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Statement by H.E. Ambassador Choi Kyonglim, President of the Human Rights Council, 71st session of the General Assembly

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4 November 2016

New York, 4 November 2016

Thank you, Madame Chairperson.

Madame Chair,
Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure and honour that I come before you today to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council and to participate in interactive dialogue with the Third Committee. Although this is my third visit to New York as President of the Human Rights Council, I meet with you for the first time at this meeting room of the Third Committee. When I preside over the Human Rights Council meetings, I always hope that the presenter will keep his or her statement concise and to the point. As a presenter today, I will do my best to meet the Chair’s wish.   

Madame Chair,

This year we have marked the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Council by the General Assembly. The record and achievements of the Council since its establishment testify to its responsiveness and flexibility in dealing with human rights issues all over the world. This year alone, the Human Rights Council adopted a total of 149 resolutions, decisions and President’s statements. 114 of them were adopted without a vote. Many of the resolutions, including on country-specific issues, were cross-regional initiatives, affirming the capacity of the Council to overcome political differences and take unified action on important human rights issues. A complete account of our work in 2016 is before you today.

The Human Rights Council has continued to send a strong message to the world with regard to the grave human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Council extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry once again, and just two weeks ago, the Council held a special session on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Syria and the recent situation in Aleppo. During this 25th special session, the Human Rights Council requested the Commission of Inquiry to conduct a comprehensive special inquiry into the events in Aleppo. The COI is mandated to identify all those who are responsible for alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and to support efforts to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

The Human Rights Council also considered the updates and reports of the COI on Eritrea and the report of the Independent Investigation on Burundi, which was established last December when the Council requested the High Commissioner to dispatch a mission of independent experts to Burundi to investigate violations and abuses of human rights committed since April 2015. Following the report of the Independent Investigation in September, the Council decided to establish a COI on the human rights situation in Burundi, with a mandate to conduct a thorough investigation into human rights violations and abuses since April 2015.

While recalling the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Human Rights Council requested the High Commissioner to designate two independent experts to support of the work of the Special Rapporteur on the DPRK. More specifically, the group of independent experts are mandated to focus on issues of accountability for human rights violations, in particular where such violations amount to crimes against humanity. The experts will present their report to the Council next March.

During this year, the Council also established the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. The Commission is mandated to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in the country and make recommendations for its improvement. The Commission will also present its report to the Council next March, and will share the report with the General Assembly.

In 2016, the Council also extended the existing country-specific special procedures mandates on Belarus, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia and the Sudan.

In an effort to make its discussions and debates as effective and focused as possible, the Council is increasingly using new formats for its debates. Last September, for example, it invited the High Commissioner to inform the Council on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as and when appropriate. In 2016, the Council also held two “enhanced” interactive dialogues, on the situation of human rights in Burundi and on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This new format allows the Council to engage in dialogue with relevant stakeholders, including experts, representatives of regional human rights mechanisms, civil society, and increase focus on one specific aspect of the debate, such as the electoral process in the DRC.

Other situations considered by the Council under agenda item 10, technical cooperation in the field of human rights, included the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Burundi, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Guinea, Haiti, Libya, Mali, Ukraine and Yemen, among others.

Madame Chair,

In addition to responding to urgent situations and crises around the world, the Human Rights Council has also addressed a number of global issues throughout the year. In particular, during this year’s high-level panel discussion on promoting the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system, the Council explored new opportunities arising from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to advance human rights and discussed how the 2030 Agenda can help bring the three pillars of the United Nations closer together.

In efforts to “leave no one behind”, the Human Rights Council engaged in a wide range of thematic debates and held 20 panel discussions on important issues such as human rights and climate change, the rights of persons with disabilities, the rights of the child, rights of women, the 50th Anniversary of the International Covenants on Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, human rights issues in the context of efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030 and the state of racial discrimination worldwide..The Council also mandated a number of expert workshops, research and analytical studies to be undertaken on a variety of issues

I am also pleased to inform you that the Council has also focused on the issue of improving accessibility for people with disabilities. The Council’s Task Force has exerted its continued efforts to make the work of the Council accessible to all persons, pursuant to the legal obligations arising from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Madame Chair,

The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have played a central role in responding to the human rights challenges throughout the year, acting as the Council’s ears and eyes and shining a light into the darkest corners of the world. The reports of the Special Procedures mandate holders constitute one of the main sources of reliable information on human rights situations around the world and provide a solid basis for the dialogues and debates at the Council.

In 2016, the Council established two new special procedures mandates: an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and, a Special Rapporteur on the right to development. The Council also decided to amend the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and increased the number of members to seven, to represent each of the seven indigenous sociocultural regions. I hope that the creation and enhancement of these mandates result in further strengthening the work of the Council in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. 

Following General Assembly resolution 60/251, members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and shall fully cooperate with the Council. In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that, as of 25 October 2016, 117 UN Member States and 1 non-Member Observer State extend a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. I call upon all of you that have not yet done so to issue standing invitations to the Special Procedure mandate-holders and to fully cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, including by implementing their recommendations, in an effort to strengthen human rights worldwide.

Madame Chair,

Allow me now to turn briefly to the Council’s Universal Periodic Review, another important human rights mechanism, which is actually taking place in Geneva as we speak. 

As we quickly approach the end of the second cycle of the UPR, and prepare to commence the third cycle next May, I note continued positive feedback from all stakeholders.

To date, the principle of universality of the UPR continues to be preserved, with the participation of all UN Members States. All States scheduled to be reviewed under this unique peer-to-peer mechanism have participated. In the majority of cases, delegations continue to be represented at ministerial level. However, the participation and involvement of small States that do not have representation in Geneva still poses a significant challenge to the principle of universality.

Another important principle in the UPR process is periodicity. The focus by States on the implementation of recommendations received in previous review cycles in their national reports and presentations at the Working Group is highly welcomed, and in fact rightly reflects the cyclical nature of the reviews. Going forward and into the third cycle, I would like to again stress the importance of keeping the focus on follow-up and implementation in the review process, in order to safeguard the credibility and effectiveness of this mechanism.  Coordination on, and engagement with, the UPR process should not stop with the presentation of the report in Geneva: instead, efforts should be increased to ensure that the cycle continues, in a process that engages all relevant stakeholders, including civil society.

States are also increasingly strengthening their national processes and systems to enable a more systematic engagement with and follow-up on the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, along with other human rights mechanisms. This approach is highly encouraged and should be further pursued.

Madame Chair,

This year, we have continued efforts to make all voices heard at the Council and thus to have universal representation in the Council.

The number of high-level dignitaries, around 100, addressing the Council during the high-level segment of the March session demonstrates the sustained influence of the Council as the main United Nations body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights. This is further testified by the high number of civil society representatives attending our Council proceedings.

The participation of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) in the work of the Human Rights Council also keeps increasing.

Thanks to the LDCs/SIDS Trust Fund, last June we achieved for the first time ever, universal participation of all Member States of the United Nations in the Human Rights Council on the occasion of its 10th year anniversary.

We all recognize that this Fund is a great asset not only for beneficiary countries but also for the work of the Council. To ensure that all voices are heard and continue to be heard in the Human Rights Council, regular and sustained funding of the Trust Fund’s activities is needed. 

Madame Chair,

The protection of the role of civil society and national human rights institutions in our work is an issue of great importance. The active participation and contribution of civil society is central to the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, making the Council unique among other United Nations intergovernmental organs.

Civil society not only contributes to our discussions, it makes our work more effective and provides us with a mirror of the realities on the ground. Civil society is not just “nice to have” in the Council, it is at the core of our work. It is therefore essential that representatives of civil society operate in a free, open and safe environment that protects and promotes their own human rights.

In the course of this year, I have been apprised and seized of alleged cases of intimidations, threats and reprisals against individuals who cooperate or have cooperated with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. I have repeatedly appealed to the Council to ensure the safe participation of civil society in our work and, when necessary, I have followed up directly with concerned States. I would like once again to reiterate that without the contribution of civil society, the Council and its mechanisms would lack the substantive information and support needed to effectively perform their mandates. It is essential that representatives of civil society are afforded adequate protection to operate in a free, open and safe environment that protects and promotes their own human rights.

Madame Chair,

As our 5th Committee colleagues are currently discussing the budget for human rights activities of the UN, I would like to touch briefly upon the significant challenges being faced by the Human Rights Council in terms of resources required for it to continue its activities. As I mentioned earlier, the Council continues to adopt a high number of resolutions and decisions, which carry significant resource implications. While the OHCHR is requested to comply with an increasing number of mandates stemming from Human Rights Council decisions, its regular budget has not kept pace with that growth.

I would also like to refer to a critical additional challenge: the Human Rights Council is now faced with the real possibility of having its meeting time reduced and capped. In fact, the Council would have to reduce as many as 23 meetings per year beginning in 2018 and beyond in order to comply with the limitations being discussed. If acted upon, these restrictions will indeed greatly affect the work of the Human Rights Council, particularly its most distinctive characteristic of high responsiveness to address human rights issues worldwide in an efficient and timely manner.

A strong and independent OHCHR and a strong and independent High Commissioner is in all of our interests. It makes our work in the Human Rights Council more effective and it helps us to realize our mandate to promote and protect human rights worldwide. Therefore, I would like to seek the co-operation and full support from all UN Member States to positively address these issues through the Fifth Committee.

Madame Chair,

Before concluding, I wish to touch upon an issue that has critical bearing on our work, which is the relationship between Geneva and New York, especially with regard to the status of the Human Rights Council.

When the General Assembly established the Human Rights Council with its resolution 60/251, it gave the Council the mandate to be responsible for promoting and protecting human rights, and the Council, in accordance with this mandate, has indeed evolved over the years as the premier body of the United Nations for human rights. As such, the Council has always worked with a high degree of autonomy that ensured its efficiency and effectiveness. I firmly believe that it is critical that this standing of the Council be preserved, especially when the world is facing so many human rights crises.

I am afraid that any attempt to re-open decisions and resolutions in a substantive manner in New York that have been validly adopted in Geneva will seriously weaken the authority and competence of the Human Rights Council, as well as gravely undermine the integrity of the human rights system throughout the UN.

On behalf of the members of the Human Rights Council, therefore, I appeal to you with the deepest sincerely to preserve the integrity of the system and not reopen issue that have already been dealt with in Geneva.

Madame Chair,

As I will be ending my term at the end of this year, I wish to assure you of my commitment to see a successful transition of Presidency. My successor will come from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, and I trust that you will continue to work closely with her or him in 2017.

I thank you for your attention and look forward to listening to your questions and comments in the framework of this interactive dialogue.

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