30 October 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me today to present to you and discuss the annual report of the Human Rights Council.
Enhancing cooperation and creating meaningful synergies between the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council have been a common and consistent concern of both these bodies and the subject of constant endeavours by our predecessors. I myself have done my best to build on these efforts during this rather peculiar year. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person exchanges between Geneva and New York impossible, we kept the conversation going through virtual means.
On the 31st of August, the Human Rights Council welcomed your participation, Madam President, in a joint informal conversation. This provided us with the opportunity to discuss issues relating to the coordination and cooperation between the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee, and the human rights pillar of the United Nations more broadly. I do hope that these discussions and the cooperation between the Council and this Committee will continue in the future. This would add to the consistency, the relevance and the effectiveness of all our work.
The COVID-19 crisis very quickly proved to be not only a health emergency, but also a major human rights crisis. As I had the opportunity to outline this morning at the General Assembly, I am happy to say that the Human Rights Council was sufficiently nimble and flexible to carry out its work in spite of the multiple challenges it faced.
During the three months of lock-down when in-person meetings were not possible in Geneva, the Council and its mechanisms found creative ways to continue delivering on their mandates.
The Special Procedure mandate holders remained very active, providing up-to-date information on the human rights concerns stemming from the pandemic almost on a daily basis and offering guidance on how to address them.
The Council itself devised informal formats to address the human rights implications of the pandemic. As we found out, they were followed by thousands of people all over the world. It also adopted – for the first time by way of a silence procedure a President's Statement, as a result of which the High Commissioner will provide both oral updates and a written report on the human rights impact of the pandemic.
The Council was the first UN body to resume formal in-person meetings and its programme of work, as soon as possible in mid-June.
Against all odds, it was able to adopt a total of 97 resolutions, 4 decisions and 2 President's statements during its regular sessions in 2020, out of which 72 were adopted without a vote.
In addition to fully implementing its regular programme of work, the Council responded to urgent situations on the ground by holding two urgent debates during its regular sessions.
Just days after resuming its work in June, the Council held an urgent debate on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests. The resolution adopted in this context requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights - with the assistance of relevant Special procedures - to prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially the incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans or people of African descent, so as to contribute to accountability and redress for victims.
The second urgent debate was held in September, to address the situation of human rights in Belarus. The resolution adopted on this occasion, requests the High Commissioner to closely monitor the situation of human rights in Belarus in the context of the presidential election and to present to the Council, before the end of the year, an interim oral update with recommendations. It also requested the High Commissioner to submit a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the lead-up to, during and after the 2020 presidential election to the Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When addressing the Human Rights Council at the opening of the 43rd session on 24 February 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his "Call for Action". Aware of the fact that the human rights work of the Council means little without the effective implementation of human rights standards and commitments at the national level, he recognized –among other things – that the Universal Periodic Review is a critical tool in country-level work. He also announced the presentation of a "new practical guidance to every UN country leader around the world" to – quote – "strengthen the platforms of cooperation to address human rights challenges utilizing the power and potential of the UPR". This Practical Guidance is available on the UPR webpage.
The 36th Working Group session of the UPR, originally scheduled to take place in May, unfortunately, had to be postponed as a consequence of the pandemic. We hope that the two-week session will now be held in a hybrid format as from next Monday – that is unless we get new restrictions.
The participation of civil society is one of its unique features of the Human Rights Council and a cornerstone in its work. It helps to make our work more tangible and connected to the reality on the ground. Civil society organisations also play a key role in monitoring and capacity building efforts in their respective countries of origin. The Council's work and its achievements so far, would not have been possible without the active participation of civil society. With this in mind, the Council found creative solutions to allow for the participation of civil society despite the COVID-related restrictions, so they were able to participate in a number of debates by way of video messages.
This report would not be complete without addressing the impact the United Nation's financial liquidity crisis is having on the work of the Human Rights Council. It has heavily affected the conference services provided to Council, but not only that: certain activities which had been formally mandated to take place this year could not be implemented by the Office of the High Commissioner due to either the financial crisis or the pandemic or both. The Council responded by adopting a decision on how to postpone the implementation of these mandated activities, and we all hope – as you do - that the situation will improve in the coming months.
Having said this, efforts by previous Presidents and their Bureaux had already paved the way to a considerable reduction of the Council's meeting time over the past few years. This year the reduction was an additional 15%.
With the financial challenges in our minds, the Council's Bureau will concentrate on the issue of efficiency during the remainder of this year. We will focus in particular on the rationalization of initiatives and especially their outcomes, that is to say their impact on both the budget of the UN and the programme of work of the Human Rights Council.
This year the Council managed to prove the nimbleness and flexibility required to master its mandate. The challenge for the coming years will be to make sure that it can go on dealing both with long-standing challenges and newly emerging problems in order to make sure that they do not get lost in the quicksand of other events.
I thank you for your attention and I am looking forward to your comments and questions.
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