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Human Rights Council opens thirty-ninth regular session

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10 September 2018

Hears from New High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

GENEVA (10 September 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning opened its thirty-ninth regular session, hearing from Michelle Bachelet, the newly appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Vojislav Šuc, President of the Human Rights Council, welcomed the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who had assumed her functions in September.  Mr. Šuc also welcomed representatives of five least developed countries at the Council, and he stressed that there would be zero tolerance towards any sexual harassment.  

In her first oral update to the Council, High Commissioner Bachelet acknowledged the courage and achievements of her predecessor, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was truly the spokesman for those who were voiceless, the victims of human rights violations.  Ms. Bachelet said that she brought to the mandate her experience in public service and her lifelong dedication to reversing hatred and ensuing quality and respect for all.  She brought to the cause of human rights the diversity of cultures that had nourished her approach to public service, and her fundamental attachment to the courage, dignity and selflessness of all defenders and activists for human rights.  

Ms. Bachelet was convinced that cooperation between all actors through multilateral institutions could solve the complex challenges that faced the world.  Good governance was based on identifying and amending gaps in access to justice, dignity and equality so that all could live in more respectful and harmonious societies.  Political differences may divide some of the countries, but upholding human rights was in the interest of every State.  If countries undermined multilateral institutions such as the Council, they would fail to meet the challenges that people faced.  The Council thus needed to strive for consensus.  There should be more engagement by all Members States – not sterile disputes, not withdrawals, but collective, coordinated and cooperative work to sustain core principles and common goals.  

The most effective solutions were grounded in principle and in openness, in collective agreements and coordinated actions.  As a new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Bachelet said that she would advocate for the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that were the inherent entitlements of all people.  She would strive to be their voice and their strong defender in complete objectivity, without fear or favour, and to urge all States to protect and promote all human rights, without distinction.  Irrespective of the type of political regime in a given country, the Council had the duty to advocate and to assist transformative improvements in upholding all human rights.  The Council could not pick and choose from among people’s inalienable rights because they built on each other.  

Ms. Bachelet said the official version of the High Commissioner’s speech, available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, included many concerns and issues in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Hungary, United States and the countries of the European Union, with some recent concerns in Austria, Italy and Germany.  Further updates outlined situations in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, the region of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control, Afghanistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Egypt, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti.

The High Commissioner welcomed the efforts of Member States to establish an independent international mechanism for Myanmar and she urged the Council to pass a resolution and refer the matter to the General Assembly so that such a mechanism could be established.  The impending crisis in Idlib in Syria was deeply concerning.  In Egypt, Saturday’s death sentences for 75 people were shocking, following another mass trial, which had failed to comply with international standards.  

The Human Rights Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  Next, it will hear the presentation of reports by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable order, which will be followed by a clustered interactive dialogue with the two mandate holders.  

Statement by the President of the Council

VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the thirty-ninth session, welcoming the new Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who had assumed her functions in September and would address the Council for the first time.  Mr. Šuc proceeded to inform about procedural issues and welcomed representatives of five least developed countries at the Council.  He informed that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom would address the Council during the session.  Mr. Šuc stressed that there would be zero tolerance towards any sexual harassment during the session.  

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, acknowledged the courage and achievements of her predecessor, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was truly the spokesman for those who were voiceless, the victims of human rights violations.  Their needs and rights should always be the central focus of the Council’s work.  Ms. Bachelet said that she brought to the mandate her experience in public service and her lifelong dedication to reversing hatred and ensuing quality and respect for all.  She reminded that she had been a political detainee and the daughter of a political detainee.  She had been a refugee and a physician, including for children who experienced torture and the enforced disappearance of their parents.  She brought to the cause of human rights the diversity of cultures that had nourished her approach to public service, and her fundamental attachment to the courage, dignity and selflessness of all defenders and activists for human rights.  Ms. Bachelet was convinced that cooperation between all actors through multilateral institutions could solve the complex challenges that faced the world.  Good governance was based on identifying and amending gaps in access to justice, dignity and equality so that all could live in more respectful and harmonious societies.  Political differences may divide some of the countries, but upholding human rights was in the interest of every State.  If countries undermined multilateral institutions such as the Council, they would fail to meet the challenges that people faced.  The Council thus needed to strive for consensus.  There should be more engagement by all Members States – not sterile disputes, not withdrawals, but collective, coordinated and cooperative work to sustain core principles and common goals.  

The most effective solutions were grounded in principle and in openness, in collective agreements and coordinated actions.  Ms. Bachelet stressed that she knew that consensus was possible.  She knew military leaders could commit to ending military intervention in democratic polices and work to reconcile with the victims of oppression.   She knew that centuries of prejudice and discrimination against women, against the peoples of the Global South and many other discriminated and exploited groups, could be pushed back.  That was work that had advanced in the past and that had to move forward nowadays.  It was States that had the primary responsibility for upholding the rights of their people.  

Ms. Bachelet said that she would advocate for the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that were the inherent entitlements of all people.  She would strive to be their voice and their strong defender in complete objectivity, without fear or favour, and to urge all States to protect and promote all human rights, without distinction.  The Council had the responsibility to speak out against every instance of human rights violations, regardless of sex, gender, identity, race or ethnicity, religion, disability or migration status, or other characteristic.  Irrespective of the type of political regime in a given country, the Council had the duty to advocate and to assist transformative improvements in upholding all human rights.  The Council could not pick and choose from among people’s inalienable rights because they built on each other.  Measures to promote equality drove powerful, sustainable economic development to which every member of society could fully contribute.  Access to the best quality education and to economic and social rights, helped diminish despair, mistrust and violent extremism.  It was by access to all human rights that society became stronger and more able to resist unpredictable shocks. 

In humanitarian operations, the United Nations was adopting the new way of working which sought to join up the development, humanitarian and human rights approaches to those difficult situations.  The Sustainable Development Goals would not progress without discussion on the so-called sensitive issues of human rights. The Global Compact for Migration offered hope for better and more effective governance of migration, the High Commissioner noted.  There were many setbacks for human rights nowadays, but also great opportunities.  The international community stood on a strong, vital and living body of laws and norms, which reflected the universal values that bound humanity.  The voice of the Office of the High Commissioner was powerful in its authority, legitimacy and objectivity.  The new reforms underway at the United Nations presented an opportunity to advocate that a human rights approach be at the centre of the work of United Nations partners.    

Much work had already been accomplished by the Office of the High Commissioner, including its 72 field presences around the world, by the Council, the Treaty Body Committees and by the civil society activists.  Ms. Bachelet hoped to surpass national borders, promote more multilateralism, more cooperation, more dialogue, more consensus, and more coordinated action.  The power of justice could deter and prevent even the worst violations and crimes.  Ms. Bachelet stressed that the international community had to push forward with the implementation of States’ commitments.  Norms and laws were vital, but they had to be applied.  The country updates prepared by the Office over the course of the past three months pointed to progress in some areas, and many challenging situations.  The official version of the High Commissioner’s speech, available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights included many concerns and issues in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Hungary, United States and the countries of the European Union, with some recent concerns in Austria, Italy and Germany.  Further updates outlined situations in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, the region of Kashmir on both sides of the line of control, Afghanistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Egypt, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti.

The High Commissioner welcomed the efforts of Member States to establish an independent international mechanism for Myanmar and she urged the Council to pass a resolution and refer the matter to the General Assembly so that such a mechanism could be established.  The impending crisis in Idlib in Syria was deeply concerning.  In Egypt, Saturday’s death sentences for 75 people were shocking, following another mass trial, which had failed to comply with international standards.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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