Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore
39th session of the Human Rights Council
14 September 2018
On behalf of the Secretary General and the High Commissioner, it is my privilege to submit for the attention of this Council, key thematic reports under items 2, 3 and 8.
I will start by introducing a report of the Secretary General addressing the Death Penalty. Welcoming steps taken by some States towards abolition of the death penalty, the Secretary General - in his Yearly supplement to the Quinquennial report on capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing death penalty, A/HRC/39/19 - urges those States that continue to impose death sentences, to establish a moratorium on executions, and he reiterates that States that have not yet abolished capital punishment may impose it only for the “most serious of crimes”; a standard interpreted consistently as meaning for crimes only of intentional killing. States retaining the death penalty should also make public accurate and comprehensive data on death sentences carried out – including on charges laid, and disaggregation of those so sentenced by gender, age, nationality, ethnic origin and other relevant demographics.
Excellencies before you are a number of reports on the situation of rights holders globally addressing key circumstances under which their rights are yet to be fully upheld. I will present in order of the human life cycle, to underscore the specificities of rights at each stage of life.
The report summarising the Follow-up on the application of the technical guidance on the application of a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, A/HRC/39/26, emphasises that ending preventable deaths of women as they give life requires an unwavering commitment to the inherent dignity and autonomy of each and every woman - medical know-how and capacity are not enough even in humanitarian settings where rates of preventable maternal mortality are so high. Preventative action must include efforts to end both discrimination and violence against women. Further, the failure to respect and protect human rights in the context of sexual and reproductive health is driving, rather than reducing, these unconscionable rates of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality. The report stresses just how achievable are the needed preventative steps including through further collaborative work in this area.
Our report summarising the outcomes of the expert meeting on experiences in applying human rights-based approach to address mortality and morbidity among newborns and children under 5 years of age, A/HRC/39/25, echoes those very points presenting the growing evidence that human rights-based approaches deliver better health outcomes, including better rates of newborn and child survival. It points out that the majority of preventable child deaths occur in the most marginalized of groups and in the most under resourced regions. Again the facts are that when, in partnership with all stakeholders, States directly tackle inequalities and discrimination – including in health systems themselves, then children’s lives are saved.
Providing a child what they need for their sustained dignity through their journey into adulthood starts with the immediate recognition of their legal personhood. Which is why in the Report of the High Commissioner on best practices and specific measures to ensure access to birth registration, A/HRC/39/30 a call is issued to States to redouble efforts for birth registration given that still, millions of children are deprived of this most basic right, placing them at life-long risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and exposure to other violations. This is particularly pressing for children from communities marginalized by discrimination and exclusion and for those living in situations of poverty, instability and conflict. Targeted programmes for birth registration must be in place if no child is to be left behind and the report offers many examples of good practices that States are already undertaking in this regard.
As children make their journeys through adolescence onto early adulthood, respect for their human rights is an asset. This is the message of the Report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of human rights with regard to young people, A/HRC/39/33, which set out the many challenges that young people face in claiming their rights – from the barriers they encounter to their participation in public life and public decision-making; to impediments in their access to decent work; from challenges when seeking to exercise their rights to sexual and reproductive health to barriers to exercise of their right to conscientious objection to military service. Things are simply worse still for young people in vulnerable situations. We urge States to uphold the rights of young people, and to do so in cooperation with youth led organizations. Our report further advises that the Human Rights Council can make a tangible contribution in supporting these efforts.
The High Commissioner’s Report for the fourth phase of World Programme for Human Rights Education, on possible target sectors, focus areas or thematic human rights issues A/HRC/39/35 highlights that youth are a top priority and urges greater recognition of the power of human rights education as a key method building inclusive and peaceful societies as called for by the 2030 Agenda and specifically, SDG target 4.7. The report summarises the views of States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and other stakeholders which combined proposes also stronger focus on equality, non-discrimination, inclusion and respect for diversity, with a call for targeting groups and individuals in vulnerable situations; the general public; and women, girls and children.
The size of the world’s youth population is concrete evidence of global development’s successes and so too is the related growing population of older people. As the Report of the intersessional seminar on the protection of the family and the human rights of older persons, A/HRC/39/32, summarizing outcomes of an expert meeting held in June, new public policy terrain must be broken if we are to meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities of what – by the middle of this century - will be the world’s largest ever population of older people. Age discrimination and age-based social exclusion undermines stable inclusive development and this corrosive effect will only intensify over the life of the SDGs unless internationally agreed normative standards, elaborating human rights for older persons and bridging gaps in existing human rights standards – are introduced.
Excellencies, you will note that in these reports on each life stages, there emerge a number of common themes – standing out among those is the theme of participation: of children, young people, women, Indigenous people among others in decisions affecting their lives.
The High Commissioner’s report A/HRC/39/28 presents for your consideration draft guidelines on the effective implementation of the right to participate in public affairs. People can never be reduced to needs alone for we have too our voices, our opinions and our right to participation. As in a number of countries, a web of efforts to silence dissent, obscure public scrutiny and diminish public participation ensnarls civic space, the right to participate in public affairs must be robustly defended and strengthened – not the least because it is key to the realization of the right to development, as envisioned by the Sustainable Development Goals. The draft guidelines we present to you - developed through a two-year consultative process – offer concise and action-oriented recommendations for this purpose and we commend these to you for your endorsement in this session.
The Consolidated report of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner on the right to development, A/HRC/39/18, further highlights critical synergies between development and human rights, summarising the many activities of the Office for the promotion and realization of the right to development from May 2017 to April 2018 and providing an analysis of progress overall in implementation of the right to development. The sub-theme of the 2019 high-level political forum on inequality among countries is highlighted and a human rights analysis of two key principles within the Declaration on the Right to Development: self-determination and international co-operation is provided.
That being said, a number of other reports before you also highlight how this unique partnership between human rights and development – when centred on the interests of people themselves – ensure development is more inclusive, more equitable and thus more sustainable.
The first of these reports is the Annual report of the High Commissioner on the human rights of indigenous peoples, A/HRC/39/37. The report highlights how many development projects and activities are being imposed on indigenous lands and territories with little or no, regard to the principle of free, prior and informed consent and other legal safeguards. The active and informed participation by indigenous peoples in all national and international initiatives affecting them, including in the context of the 2030 Development Agenda is simply essential, and a legal obligation on State parties. The report outlines the work of our Office in support of indigenous peoples’ rights to land and our efforts to facilitate dialogue with and engagement between indigenous peoples, national authorities and the private sector. However, the report further highlights the extent – reprehensible by any measure - to which intimidation, threat and actual reprisals are being directed against defenders of indigenous rights and specifically against those who cooperate with the United Nations.
In the Report of the High Commissioner on the outcome of the two-day intersessional expert meeting to consider gaps in, challenges to and best practices aimed at the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls in the systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, A/HRC/39/34, held in May 2018, we capture global experts’ advice on how intersecting forms of discrimination; discriminations on the basis of gender, indigenous status, disability and sexual orientation and gender identity - work together to undermine inclusive sustainable development. The report stresses that accountability for implementation of the 2030 Agenda is the key to a truly inclusive Agenda, including through use of gender-transformative indicators to monitor its impact.
The Report of the High Commissioner on the outcome of the consultation on the fulfilment of a human rights perspective in mental health, A/HRC/39/36, explains how people with mental health conditions are rendered victims of discrimination, stigma, abuse coercion even violence, and urges greater priority be placed on human rights-based system-wide strategies and services. Practices such as forced treatment, forced sterilization and forced institutionalization violate human rights, as does the criminalization of those with mental health conditions. Among its other recommendations, the report calls on States to abolish forced institutionalization, and highlights the advantages of community-based mental health services that include the participation of persons with mental health conditions.
The Report on the implementation of the joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem with regard to human rights, A/HRC/39/39 recommends that States should intensify efforts to implement that the cross-cutting approach of the Outcome Document of UNGASS 2016, which constitutes a new and stronger linking of the SDGs, with the objective of drug-control – which is protection of the health and welfare of humanity. The report also recommends that States and other actors – such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotic Control board – should take into consideration the recommendations of the Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures.
As the 2030 Agenda affirms inclusive development requires partnerships at all levels of society and ample space for those partnerships to flourish.
The Report on the expert workshop on the role and contribution of civil society organizations, academia, national human rights institution and other relevant stakeholders in the prevention of human rights abuses, A/HRC/39/24 points out that resilient inclusive societies are those that in adherence to the standards that international human rights law enshrines, enable civic participation to flourish. Strengthened rule of law institutions and the effective participation of civil society and NHRIs can provide effective frameworks for all prevention efforts, including not only protection of civil and political rights alone, since inequalities and violations of economic, social and cultural rights are root causes of instability and violence. The expert workshop also highlighted the due diligence responsibility of private companies.
The Report on the expert workshop on principles, standards and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy in the digital age, A/HRC/39/29, sheds light on how those dynamics of protection and prevention play out in the virtual world. Our digital footprints are growing exponentially, with many States and businesses collecting and using massive amounts of data about people’s private lives, frequently without their knowledge or meaningful consent. The use of mass databases of biometric data, without adequate legal and procedural safeguards, as well as big data analytics and artificial intelligence, carries risks for both individuals and societies – as demonstrated by recent large-scale data breaches; their use in targeting voters; the “scoring” and “ranking” of individuals according to perceived loyalty; and in predictive policing. The report makes a series of recommendations to States and to businesses, which – if implemented – will help to ensure that fundamental freedoms are upheld in the digital age. It also identifies key issues for further study, including possible discriminatory impact of invasions of privacy; the effects of big data and machine learning on the right to privacy and other human rights; regulation of surveillance technology markets; and possible remedies that can respond effectively to violations of the right to privacy.
A somewhat related set of concerns is set out in the Report of the High Commissioner on mechanisms concerned with ensuring the safety of journalists, A/HRC/39/23, which provides an overview of mechanisms that seek to ensure the safety of journalists and address impunity for violations of their rights. Despite numerous international and regional mechanisms and a number of good practises, the situation for journalist continues to deteriorate alarmingly, giving rise to legitimate questions as to the efficacy of such mechanism and practices. As one of those mechanisms engaged in the ensuring the safety of journalist, the Office is not necessarily best places to analyse the effectiveness of other stakeholders. Hence our report welcomes the possibility of independent and impartial analysis of the situation, and notes the elements that such an analysis would require.
Underscoring the importance of local, empowered and effective mechanisms to support human rights protection and strengthen human rights-based approach to such as development, I am also pleased to submit two reports of the Secretary-General on National Human Rights Institutions, to be considered during the general debate on item 8 later in the session.
The report on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of human rights, A/HRC/39/20, covers the period from September 2017 to August 2018 and outlines the activities of the Office in support of NHRIs, in compliance with the Paris Principles. During that period, OHCHR provided financial support as well as technical and legal advice to 33 national human rights institutions. The report also describes the assistance provided by other United Nations bodies, and outlines cooperation between NHRIs and the international human rights system. I particularly note the role of A status institutions in the implementation and follow-up to the 2030 Agenda.
The report on the Activities of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in accrediting national institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles, A/HRC/39/21, outlines the activities of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation between November 2016 and May 2018, in reviewing applications of national institutions for accreditation and reaccreditation. It includes information on amendments to the accreditation process and on the participatory rights granted to A status institutions in UN mechanisms and processes.
This concludes our introduction of the thematic reports submitted under items 2, 3, and 8.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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