Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council, Vojislav Šuc (Slovenia), to the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, UN Headquarters


2 November 2018

2 November 2018

Mr. Vice-President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour and great pleasure to present the annual report of the Human Rights Council. I would like to begin by congratulating the eighteen newly-elected Members of the Human Rights Council. I have full confidence that all Members will work hard to uphold the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world and at home.

Mr. Vice-President,

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. We should use this opportunity to review how much we have accomplished, where we stand and what should be our way forward. Times are challenging, and our response to these challenges should be resolute.

This is also the opportunity for us to assess whether the fundamental role that human rights have within the United Nations system and which is set in its Charter has been sufficiently upheld by the international community and how we can reinforce this role in the future.

Bearing this in mind, we cannot but recognize that Human Rights Council has in its twelve years’ existence played the central role in addressing human rights violations at the global scale.

It has established well-functioning mechanisms through which it shares information, investigates and provides recommendations on variety of human rights issues, from civil and political to economic, social and cultural rights. It has an important role in raising early warning to the looming crises. Through technical assistance and cooperation, it helps build resilience and stability within our societies.

This year’s work of the Human Rights Council is consolidated in the report before you, which contains the activities as well as the resolutions, decisions, and President’s statements adopted by the Council at its three regular sessions as well as two special sessions held in December 2017 and May 2018, respectively.

Mr. Vice-President,

Since December 2017, the Council adopted 87 resolutions, out of which, 53 were adopted without a vote. Some of the resolutions were cross-regional initiatives, including on country-specific issues. This reaffirms the capacity of the Council 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 for independent criminal proceedings.

Syria has continued to be high on the agenda of the Council throughout the year and the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry has been extended for another year.

The Council has also considered the reports from the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and decided to extend its mandate in order for it to deepen its investigations. Regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Council heard the report of the High Commissioner on the findings of the team of international experts on the situation in the Kasai regions. The Council considered the update and the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which is mandated to monitor the human rights situation there.

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, from among coalition members, and 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.

In May the Council held a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.It 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 the Sudan.

Mr. Vice-President,

Cooperation and collaboration has been at the forefront of our efforts in the Human Rights Council. While we are striving to create an atmosphere for a constructive dialogue and cooperation in the Human Rights Council, we have also spent considerable time discussing the need for better cooperation within the United Nations system as well as how to bridging the disconnect between the three pillars.

The Council has therefore 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.

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.

Mr. Vice-President,

This year, the Council held, 13 panel discussions on different thematic human rights issues. In particular it has 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. The Council was honoured to have the former President of the General Assembly. Mr Miroslav Lajčák as participant in this discussion and would be honoured to have presence of the President of the GA at the 40th session to be held from 25 February next year.

Mr. Vice-President,

I am also pleased to inform you that we have continued to make the work of the Council accessible to persons with disabilities.

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.

Mr. Vice-President,

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 up-to-date, 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. Therefore, it is important for all countries to cooperate and give access to these Special Procedure mandate holders.

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 all the Special Procedures mandate-holders and to fully cooperate with them.

Allow me to turn to the Universal Periodic Review, which is now well into its third cycle and continues to celebrate a 100% participation rate. It enjoys strong legitimacy and ownership by Member States and is often cited as one of the Council’s greatest achievements. It provides a constructive forum for a non-politicized, non-selective and non-confrontational discussion among peers.

The Universal Periodic Review process provides space not only for states but also for the active contribution of regional and national human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations, and more recently also parliaments.

The reviews in the third cycle, were marked by a high, predominantly ministerial, level of representation of the delegations of the States under review. The third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review is focused on the implementation and follow-up of recommendations received ad accepted by each State.

Mr. Vice-President,

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 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.

Mr. Vice-President,

The active participation of civil society and national human rights institutions is essential for the work of the Human Rights Council, making the Council unique among other United Nations intergovernmental organs. In addition to providing us with first-hand information from the ground, injecting unique perspectives into 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 cooperate with the Human Rights Council. I repeatedly appealed to the Council to ensure the safe participation and involvement of civil society in our work and, when necessary, I have followed up directly with concerned States. It is critical that the Council remains a safe and inclusive environment where representatives of the civil society can freely express their views on the situations of human rights around the world.

Mr. Vice-President,

Let me now turn to the issues that directly touch upon your work. This year the Human Rights Council adopted several resolutions with recommendations made to the General Assembly.

Through its resolution adopted in March on the human rights situation in Syria, the Council recommended that the General Assembly submit the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to the Security Council for appropriate action.

In its resolution on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem adopted in March, the Council recommended that the General Assembly remains informed of the matter.

Concerning the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, the Council encouraged the General Assembly to consider taking further actions to address the serious human rights violations in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States. It also encouraged the General Assembly to consider the recommendations of the report of the fact-finding mission and to pay due regard to the establishment of the new independent mechanism.

At its September session, the Council recommended that the General Assembly adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

Finally, in its resolution adopted in September on human rights and indigenous people, the Council decided to hold a half-day intersessional interactive dialogue on ways to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives in the Council’s meeting and invited the President of the General Assembly to participate. The Council recommended that the General Assembly considers the summary report of the interactive dialogue.

Mr. Vice-President,

Before concluding, I would like to share with you some thoughts on the Council’s work. 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. It is a well- functioning body. It provides an invaluable platform where a wide range of views on difficult human rights issues can be heard and common solutions to human rights questions around the world can be found.

This year I have been privileged to have a first-hand experience of the Human Rights Council in action and sometimes I have seen the fracturing world that we are witnessing today playing out in our work. But what is more important and for me inspiring is that I have also seen a number of delegations coming together in the spirit of compromise and cooperation for the benefit of human rights.

The Council has many good stories to tell, but as it is the case with everything in this imperfect world, it also has its fair share of shortcomings. The efficiency and effectiveness of the Council’s work seems to be the most pressing one and has been at the forefront of our agenda for some time now.

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: (1) reducing the workload and meeting hours of the Council during its regular sessions, (2) the rationalization of resolutions and initiatives, and (3) 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.

This year I have been given a rare opportunity to gain insider’s view of the strengths and weaknesses of the Human Rights Council and I may say of the entire United Nations system. While realizing how imperfect the UN system can be, I have become even more convinced that in this fractured world it represents our lifeline protecting us from slipping back into the dark periods of our history.

Mr. Vice-President,

In conclusion, let me say that I am extremely proud to lead the Human Rights Council this year. It is my sincere desire to see the Council successfully overcome its challenges and come out even stronger to continue improving lives of the people around the world.

As in December my term will come to an end, I wish to assure you of my commitment to see a successful transition of Presidency and hope that the General Assembly continues to support the work of the Human Rights Council during the thirteenth cycle and in the years to come.

I thank you for your attention.