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Introduction to thematic reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under items 2 and 3, 5 and 6

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25 June 2018

Address by United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Kate Gilmore

38th session of the Human Rights Council

25 June 2018

Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council, Excellencies,
colleagues and friends,

I am honoured to present 14 reports and updates of the Secretary-General and of the High Commissioner covering thematic issues under agenda items 2, 3, 5 and 6.

I commend to your attention, without further introduction, three reports providing summaries of Council panel discussions on the role of local government in protecting human rights (A/HRC/38/22); on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/HRC/38/23); and on the 70th anniversary of the UDHR and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Plan of Action, (A/HRC/38/19).

Excellencies, I am pleased to further present the oral update of the High Commissioner on the report on child, early and forced marriage with a focus on humanitarian settings.

Following resolution 35/16, the Human Rights Office has consulted a variety of actors, collecting associated relevant data and other information which you can find collated on a dedicated webpage.

The data makes abundantly clear that in humanitarian settings, from conflict and post-conflict settings to natural disasters, rates of child, early and forced marriage steeply increase; seven of the twenty countries in which rates of child marriage are highest currently facing humanitarian crises.

The impact of crisis contexts on child, early and forced marriage vary according to the setting and demands specific, tailored response.

In conflict settings – for example, those afflicting the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, among others, armed groups target unmarried women and girls for abduction, captivity, torture, enslavement, sexual and gender-based violence including sexual slavery, often under the guise of “marriage”. Families desperate to protect their loved ones against such attacks may perceive child, forced and early marriage, to strengthen “protection” of girls and women. In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, for instance, marriage was deployed in an attempt to protect girls from sexual violence perpetrated by the so called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. In Yemen, the onset of the conflict saw at least a 15% increase in rates of child marriage!

Displacement too changes social practices associated with marriage. It has been reported that marriage was used to an effort to afford greater protection for Royingha girls in flight from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Also in settings of deprivation, families reportedly force daughters into marriage. In an effort to alleviate the family’s economic burden and better cope with the financial challenges faced when displaced or as refugees, resort to the imposition of early and forced marriage may seem to be in the interests of the family – it is never in the interest of the child. In eastern DRC and Northern Uganda, for instance, poverty exacerbated by the loss of income and property associated with displacement has led reportedly to increased rates of early marriage.

Reports further suggest that in settings impacted by climate change, families resort to child marriage as a “survival strategy” just as they did in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004, or as they did in Somaliland and Mozambique during droughts.

Such resort to child, early and forced marriage, may be understandable as a measure of desperation – but it is neither acceptable nor effective. Clearly prohibited by international law under all circumstances, child marriage is a human rights abuse itself, and as a protection mechanism it does not work. High rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of child, early and forced, marriage are increasingly in evidence, while marriage itself does little dissuade other would be perpetrators from perpetration of such violence.

To counter the pernicious impacts of child marriage, Members States, the United Nations and other stakeholders including civil society actors, should work to:

  • Enhance the agency of girls and adolescents, including through provision of safe spaces, psychosocial and medical services, legal support and income-generating opportunities;
  • Engage men and boys, community leaders, family members in awareness raising that marriage in such circumstances is neither acceptable or effective, and to establish opportunities in which men and boys can actively participate in addressing risks to women’s and girls’ security and to their physical, social and economic autonomy;
  • Promote women’s and girls’ access to appropriate protection and accountability mechanisms, including in remote or isolated areas through for example, strengthening applicable legal frameworks, and responses by law enforcement and monitoring mechanisms;
  • Strengthen analysis of contextual and social factors by enhancing the gathering and analysis of data, especially in areas where evidence is anecdotal and unreliable;
  • Enhance coordination of such programming in humanitarian settings.

The next report before you is also relevant to these pressing concerns. It addresses the engagement of men and boys in promoting and achieving gender equality (A/HRC/38/24) and sets out a number of promising practices and lessons learned from the experience of United Nations entities and others.

Excellencies,

Engaging men and boys is an essential step both for greater gender equality and the elimination of gender-based violence. Our report describes a number of promising methodologies for this purpose including efforts to challenge gender stereotypes and the negative social norms, attitudes and behaviours that lay the ground for violence against women and girls. Such efforts are proving to benefit men and boys, helping pave the way to non-violent, more equal and inclusive gender relations based on full respect for the human rights and dignity of all.

In this same spirit, I also wish to draw your attention to the report before you that UN Women has prepared, which covers the activities of the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women (A/HRC/38/3–E/CN.6/2018/9).

The next report addresses protection gaps in the context of migration and displacement of persons across international borders resulting from the adverse effects of climate change (A/HRC/38/21). As you are aware, climate change is a key driver of human movement and it contributes substantially to adverse human rights outcomes. Climate change is affecting for the worse, food security and access to water and sanitation for millions. When people lack secure access to food, water and other of life’s necessities, understandably they go in search of it. They move, internally and across borders, simply in order to survive and despite the additional exposure to human rights risks that accompany their often perilous and arduous journeys.

The impacts of these circumstances can be mitigated but concrete action at scale is needed urgently.

The report calls for States to:

  • Take action to mitigate climate change’s role as a driver of human mobility;
  • Promote, respect, fulfil and protect all human rights for persons on the move in the context of climate change;
  • Establish safe, regular, dignified and accessible pathways for human mobility that fully respect and protect the rights of persons affected by climate change;
  • Refrain from returning migrants to territories that - affected by climate change - can no longer sustain them;
  • Scale-up climate change adaptation measures that benefit the most vulnerable, facilitate safe and voluntary movement, and minimize forced movement, including through strengthened social protection systems; and
  • Mobilize all means of implementation necessary for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

Aspects of the next report are of particular pertinence in this context. The report on contributions of the right to health framework to the effective implementation and achievement of the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (A/HRC/38/37) underlines that health as a right itself, is essential also for the realization of all other rights in all settings. It is a central component of effective implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda and our report demonstrates how the human rights framework specifically through respect for the right to health of women, girls and adolescents is the foundation for inclusive and effective SDG implementation.

Upholding human rights standards in and through health –addressing discrimination and marginalization and securing universal health coverage, enables Member States to unlock the fuller potential of their pledge to leave no one behind. We present emerging good practices for this purpose which confirm in turn that determined action to ensure effective participation and strengthen accountability will see the right to health better respected, protected and fulfilled for all.

The next three reports recall critical partners in the work for human rights and thus also for this Council.

Our report on civil society engagement with international and regional organizations (A/HRC/38/18) shows that the effective functioning of international and regional organizations is inexorably linked - dependent upon - civil society participation. Civil society engagement strengthens the local relevance of international discussions and decisions; diversifies perspective and brings essential expertise and experience within reach of decision-makers.

When civil society engagement is restricted, policy and programme responses are less well informed, less inclusive, less relevant and less credible. Which is why the report’s finding that current practice within the UN and other international organizations is inconsistent, is so troubling. Some entities, laudably, have policies and institutional arrangements that explicitly recognize stakeholders’ rights to participation and provide for direct access to information, predictable channels for input and exchange and clear rules of accreditation. Others fail to do so.

The report recommends application of clear policies on and channels for effective, human rights-based and gender-sensitive participation, engagement and strengthened transparency in decision-making. The better to ensure diversity in civil society participation it asks that organizations reach out to underrepresented segments of civil society. It also references the many submissions of different stakeholders that called for reform of the procedures and practices of the Economic and Social Council Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.

Our report relevant to economic actors addresses the effectiveness of State-based non-judicial mechanisms that are relevant for the respect by business enterprises for human rights, including in a cross-border context (A/HRC/38/20), and it clarifies the ways in which States can strengthen their implementation of Pillar III of the Guiding Principles which is access to remedy. The report describes:

  • the structure and mandate of State-based non-judicial mechanisms;
  • methods of investigation and information-gathering;
  • aspects of the “effectiveness criteria” (UNGP 31) for non-judicial mechanisms;
  • approaches for systemic effectiveness and policy coherence; and
  • cross-border cooperation.

Recommended action by States are set out in the report’s annex and like the final report on Part I of the Accountability and Remedy Project, they follow an approach: deliberately flexible, readily adaptable to different legal systems and contexts while also practical, forward-looking and reflective of international standards on access to remedy.

We trust this will be a resource of significance to States seeking to improve non-judicial mechanisms in respect of business and human rights.

The third of this cluster of reports focuses on the contribution of parliaments to the work of this Council including its UPR (A/HRC/38/25). It includes an update on OHCHR’s related capacity-building and awareness-raising activities carried out with the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Parliaments are the cornerstones of national human rights protection systems, and uniquely positioned to help prevent human rights violations and close implementation gaps. This role is enhanced when parliaments participate actively in national mechanisms for reporting and follow up (NMRFs) and when they engage with international and regional human rights mechanisms, including the UPR.

In close cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Office also conducted a study of this potential. Annexed to the study are draft Principles on parliaments and human rights that were developed based on available research and OHCHR practice, for Member States’ consideration and possible adoption. They offer Member States practical elements too regarding the role of parliamentary human rights committees, which provide oversight for Government as it discharges the primary responsibility it holds for human rights policy and action, including for implementation of human rights mechanisms’ recommendations – most of which require parliamentary action.

The final two reports before you this morning concern two trust funds:

First, the Voluntary Trust Fund for Participation in the Universal Periodic Review (A/HRC/38/26). Participation of Member States in the UPR has been universal in no small way thanks to the Voluntary Trust Fund. The Fund enables participation of delegations from countries that otherwise could not provide the necessary resources for this purpose. Their participation in contributes to interactive dialogue that is more universal, independent, impartial and non-politicized. Such dialogue then helps generate recommendations that are more constructive, specific, action-oriented and implementable, taking into account national capacities and complementing efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In 2017, 15 States requested financial assistance to participate in the UPR1.

In complement, the operations of the Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review (A/HRC/38/27) has supported the roll out of the third UPR cycle with an emphasis on the follow-up to and implementation of recommendations made by international human rights mechanisms (in particular those emanating from the UPR). In line with the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization (A/72/1), the Office will continue to work to integrate recommendations from international human rights mechanisms into the national planning processes and implementation frameworks; utilizing international human rights recommendations for early warning/conflict prevention; and building on linkages with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2017, nine States received support from the Voluntary Fund2. As the demand for support from the Fund is expected to increase, we seek also to expand the donor base, drawing in additional funding to enhance provision of technical assistance and support States’ implementation of human rights mechanisms’ recommendations at the national level.

Excellencies, this concludes my introduction of reports under items two, three, five and six.


Notes:

1.Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Gabon, Guatemala, Indonesia, Peru, Republic of Moldova, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

2. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and Antigua, Cambodia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Moldova, and Paraguay.

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