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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming in the light of multilateralism

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25 February 2019

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 

25 February 2019

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, with a focus on human rights in the light of multilateralism: opportunities, challenges and the way forward.

Opening the session, Coly Seck, President of the Human Rights Council, said that according to resolution 16/21, the Council was entrusted to ensure that human rights were taken into consideration in all activities.  The Council had decided that the topic of this high-level panel would be human rights in the light of multilateralism: opportunities, challenges and the way forward

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, stressed that multilateralism was the only answer to many crises that the world was facing today.  The framework for the achievement of human rights relied on the commitment of States to turn the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into action.  This framework was the key for implementing the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development and human rights were inextricably connected. 

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, invited Member States to use this session’s discussion to reflect on how to better ensure that human rights were maintained at the core of the work of the Council and the decisions they made, in order to strengthen capacity to achieve more sustainable and effective solutions.  She highlighted her particular interest in how to integrate human rights principles into digital technologies. 

Laya Joneydi, Vice-President for Legal Affairs of Iran, noted that the United Nations was founded on the principles of peace and security, development and human rights, as well as friendly relations among nations based on respect for the equal sovereignty of States and the self-determination of peoples.  The formation of the norms and institutions, including those related to human rights, were essentially linked with the doctrine of multilateralism.

Moderating the panel was Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The panellists were Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy of the International Labour Organization; Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; and Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the panel would look at how human rights helped to strengthen multilateralism and advance agreement on human-centred and sustainable solutions to global challenges as well as how was the United Nations system integrated human rights in supporting the multilateral processes.

Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy of the International Labour Organization, stressed that threats to equality were now compounded by demography, including migration, climate change and technology.  Out of 258 million migrants, 164 million were migrant workers, an increase of nine per cent in four years, and 68 million were women.  It was important to ensure that human rights and labour standards served as the foundation for labour migration policies. 

Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, illustrated that inequality and discrimination were laid bare in the wake of disaster, nowhere more so than at the intersection of risk, climate change and human rights.  Displacements due to climate change made people vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse or harassment. 

Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, said that information and communication technologies could deliver unprecedented economic progress and improve prospects for the meaningful participation of citizens in governance, and for exercising human rights, such as freedom of expression.  However, technology was not neutral, and it mirrored the analogue world that created it. 

In the discussion, speakers stressed that international cooperation was indeed instrumental in solving international problems and promoting human rights.  Multilateralism was an instrument for the development and prosperity of all States, but speakers agreed that it was increasingly under pressure.  The global economy was creating major gaps in the protection in human rights and panellists were asked to share lessons from the International Labour Organization’s report on the future of work and how digital technologies could be made more innovative and transparent. 

Speaking were Namibia, Bahamas, Angola, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Venezuela on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Latvia on behalf of a group of Nordic and Baltic States, Austria on behalf of a group of countries, Fiji, Ecuador, Australia, Qatar, Greece, Maldives, Indonesia, Viet Nam, France, Uruguay, Jamaica, Botswana and Sri Lanka.

The International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, United Nations Watch, Iuventum e.V. and Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés (OIPMA) also took the floor.

The Human Rights Council will meet again on Tuesday, 26 February at 9 a.m. to hold its biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty, followed by the continuation of the high-level segment. 

Opening Statement

COLY SECK, President of the Human Rights Council, said that according to resolution 16/21, the Council was entrusted to ensure that human rights were taken into consideration in all activities and under the resolution, the Council had decided to hold an annual half-day meeting with heads of leading bodies and secretariats of organizations to promote human rights mainstreaming in the activities of the United Nations bodies.  The Council decided that the topic of this high-level panel would be human rights in the light of multilateralism: opportunities, challenges and the way forward

Keynote Statements

MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS, President of the 73rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, thought the theme could not be timelier as it linked human rights to multilateralism and it was very appropriate to have this conversation.  Multilateralism was the only answer to many crises that the world was facing today.  Equal opportunities and life with dignity required the full enjoyment of human rights and this was one of the greatest challenges currently.  The framework for the achievement of human rights relied on the commitment of States to turn the Universal Declaration on Human Rights into action.   This framework was key for implementing the 2030 Agenda, as sustainable development and human rights were inextricably connected.  Human rights and multilateralism had progressed hand in hand as no country could face global challenges alone.  More cooperation, more dialogue, and more agreement was needed and for that, the international community needed a strong and efficient organization that could offer clear answers.  The protection of human dignity had to be at the core of efforts and it had to guide these efforts.  The initiative of this panel to understand links between human rights and global challenges was welcomed. 

To illustrate with three examples, the President noted that climate change, migration and technological advancement all showed these linkages.  Climate change was an existential issue which could devastate entire countries.  Last year, two million people were displaced because of climate change, and the cost had surpassed $ 500 billion.  The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration placed migrants and their families at its heart.  It would be good to hear at this panel about mechanisms for human rights that origin, transit or destination countries could use for implementation.  New technologies had changed lives, including access to knowledge and reduction of poverty.  Yet they had also multiplied inequalities.  The greatest challenge was to address global issues collectively and harmoniously, calling for comprehensive approaches.  Holding an annual panel was a contributing effort in that regard.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, invited Member States to use this session’s discussion to reflect on how to better ensure that human rights were maintained at the core of the Council’s work and the decisions they made, in order to strengthen capacity to achieve more sustainable and effective solutions.  She highlighted her particular interest in how to integrate human rights principles into digital technologies in order to advance the participation of civil society into multi-lateral processes as well as ways of grounding climate policies in a human rights approach.  Multilateralism was contested, with detractors claiming that it was a mechanism by which global elites robbed people of their sovereignty.  However, unilateral measures were simply unable to resolve a large and fast growing range of issues, casting doubts that national solutions would be relevant when tackling issues which by definition overlapped borders such as migration, climate change, human trafficking or terrorism.  The international community must meet the challenges with cohesion and coordination, regionally and globally. 

Using climate change as an example, the High Commissioner said that no country could solve it alone and although the hardest hit would be poorer nations, everyone would be affected.  Climate change was a human rights issue, with 25.3 million people displaced each year since 2008 and a projected 100 million people facing extreme poverty by 2030.  Applying human rights norms and standards to complex situations would ensure that the response of States would share a steady focus on the people most affected and their needs, making the solutions as effective and sustainable as possible in the long term.  The Council embodied the United Nations conviction that human rights were a strategic driver in the articulation of the best possible multilateral responses.  Having stated that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a great multilateral achievement, she reiterated the importance of international cooperation and the revitalization of global partnership and effective multilateralism.

LAYA JONEYDI, Vice-President for Legal Affairs of Iran, noted that the United Nations was founded on the principles of peace and security, development and human rights, as well as friendly relations among nations based on respect for equal sovereignty of States and self-determination of peoples.  The formation of the norms and institutions, including those related to human rights, were essentially linked with the doctrine of multilateralism, one of the significant achievements of thousands of years of human beings’ experiences.  Unilateralism, which was manifested by reckless disregard for rules, norms and agreements developed collectively, represented an unprecedented threat to multilateralism as a concept embraced by the community of States over the past decades.  Multilateralism was not a choice, but a necessity to safeguard and flourish a basic need in the absence of which common needs such as security, peace and human rights values could not be maintained.  Iran also underlined that multilateralism should be perceived as an embodiment of common human values of equality and solidarity, as well as a methodological vehicle to preserve and promote the same.  In that sense, human rights could only be protected and promoted in an environment suitable to multilateralism.  Human rights were the main victim of dangerous manifestations of unilateralist policies and conducts, as people were discriminated against and demonized because of their nationality, colour and religion.   

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, moderator of the panel, said that multilateralism was under threat.  It was not new, but never before did the world need such unity.  The panel would look at how human rights, as United Nations normative values and international legal standards, helped to strengthen multilateralism and advance agreement on human-centred and sustainable solutions to global challenges; how was the United Nations system integrating human rights in supporting the multilateral processes and the implementation of global agendas and how did the international human rights machinery empower the United Nations system, Member States and other stakeholders in developing and implementing sustainable solutions for global challenges.  What were some of the key human rights challenges facing migrants that required international responses?  What was the significance of the recently adopted Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and how did it assist States and other stakeholders to protect the human rights of migrants?

DEBORAH GREENFIELD, Deputy Director-General for Policy of the International Labour Organization, said that the International Labour Organization turned 100 years this year; having been established in the wake of the Second World War, they were often reflecting on their fundamental founding principles.  The first was that peace could only be established if it was based upon social justice, and the second was that the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions was an obstacle in the way of other nations which desired to improve the conditions in their own countries.  Both principles were linked directly to the three pillars of the United Nations, sustainable development, peace and security, and human rights.  The overall multilateral agenda was anchored in part in what they now called the decent work agenda.  The consensus based process now among 187 Member States of International Labour Organization was a form of multilateralism itself.  The only way to reinvigorate the social contract was to make sure that people all over the world reaped its benefit, including migrant workers. 

The threats to equality were now compounded by demography, including migration, climate change and technology.  The latest International Labour Organization estimates indicated that out of 258 million migrants, 164 million were migrant workers, an increase of nine per cent in four years, and 68 million were women.  It was important to ensure that human rights and labour standards served as the foundation for labour migration policies.  At the same time, labour migration governance was not meeting current challenges, leading to many protection gaps, including occupational safety, health and wages.  Migrant workers faced risk of violence, exploitation, low wages, lack of social protection, and poor skills training.  The Global Compact for Migration drew on relevant standards of the International Labour Migration to provide practical guidance for improving migration policy frameworks.  The Compact emphasized the importance of fair recruitment and the role that social protection floors had to play in supporting migrant workers.  The International Labour Organization would provide technical assistance to States, helping in collecting statistics and informing policies. 

MAMI MIZUTORI, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said the interactions between climate change trends, ecosystem fragility, disease outbreaks, rapid urbanization, and so on, fuelled by the interconnectivity of communications, trade, financial systems and politics, meant that stress and crises reverberated globally, disproportionately affecting the poorest.  This was demonstrated last month in the Bruhmadinho mining dam disaster in Brazil, where disregard for known risks demonstrated a blatant disregard for human rights, including living in a secure environment and just working conditions.  Inequality and discrimination were laid bare in the wake of disaster nowhere more so than at the intersection of risk, climate change and human rights.  Displacement due to climate change made people vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse or harassment.  The Sendai framework operated from the starting point that preventing and reducing disaster risk was a means to protect and promote human rights.  Challenges remained, as human rights and disaster risk reduction had not been linked enough programmatically and more should be done to ensure that disaster risk reduction initiatives were implemented through a rights based approach.

AMANDEEP SINGH GILL, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, said that information and communication technologies could deliver unprecedented economic progress and improve prospects for meaningful participation of citizens in governance, and for exercising human rights such as freedom of expression.  However, technology was not neutral, and mirrored the analogue world that created it.  Access and effective use of technology was seen to be impacted by existing patterns of exclusion, including gender, ethnicity, age, social class, geography and disability.  Even when there was access, it was noted that there were inequalities in affordability and ability to benefit from digital opportunities.  The digital transformation could not be inclusive, could not truly enable Sustainable Development Goals, and could not empower decision-makers to handle the risks and unintended consequences without a set of shared values and principles.  Human rights played an important role in anchoring these values and principles as they transcended time, geography and culture.  Technology should serve humanity and the best thermostat for judging services to humanity was human rights standards.

Discussion

Namibia said that multilateralism was indeed a hallmark and the raison d’être of the United Nations to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems.  The international community would not achieve sustainable development, peace and security and full realization of human rights if it operated in silos.  Bahamas said that line in many other Caribbean countries, natural disasters in the Bahamas had a significant, direct impact on economic conditions through reduced productivity and increased national debt due to reconstruction costs.  The need to strengthen resilience was an urgent imperative.  Angola, on behalf of the African Group, considered multilateralism to be a relevant means of promoting international cooperation and a powerful instrument for the development and prosperity of all States.  Multilateralism was the only protection against isolationist temptations and exacerbated nationalism.

South Africa said the global economy was creating major gaps in the protection in human rights and digital changes were causing major anxieties for workers.  What lessons could be learned from the International Labour Organization report on the future of work?  Brazil said that strengthening of international cooperation would assist in promoting human rights worldwide, while fully taking into account national priorities.  How could the United Nations system ensure that the development of digital technologies further enhanced transparency and innovation, while protecting the right to privacy?  Mexico had managed to build a robust legal and institutional order for human rights and public policy, based on full respect for human rights. Mexico urged all others to defend universality which was grounded in common interest to face common challenges faced today.  Ireland had long been engaged in multilateral fora and remained concerned about reprisals and acts of intimidation that sought to discourage civil society from engaging with international human rights bodies.  The work of environmental human rights defenders was commended and Ireland called for the gender-responsive implementation of the Global Compact for Migration.

Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said multilateralism needed a new impetus to address growing complex concerns and reiterated its commitment to multilateralism and the United Nations Charter.   European Union reaffirmed its commitment to multilateralism, highlighted the extreme urgency to strengthen the global response to the direct, existential threat of climate change, and reaffirmed its steadfast commitment to the Paris agreements.  Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed its commitment to promoting a multi-polar world by strengthening multilateralism through the United Nations and multilateral processes which were indispensable in promoting and preserving the interests of the Non-Aligned Movement.  Unilateralism and unilaterally imposed measures undermined the United Nations Charter and international law.  Latvia, speaking on behalf of a group of Nordic and Baltic States, stated that the three pillars of the United Nations – human rights, peace and security, and development were interlinked and while the multilateral order and human rights were under pressure, it was of critical importance to ensure that human rights remained a core focus of multilateralism. 

Austria, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, noted that multilateralism was not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end.  Effective multilateralism in the field of human rights required not only the political will for cooperation but also hinged on the existence of strong United Nations mechanisms vested with the ability to monitor and document the respect of such norms in a universal, impartial and objective manner.  Fiji was a firm believer in multilateralism, which was key to strengthening its capacity to address global issues that were beyond its means to control.  Fiji commended the Council for the progress in human rights mainstreaming, however, it highlighted the notable absence of small island developing States from the Pacific region who undoubtedly had much to contribute to the discussion on climate change, migration and international cooperation in the digital age.

International Services for Human Rights emphasized that human rights mainstreaming could not be only rhetorical.  In the face of new complex challenges to peace, security, development and the multilateral system itself, the United Nations was called upon to reinvigorate its commitment to make systemic change to protect and promote human rights.  Amnesty International welcomed this opportunity for reflection on what more States could do to mainstream human rights throughout the United Nations system and in response to some of the key issues facing the world today.  Amnesty International drew attention to climate change as one of the most daunting global challenges of all time.  Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik noted that the greatest manifestation of multilateralism in the contemporary world was the United Nations and its related bodies such as the Council.  Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik called on those countries that did not wish or were unable to have an adequate interaction with all three United Nations human rights mechanisms to be considered unilateral and not be included among the mainstream multilateral States.

Ecuador stressed that migration, technological development and climate change all required international cooperation and multilateralism to provide sustainable solutions.  Ecuador was recognized internationally for its efforts in welcoming the unprecedented increase of migrants from Venezuela.  Australia affirmed that human rights were an integral part of the multilateral system and rules based international order.  How could the multilateral human rights agenda be better connected with other pillars of the international system?  Qatar said it was implementing the 2030 Agenda and seeking to actively participate in international discussions through political initiatives and development assistance.  Current challenges required international cooperation to be based on respect for the sovereignty of States and non-interference.

Greece said that the United Nations human rights system had a key role in ensuring that multilateralism remained focused on formulating solutions to international issues that remained human-centred and sustainable.  Current challenges could only be resolved in a cooperative way within a rules-based order.  Maldives was a passionate believer in the multilateral system, especially the United Nations.  Small island developing States like Maldives faced many constraints to development, including smallness, remoteness and heavy dependence on imports for food. Indonesia noted that multilateral solutions had better chances for success in solving greater challenges, especially through the Council.  Human rights mainstreaming within multilateral settings was imperative in building a stronger foundation to achieve the international agenda, including sustainable development.

Viet Nam supported the multilateral system with the United Nations at its centre, and reiterated the importance of multilateral processes for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Upholding and exploring existing mechanisms and commitments while pursuing genuine dialogue and cooperation were critical for the promotion and protection of human rights in the light of multilateralism and the context of global challenges.  France stated that human rights were at the core of all actions at the United Nations and there could be no peace nor stability without human rights which was why they should be mainstreamed in peace keeping operations.  Uruguay stated that a cross cutting approach was a necessary measure to achieve long lasting security.  It reiterated the importance of a multilateral approach in tackling climate change and developing migration patterns.

Jamaica said that today, more than ever, multilateralism was facing a number of existential threats on multiple fronts.  This was evidenced in the retreat from leading institutions of global governance, a return to bilateralism, the rise in protectionism, and a gradual erosion of the cherished principles and norms underpinning the global rules-based system.  Botswana expressed optimism that a focus on mainstreaming human rights in addressing the current challenges such as poverty and unemployment, migration, climate change and technological advances was proper and correct, particularly given the common goal of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.  Botswana placed human rights at the centre of its development policies.  Sri Lanka said that there was still hope that multilateralism could deliver on its goals despite the challenges it had faced in recent times. However, Sri Lanka underlined that it was time to take a critical look at how and what more could be done to improve multilateral processes so they could be effective and timely in delivering responses; fair and objective in approach; and enabling and equitable in impact or outcome. 

United Nations Watch asked if the United Nations was keeping its founding promises?  Why had Venezuela been elected to this Council repeatedly over the last six years?  Why was Saudi Arabia a permanent member of this Council?  Why had there never been a single resolution against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?  Iuventum e.V. said that any productive multilateral discussion required strong universal criteria in order to sustain and improve human rights conditions without leaving anybody behind.  Drinking water quality analysis was proposed as one of criteria to measure human rights conditions.   Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés stressed the need to develop coherent approaches to address challenges of migration movements in the context of climate change, as it would benefit both migrants and countries of destination.  Information and communication technologies could play a key role for migrants in sustaining their journeys.

Concluding Remarks

DEBORAH GREENFIELD, Deputy Director-General for Policy of the International Labour Organization, answering the question about lessons that could be taken from the International Labour Organization report on the future of work, said that a human-centred agenda knitted together the three pillars for the United Nations.  Three solutions were greater investments in the capacities of persons, in institutions of work, and in decent and sustainable work, all speaking to a normative, rights based framework.  The Commission talked about integrating human rights principles into the development of technology.  First, investing in digital infrastructure to close the digital divide.  Second, focusing on how technology could promote decent work.  And third, developing international governance frameworks for work occurring in digital platforms.

MAMI MIZUTORI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, answering a question on mainstreaming human rights and keeping multilateralism alive, said that the 2015 Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were all people-centred approaches.  So through implementing these agreements, States were implementing human rights.  On the ground, this meant policies had to be implemented coherently.  This was seen in the Paris Climate Agreement, where countries had to develop disaster risk reduction policies by 2020.  Countries tackling those issues together with sustainable development were achieving more.  Inclusivity was the main principle in implementing those policies, and the policy of inclusivity would help everyone.  As for small island developing States, concerns were shared as this was a matter of their existence.  As a positive side, since they were so aware, they were implementing coherent policies, but they needed funding and international cooperation.  Finally, prevention was important across all three pillars.

AMANDEEP SINGH GILL, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, said that closing the gap in digital access had to be a priority for multilateral cooperation.  This could be a particular challenge for developing countries, however, there were leapfrogging opportunities: countries could go from limited mobile data to high capacity networks through investment in digital public goods, through which small, medium and large companies would be able to scale up around perceived problems and gaps in that environment.  Regarding data privacy, Mr. Gill noted that the European Union had taken the first step towards more rigorous protection of individual personal data, and also highlighted other encouraging developments, such as a recent decision from the Indian Supreme Court regarding the right to privacy. However, the need to plug existing gaps in terms of who held personal data and who was interested in personal data was also noted.  It was emphasized that data consent needed to be addressed in the next version of these policies.  With regard to the rights of children online, it was emphasized that children should be seen as children online, not as adults.  As such, the bar for Internet services and online applications should be raised through stricter design and data collection standards.  Finally, it was noted that the Internet had empowered citizens and human rights defenders to speak up: as such, it must remain open, secure and trustworthy for everyone.

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