Statement at Glion Human Rights Dialogue 2018 (Glion V), 30 May 2018


30 May 2018

Ambassador Zellweger,
Ambassador Spoljaric,
High-Commissioner for Human Rights,
Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination,

Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to address all of you today as you begin the 2018 Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and the Universal Rights Group for organizing this fifth Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

Over the past four years, the Glion Dialogue process has produced interesting ideas and collected numerous inputs and views, which have proven useful in the ongoing debate over how to make our Human Rights Council stronger and more effective in promoting and protecting human rights.

I have no doubt that this fifth edition on “The place of human rights in a reformed United Nations” will be even more productive.

Today I would like to focus my remarks on one specific challenge being faced in placing human rights in the mainstream of the work of the United Nations – that being the Geneva-New York gap.

As most of you know, I visited UN Headquarters in New York in April, soon after the close of the 37th session of the Council. During that visit, I was genuinely surprised, perhaps naively, that human rights do not appear to be a topic of great importance in New York. In fact, I came back to Geneva after that visit with the sentiment that human rights are rarely present in the work of the United Nations in New York.

We speak regularly about the three pillars of the United Nations and their interconnected and mutually reinforcing nature. But in the United Nations’ day-to-day work on development and on peace and security, there is a real lack of recognition of the importance of human rights. For me, this is a clear demonstration of the so-called “gap” between Geneva and New York that we all talk about. And I was reminded that our regular discussions on this issue have not yet led to any solutions.

My predecessors, and even myself, have spent considerable time discussing both in New York and in Geneva the various elements and consequences of this gap. What is urgently needed at this point, however, are concrete proposals for steps to insert human rights into the discussions taking place in New York, whether it be discussions on implementation of the SDGs or the reform agenda of the Secretary-General.

Throughout our deliberations today and tomorrow, let us consider this issue and how it plays into the other issues and challenges we will be discussing. And I invite you to explore real, tangible solutions for bridging the great Atlantic.

For example, I can strongly believe that a regular practice of interchanging briefings between the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council would be greatly effective in strengthening Geneva-New York relations. As part of my recent visit to New York, I briefed the delegates of the Third Committee on the outcomes of the Council’s 37th session, my priorities for the year and the work we are doing to increase efficiency. During the dialogue that immediately followed the briefing, I realized that through this exchange of information, understanding of the work being done and positions taken on both sides of the Atlantic will grow. This has the potential of leading to more synergies, less friction and fewer points of overlap and repetition in our work.

Harmonizing the Human Rights Council’s work not just with the General Assembly and Third Committee, but with the many other bodies and subsidiary organs of the United Nations, will also contribute to efforts to bridge the gap and strengthen the place of human rights in the UN system.

States themselves have a fundamental role to play in harmonization efforts. Positions taken and views expressed by delegations in Geneva are not always replicated in those of the delegations of the same States in New York. This has been seen, for example, between discussions held within the Human Rights Council and the related debates within the Fifth Committee in New York, and between those held in the Human Rights Council and in the Third Committee.

These inconsistencies contribute to the situation of disconnect between Geneva and New York, and bring about the unfortunate situation of human rights being seen as an exclusively Geneva issue.

We need to address these questions not only for the Human Rights Council to be successful in its work but for the entire United Nations human rights system to uphold its legitimacy.

When the General Assembly established the Human Rights Council, it mandated the Council to be responsible for promoting and protecting human rights. In accordance with this mandate, the Council has indeed evolved over the years as the leading UN human rights body where all stakeholders have the ability to raise their voices on human rights issues and situations that deserve our attention. Thus, the Human Rights Council plays an important role in linking the three pillars of the United Nations.

Through its work, the Council contributes to the prevention of further violations and the escalation of situations, as well as provides information and makes invaluable contributions to the response by the entire UN system.

Over the past twelve years, the Human Rights Council has continually demonstrated its high responsiveness and flexibility in dealing with human rights issues around the world. It is equipped with a number of mechanisms that ensure that no human rights concern goes unaddressed and can play important roles in the prevention of crises. Examples include our special sessions and urgent debates, the joint statements and reports of our Special Procedure mandate holders, and the review of member states under the UPR process. The statements and reports of national human rights institutions and civil society in the Council also raise our awareness to concerning situations and contribute to sounding the alarm bells on potential crises.

In light of this, all UN bodies, including the Security Council, should be taking more advantage of the Council’s attributes and its mechanisms as an important source of information and recommendations. At the same time, the Council should be strengthening its leadership role in the mainstreaming of human right throughout the entire system.

In order for us to be successful in creating a more flexible and efficient United Nations and eliminating the fragmentation between the three pillars, we must have a strong and vibrant Council that is recognized as a central part of the UN for the 21st century.

The United Nations’ system is one family fighting for the same cause of a more just and peaceful world. But it has become clear that stronger coordination and collaboration between all UN bodies is needed in order for the United Nations to successfully achieve and maintain peace and ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone around the world.

After seventy years, the United Nations needs to be modified and adapted to better fit the complex challenges we are facing today. Today, more than ever, the interrelated nature of the proverbial three pillars of the United Nations is more apparent than ever. I thus see great benefit in Secretary-General’s approach to eliminate the fragmentation between these three pillars that have been treated as separate silos over the years. At the same time, however, it is concerning that we have not seen explicit references to human rights being mainstreamed throughout the reform work.

I see this as a consequence of the gap that I have discussed here. So it is up to us to work closely with our colleagues in New York to find concrete solutions to ensure that human rights are inserted into the debates and initiatives in New York.

I wish you productive discussions over the course of today and tomorrow, and I very much look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this fifth Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

Thank you.