, adding that the African Group did not support reforming the Council at the present stage; the Council had a responsibility to ensuring the integrity of its founding text.  Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that preventing violations was the core function of the Council, and that States had the responsibility to ensure education and training for all, asking to hear from panellists on how to promote human rights education and training through the work of the Council.  Ireland, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that the by now well-established practice of ensuring civil society participation at the Council was positive, asking also to hear how the volume of the Council’s work could avoid negatively impacting the substantive output.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, underlined the importance of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which had been successful because of the absence of politicization, which had otherwise negatively affected the work of the Council.  Brazil, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries,  expressed support to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, and to the sharing of good practices for the implementation of related recommendations.  It underlined the importance of multilingualism for the universal protection of human rights.  Saudi Arabia underscored the need for objectivity, non-selectivity, non-politicization, non-interference and the need for resolutions to be adopted by consensus, without imposing principles on others with different cultural backgrounds.  Portugal underlined the achievements of the Universal Periodic Review, noted the importance of multilingualism in promoting human rights, and stressed the need to ensure accountability for the perpetrators of human rights violations.  Bangladesh said that the Universal Periodic Review mechanism had proved to be an effective mechanism as it was the only mechanism in which issues were being addressed without politicization and through dialogue and cooperation.  Ecuador underlined its achievements in cooperating with the Council and other United Nations human rights mechanisms, and stressed the need that all decisions on the working methods of the Council be the outcome of a transparent and inclusive process.  United Arab Emirates welcomed the marked progress made by the Council in record time, especially by the Universal Periodic Review and its 55 Special Procedures, and noting some flaws in its work such as ignoring the inter-governmental character of the Council, called on the Special Procedures to uphold their Code of Conduct.

CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, on behalf of severals NGOs2, said that the Council was a principal leader in expanding the space for civil society, both in its corridors and at the field level, but the proliferation of repressive laws by States required the Council to act as a bulwark in many States across the globe.  What other steps could the Council take to strengthen the participation of civil society in its work?  Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme said that the human being must be at the centre of the concerns of the international community and called upon States to well understand  the role of civil society.

Response by the Panellists

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, noted that the Council had many friends and some teachers who during the discussion noted the areas where the Council had done well, and encouraged it to do better in emergencies, prevention, expanding the space for civil society, and in the struggle against impunity.  Some concerns were expressed about the principles of universality, non-politicization and non-selectivity.  Where should the Council improve?

LAURA DUPUY LASSERRE, former President of the Human Rights Council, agreed on the need to go beyond to the discourse of cultural diversity versus human rights; cultural diversity could not be invoked to put in question human rights.   The Council must not sit back and observe passively acts of slavery, violence against women, crimes of hate and others.  The Council had the mandate and a moral commitment, as well as the mandate of the Secretary-General on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked  what would you wish to gift to the Human Rights Council as it went forward?

REMIGIUSZ ACHILLES HENCZEL, former President of the Human Rights Council, stressed that everything must be done to save the universality of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism and to avoid the existing tendency towards bilateralization of the process - territorial disputes for example should not be raised during the Review.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council should confront the growing workload, which was particularly important for small and medium-sized missions in Geneva as they did not have the capacity to follow up on all the work.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked what would you wish to gift to the Human Rights Council?

MARTIN I. UHOMOIBHI, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that it would be strengthening the preventative role of the Council and also to consider whether there were any alternatives to the Human Rights Council - the world without the Council could not be contemplated.  The Council would remain relevant and important in the promotion and protection of human rights and it must stand out as a moral compass, as a bastion for the protection of human rights, it must not be ambushed for political purposes and interests – the moment it compromised its neutrality, impartiality and independence would be the day the Council lost its credibility.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator,  addressed a question to Alex Van Meeuwen on challenges facing the Council before and now. 

ALEX VAN MEEUWEN, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the international community had to have confidence, yet remain careful, as there were a lot of demands coming from within and without the Council.  It was important not to lose sight of what was essential: the biggest challenge for the Council was to respond to crisis situations.  Civil society had to play its role to the fullest extent possible.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked panellists to reflect on the issue of the impact of the Council on the ground.

BAUDELAIRE NDONG ELLA, former President of the Human Rights Council, said it was vital for civil society to play a key role in the Human Rights Council.  Civil society had a great impact because it could warn about situations the Council did not previously know about.  The integrity and security of civil society had to be upheld, and it was important to understand that in the Council, what were dealt with were violations of human rights in States.  If a non-State player was involved in such situations, there was a difficulty.  That issue needed to be reflected on for the future.  How, he asked, could a commission investigate ISIS?  It was also important for the Council to work with regional human rights bodies.  He stressed the need for technical assistance, noting that during his mandate, he had dealt with countries in post-conflict situations, which had difficulties in receiving mandate holders.  The key was education in human rights.  The prime task of the Council had to be education.  Institutional systems had to understand human rights so they could implement them.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked Catarina de Albuquerque for her perspective on the issue of non-State actors.

CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that she wished for the Council to have a traffic light system signalling countries’ human rights situations.  She added that she would like to see more attention paid to economic and social rights, as violations of those rights were often root causes of greater evil.  More space for independent bodies was also wished for.  There were moments where a spade had to be called a spade, she said, noting that positive impact from that had been seen.

DORU COSTEA, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the Council had a comprehensive box of tools that had unfortunately not reached their full potential.  The Council, as a body, should be more confident in itself, and in its achievements.  He stated the importance of civil society, and encouraged confidence-building measures between civil society organizations and governments at the national and international levels.  There were reasons to be optimistic, he said. 

LAILA MATAR, United Nations Advocate at Human Rights Watch, said that the Council could be a learning institution that interrogated its own activities.  Too often selectivity was used as an excuse for powerful countries to avoid scrutiny, she regretted.  She also regretted that many Members of the Council failed to uphold basic human rights protection, insisting on the need to strengthen the election process and to uphold higher standards of membership. 

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked how to ensure the adherence to fundamental principles.

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW, former President of the Human Rights Council, recognized the importance of founding principles and said that the Council must be seen as it was.  Everyone was concerned about politicization, and rightly so, but politics would always be a part of the Council simply because it was composed of States.  Different people had different views of human rights, and respect and dialogue were a must in discussing this.  The conversations within the Council must widen to also include non-governmental organizations.  Finally, there was a need for follow up on the resolutions and to ensure their implementation on the ground.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, asked what was most important thing for the Council for the next 10 years.

JOACHIM RÜCKER, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that there were unsolvable and solvable problems.  With regard to effectiveness, it came very clearly that this was the most important issue: the impact on the ground.  The Council had assets in this regard, especially civil society which must be protected.  The Universal Periodic Review was another asset and the process needed to be more streamlined.  The membership of the Council was a political issue, however, there was the track record of countries which should play a role in the General Assembly and there was a mechanism by civil society which enabled tracking of candidate countries on their human rights commitments.  A number of efficiency improving initiatives could be undertaken within the framework of the institution-building package.  At the next review of the Council in 2021, the United Nations should consider placing the Human Rights Council on an equal footing with the security and peace pillar and the development pillar by making the Human Rights Council a principal organ in the United Nations system.

Concluding Remarks

SIHASAK PHUANGKETKEOW, former President of the Human Rights Council, said that the number of armed conflicts had declined, but their severity had increased, especially their impact on civilians.  More and more, the issue of armed conflict and human rights violations in this context would take up the time of the Council and it also affected international peace and security.  The relation with the Security Council was important in this context.

BAUDELAIRE NDONG ELLA, former President of the Human Rights Council, said more needed to be done to strengthen synergies between Geneva and New York, especially in light of the increased involvement of the Council in human rights violations. 

CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, former Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said although money could not buy love, States must come forward and support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights more in order to deliver on human rights implementation, human rights education, and work more on national levels and with national human rights institutions.   In addition, non-governmental organizations and Special Procedures should be included in the process of appointment of new mandate holders.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Panel Moderator, said that the greatest gift was the Human Rights Council to the world, the Council that stood on the principles of human rights, for all, without excluding anyone and for the benefit of all.

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1. Joint statement: International Service for Human Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; International Commission of Jurists; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; Asian Legal Resource Centre; Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; ARTICLE 19 – International Centre Against Censorship; and Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) Asociación Civil.

2. Joint statement: CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development; International Commission of Jurists; Baha'i International Community; Asian Legal Resource Centre; Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and ARTICLE 19 – International Centre Against Censorship.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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