Ljubljana, 10 – 12 October 2018
Good afternoon everyone. What a great pleasure it is to see all of you here in my country. It is truly an honour to welcome you to the 2018 Human Rights Council Retreat in Ljubljana.
It’s hard to believe that we are already in October. The time has really flown by this year. The saying normally goes: “time flies when you’re having fun”. Although I’m not sure “fun” is the most accurate word to use. Instead, I believe that it is more a case of time flying by as a result of our extremely intense workload back in Geneva, especially the workload of the Human Rights Council.
We continually find ourselves lacking sufficient space and time for quality debate and genuine dialogue on important issues. And I am not speaking only of dialogue and debate on human rights issues but also on issues that have a direct impact on our Council.
So this is the main reason why I invited all of you here to Slovenia – to get all of us together away from our normal, overly packed Geneva routines for a few days, and focus our thoughts and our energies on engaging in the frank discussions that we all agree are so needed. I wish to thank also Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia for co-organizing and hosting this event.
The three topics that we will be discussing over the next two days were chosen because they are questions that I as President have been asked throughout the year, and to which the answers do not always come easily. They address important and timely issues – ones that have direct impact on our work and the ability of the Council to fulfil its mandate. While they are questions on which I know various divergent views and positions exist they have not, in my opinion, received enough of our attention.
The first question of the Council’s main achievements is a prime example of this. Since the beginning of my Presidency, I have been asked on countless occasions by officials and by media what are some examples of the Council’s results and achievements. I can honestly tell you that I have struggled to find the best way to answer that question. I believe that this is because the large majority of our discussions tend to focus on what’s wrong in the Council, and many times neglect what’s working well.
I can tell you from personal experience, compared to its predecessor the Commission on Human Rights, the scope, depth and impact of the Council’s work is extensive. In the twelve years since its creation, the Council has established itself as a forum where concerns and views can be voiced in a constructive manner, and delegations can come together in an effort to find common ground. It provides a unique setting to hear a wide range of views on difficult human rights issues, including those which other organisations are unable or even unwilling to discuss.
The Council is unique in that it enables various stakeholders, including civil society representatives, to participate in promoting universal human rights protection. And its robust mandate and unique set of mechanisms defines it as the main intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide.
The UPR, which is now well into its 3rd cycle and continues to celebrate a 100% participation rate, is often cited as one of the Council’s greatest achievements. It not only provides the Council and the world with an account of the human rights record of every UN Member State, it also elevates human rights on the agenda of governments ministries across the board.
The work done by the Council’s 56 Special Procedures mandates, which provide us with first-hand, reliable information from every corner of the globe and contribute valuable recommendations towards ensuring the protection of human rights, is also a great achievement.
But the question here is how the numerous reports and recommendations, along with the countless hours of discussion and debate inside of Room Twenty, translate into real, tangible impact on the ground? How does the work we are doing here in Geneva really makes a positive difference in the lives of people around the world? It is my hope that through our discussions tomorrow morning we will dive further into this issue, identify success stories that should be shared with the world and exchange ideas on how to turn Council output into beneficial outcomes.
(Looking towards 2021)
Despite the Council’s many achievements, we cannot deny that it also has its shortcomings. The efficiency of the Council and its working methods is perhaps the most pressing of these.
And I say “pressing” not only because of the challenges of the Council’s overloaded agenda, but also due to the need to get the Council in its strongest form prior to the review of the Council that is mandated to take place no sooner than 2021 and no later than 2026.
The upcoming review is based on the General Assembly’s 2011 decision to maintain the status of the Council as a subsidiary body of the GA and to review this status again between ten and fifteen years later. But unlike the mandate for the 2011 review, this time around the GA did not specify that the Council should review its work and functioning at the same time as the GA considers its status. Consequently, the scope of the upcoming review and the role that the Council should play within it is the regular topic of ongoing debates.
Moreover, discussions held over recent years on strengthening the Council’s working methods in order to improve its efficiency have provoked assertions that the working methods of the Council should not be reviewed or modified until at least 2021. Others insist that the 2021 review is about status only. With 2021 quickly approaching, now is the appropriate time that we should sit down together and discuss what the 2021 review process should look like, what we are hoping or expecting to come out of it, and how the Council can best participate in and contribute to it.
But one thing is for sure, at least in my mind – as 2021 draws nearer, the Council would benefit greatly by showing itself as a strong and vibrant body and an essential part of the United Nations system. Improving the Council’s efficiency in Geneva, and in turn its effectiveness on the ground, must then remain a priority in our work between now and 2021. The ongoing work to further strengthen the relationship between the Human Rights Council and the New York-based United Nations bodies will also be extremely important part of the Council’s preparations for the review.
(Contribution to the overall mandate of UN)
My predecessors and I have spent considerable time discussing both in New York and in Geneva the various elements and consequences of this so-called New York - Geneva “gap”. When I visited UN Headquarters this year, it was apparent that the work of the Human Rights Council, and the issue of human rights overall, is rarely present in the day-to-day work of the United Nations in New York.
I find this extremely unfortunate because in the face of a fracturing world where human rights and multilateralism are under threat, we need now more than ever a strong United Nations to bring us together and facilitate the resolving of differences in a constructive and peaceful manner.
Understandably, the various bodies and organs of the UN have their own priorities built around their own mandates and budgets. But we must remain cognizant that each part of this great organization is working for one common goal – a more just and peaceful world.
The Human Rights Council provides an invaluable platform where all stakeholders come to exchange views and search for common solutions to human rights questions around the world. Witnessing the Human Rights Council in action, both behind the scenes and on the floor of Room Twenty - truly - I have seen examples of fracturing playing out in many of our discussions and debates. But, I have also seen some important examples of delegations coming together this year in the spirit of compromise and cooperation for the benefit of human rights protection.
Moreover, the Council’s unique mechanisms, including the UPR, Special Procedures and investigative commissions, ensure that no human rights concern goes unaddressed and can play important roles in the prevention of 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.
What we need at this point are workable ideas for how to insert human rights, and the valuable work of the Human Rights Council, into the discussions taking place in New York.
During my term, I have had the opportunity that few are given to gain an insider’s view of the strengths and weaknesses not only of the Human Rights Council, but of the United Nations system as a whole. And I have come to realize just how imperfect the UN system is. But at the same time also how much we need it as a guarantor that we do not return to dark periods of our history, which we experienced in the last century.
I am extremely proud to lead the Human Rights Council this year, and it is from this pride that I hold a sincere interest to see the Council tackle the challenges it is facing and grow even stronger in order to make greater impact in the lives of people around the world.
We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next two days as we address these important and timely topics that deserve our full attention. But don’t worry, we also will give you time to enjoy beautiful Slovenia.
It is now my great pleasure to invite Ms Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to give her remarks.
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