2 November 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure and honour that I come before you today to discuss with you the annual report of the Human Rights Council which I have presented to the General Assembly this morning.
Enhancing the cooperation between the Third Committee and the Council and creating synergies between both bodies have been among the priorities of my Presidency of the Human Rights Council. During my previous two missions to New York, I briefed delegates from this Committee and engaged in bilateral meetings with the Chairperson. Furthermore, Ambassador Saikal participated in an informal conversation with the Council in August, which focused on the work of the Third Committee this year, its connection and cooperation with the Council and on the human rights pillar of the United Nations more broadly. I wish to sincerely thank both Ambassador Saikal and Ambassador Gunnarsson for the cooperation and I hope that this discussion and cooperation between the Council and this Committee will continue in the future.
This year we are celebrating 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which should serve us as a well-needed reminder that we all need to engage if we want that the development of our societies is guided by peace, security and human rights.
In these endeavors the Human Rights Council continues to provide an invaluable platform where all stakeholders can exchange views and search for common solutions to human rights questions around the world. This year, the Council adopted a number of important resolutions, 60% of them without a vote. Some of the resolutions were cross-regional initiatives, including on country-specific issues which is an affirmation of the Council’s capacity to take actions on important human rights issues by overcoming different political positions.
One such example is the resolution adopted in September on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. In light of the findings of the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, the Council decided to establish an independent mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law, and to prepare files to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings.
Syria has continued to be high on the agenda of the Council and the Council engaged with the Commission of Inquiry in its three regular sessions. The Council convened also an urgent debate during the March session on the human rights situation in Eastern Ghouta, which resulted in the adoption of a resolution requesting the Commission of Inquiry to conduct an urgent inquiry into the events in Eastern Ghouta. Throughout the year the Council adopted another three resolutions on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, including one resolution to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for another year.
On South Sudan, the Council considered the update and the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which was mandated to monitor the human rights situation there and to determine and report the facts and circumstances and clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations and abuses of human rights. The Council decided to extend the mandate of the Commission for another year.
The Council has also considered the reports from the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which confirmed the persistence of serious human rights violations and the refusal of cooperation by the Government. The Council decided to extend its mandate and present a final report in its 42nd session and to the General Assembly at its 74th session.
Most recently in September, the Council considered the report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo which noted that despite repeated commitments by the Congolese authorities to create an environment conducive to transparent elections, restrictions to civil and political rights continued to increase. The High Commissioner also reported on the findings of the team of international experts on the situation in the Kasai regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The High Commissioner was requested by the Council to submit reports on the human rights situation in the country before, during and after the elections of 23 December 2018, as well as on the human rights situation in the Kasai region. The Council also requested the High Commissioner to dispatch a team of two international human rights experts responsible for monitoring and supporting the implementation of the recommendations made by the previous team of international experts in its report.
In September, the Council considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights containing the findings of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on the situation of human rights in Yemen. The report found that individuals in the Government of Yemen and from among coalition members, as well as from the de facto authorities had committed acts that may have amounted to international crimes. In light of these findings, the Council decided to extend the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts for another year.
The Council held a special session in May on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.The Council decided to dispatch a commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory. During the session in September, the Council heard an oral update from the Commission of Inquiry.
In 2018, the Council extended the existing country-specific special procedures mandates on Belarus, the Central African Republic, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia and Sudan. Regarding Sudan, the Council decided to renew the mandate for one year or until the Office of the High Commissioner and the Government declare the country office of OHCHR operational.
The Council has continued to promote the nexus between human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals which has been given more prominence this year through the adoption of the three resolutions in March. In this regard the Council reaffirmed the central role of the high-level political forum on sustainable development and decided to invite the President of the Economic and Social Council, on yearly basis, to brief the Council on the discussions of the high-level political forum. The current President of the Economic and Social Council already addressed the Human Rights Council during the September session.
Moreover, the Council requested the High Commissioner to organize two one-day intersessional meetings for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda and to promote human rights and Sustainable Development Goals through transparent, accountable and efficient public service raising awareness about the human rights dimension of public services delivery.
In June, the Council adopted a resolution on the contribution that it can make to the prevention of human rights violations. It decided to convene two intersessional seminars and to establish a group of a chair-rapporteur and two rapporteurs who will consult relevant stakeholders in Geneva and New York and present proposals on how the Council can effectively contribute to prevention.
Among the thematic resolutions adopted by the Council this year were also resolutions on the joint commitment to countering the world drug problem with regard to human rights and on promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights.
Lastly, following six years of negotiations in an open-ended intergovernmental working group, the Council adopted in September the text of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.
This year, the Council held, among other debates, 13 panel discussions on different thematic human rights issues. It has also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In April the Council held also a high-level inter-sessional discussion celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela.
This year’s high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming with the heads and senior officials on United Nations agencies focused on promotion and protection of human rights in the light of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. The Council was honoured to have the former President of the General Assembly as a participant in this discussion. The Council decided in September that the theme of next year’s high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming would focus on human rights in light of multilateralism.
I am also pleased to inform you that we have continued to make the work of the Council accessible to persons with disabilities in line with the mandate given to the Council's Task Force on Secretariat services, accessibility and use of information technology.
During the three regular sessions this year, six panels were made accessible through the provision of international sign language interpretation, real-time captioning and webcast of these services.
I wish also to highlight that early this year, the Council launched its new user-friendly website that offers numerous improvements and should ease navigation throughout Council’s pages.
I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize that the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council not only provide one of the main sources of reliable information on human rights issues and situations around the world and a solid basis for the dialogues and debates at the Council, but also could contribute to the UN’s early warnings and prevention efforts. It is important for all countries to cooperate and give access to these Special Procedure mandate holders. It is also of importance to respect the mandate-holders and not subject them to abusive language or threats. We may not necessarily agree with the findings in their reports and therefore disagree with them on this account. However, we should always treat mandate holders with respect and dignity and should not allow any personal attacks.
I am pleased to inform you that, as of September, 118 Member States and one Observer State have extended a standing invitation to thematic special procedures. However, I am concerned by the position of some States to not cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms or to cooperate only with a selected few. I call upon all States that have not yet done so to issue standing invitations to the Special Procedures mandate-holders and to fully cooperate with all of them.
Allow me now to turn to the Universal Periodic Review, which continues to enjoy strong legitimacy and ownership by Member States and prides itself with a 100% participation rate. It provides a much-welcomed constructive forum to discuss each State’s compliance with their human rights obligations and address the implementation. It is a mechanism which offers a platform for non-politicized, non-selective and non-confrontational discussion among peers.
The Universal Periodic Review process enables active contribution of regional and national human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations, and more recently also parliaments.
We are now one year into the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, which continues to enjoy a high-level support and commitment of States to the mechanism. The reviews were marked by a high, predominantly ministerial, level of representation of the delegations of the States under review. This cycle of the Universal Periodic Review is focused on the implementation and follow-up of recommendations received and accepted by each State.
This year with the continuous and increasing support of States, the Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the work of the Council enabled the participation of 25 delegates in its regular sessions. Among these government officials, ten were from Africa, five were from the Caribbean and Latin America, and were ten from Asia and the Pacific.
Furthermore, 14 of them were women and six represented Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that do not have permanent representation in Geneva, namely: Antigua and Barbuda, Marshall Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu.
The Office of the High Commissioner is organizing the first regional workshop of the Trust Fund next month in Guyana from 19 to 20 November. The discussion of the workshop will focus on evaluating the achievements and recommend improvements for the Trust Fund.
The active participation of civil society and national human rights institutions is essential for the work of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, making the Council unique among other United Nations intergovernmental organs. In addition to providing us with first-hand information from the ground, providing different perspectives in our discussions and drawing our attention to urgent human rights situations, civil society organizations play a fundamental role in follow-up and capacity-building efforts in their home countries.
Regrettably, however, in the course of this year, I have continued to receive allegations of intimidations, threats and reprisals against individuals who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. It is important that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment in the Council for the Council enabling representatives of the civil society to freely express their views on situations of human rights around the world.
Before concluding, I would like to say a few words on the Council’s efforts to improve its working methods. In the twelve years since its creation, the Human Rights Council has established itself as the principle intergovernmental body for the promotion and protection of human rights. While the Council is a well-functioning mechanism and has many good stories to tell, it also faces its fair share of shortcomings. The most pressing among them is its efficiency and effectiveness.
Together with the Bureau of the Council I have initiated a process guided by the co-facilitators which through an informal open-ended consultations seeks to identify long-term measures to improve efficiency, strengthen the Council and rationalize its work. The process focuses on three aspects: reducing the workload and meeting hours of the Council during its regular sessions, the rationalization of resolutions and initiatives, and the use of modern technology. We have held three rounds of consultations so far and will continue in November with a view to reaching an agreement at the organizational session on 3 December.
In conclusion, let me just say that I am extremely proud and grateful to have been given the opportunity to lead the Human Rights Council this year. It is therefore my sincere desire to see the Council successfully overcome its challenges and come out even stronger in order to continue its mission of improving lives of the people around the world.
I thank you for your attention.
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