UNHQ, New York 13 July 2018
Mister President of the General Assembly,
Madam President of the Economic and Social Council,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wish to thank the Permanent Missions of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, for organizing this unique event and for bringing all of us together this afternoon to discuss the importance of a cross pillar approach to peace and security, development and human rights.
The topic of working together and taking a cross-pillar approach to our work is an extremely timely one. In the interconnected globalized world in which we live today, the challenges we are facing are not challenges of just one State or of just one region, but of the entire world.
However, during the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year, the world was regularly described as “fractured”. I have seen this sentiment playing out in many of our discussions and debates inside of the Human Rights Council Chamber in Geneva. There is no denying that each UN Member State has its own priorities and national interests. But while focusing on individual priorities, our common goals must not be cast aside and forgotten.
Unfortunately, when I consider the current situation within the United Nations system, I cannot help but see some parallels to this “fractured world” view. Understandably, the various bodies and organs of the UN have their priorities, built around their mandates and budgets. But we must constantly remind ourselves, that each part of this great organization is working for one common goal – a more just and peaceful world.
The interconnected nature of the three pillars of the United Nations -- peace and security, human rights, and development – is a point that plays like a proverbial broken record throughout many of our discussions.
But this concept must be treated as much more than just a talking point. In fact, I see it more like a tipping point. If one pillar is neglected, the whole system will fail.
Today, the interrelated nature of the three pillars is more apparent than ever. So I see great benefit in the Secretary-General’s approach to eliminate the fragmentation between these three pillars that have been treated as separate silos over the years.
But it is concerning that we have not seen explicit references to human rights mainstreamed throughout the reform work.
The fundamental role that human rights should play within the United Nations system is evidenced through the organization’s mandate to promote the “universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all” with a “view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being, which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations”.
Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, reminds us that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
It seems like common sense that we – and I speak of “we” both as members of the United Nations as well as members of the human family -- will never achieve peace and security, nor meet the Sustainable Development Goals if we do not ensure the full guarantee of all human rights of every person in this world.
For there is no sustainable development without human rights.
There is no prevention without human rights.
And there is no peace and security without human rights.
But when I visited UN Headquarters in New York last April, I was genuinely surprised -- perhaps naively so -- that human rights and the work of the Human Rights Council are rarely present in the day-to-day work of the United Nations in New York.
I wish to emphasize here that the Human Rights Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, a place where all stakeholders can participate and raise their voices.
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.
The reports and statements of the Special Procedures provide the Human Rights Council with up-to-date, reliable information on the condition of human rights on the ground, thus playing a pivotal role as an early warning system.
And the work of the Council’s Universal Periodic Review informs us of the human rights situation in each of the 193 Member States, providing a manner for the Council to recognize if the situation of a State is improving or deteriorating.
Further examples include the Council’s special sessions and urgent debates.
Additionally, the statements and reports of national human rights institutions and civil society in the Council raise our awareness to concerning situations and contribute to sounding the alarm bells on potential crises.
All UN bodies, including the Security Council, should use the expertise, information and recommendations provided by the Human Rights Council much more in order to address and prevent serious crises around the world.
My predecessors and I have spent considerable time discussing, both in New York and in Geneva, the various elements and consequences of the so-called “gap” between Geneva and New York.
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, including discussions on implementation of the SDGs and the reform agenda of the Secretary-General.
In order to strengthen the UN system overall, we need real, tangible solutions for bridging the Atlantic and building synergies between the Human Rights Council and the New York-based UN bodies.
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 in the Human Rights Council and the related debates within the Third Committee as well as within the Fifth Committee in New York.
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.
Let’s be clear, today in our globalized yet fracturing world, human rights are under threat. Consequently, peace, security, and development are in turn under threat.
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 need to uphold a strong and vibrant Human Rights Council 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 be able to successfully fulfil its mandate.
Only through regular and sincere dialogue and cooperation can we achieve this. Continuing with the status quo will only lead to further divisions amongst all of us, and the weakening of the UN as whole.
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