Inaugural Speech to the Human Rights Council


8 February 2021

Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan
Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva and
President of the Human Rights Council for 2021
8 February 2021

Excellencies. Good morning. And in the traditional greeting of Fiji, Bula Vinaka.

The Presidency of the Human Rights Council is held today, not just for the first time for Fiji, but also for the first time by a representative of the Pacific Small Island States, and of Small Island Developing States.

This is a credit to multilateralism. Multilateralism works for small countries which otherwise individually may not have an effective voice, but together and in partnership, have the capacity to speak with a louder voice.

In taking this position, I wish to thank firstly, and with much respect, the Pacific Small Island States, and particularly those which are represented in Missions in Geneva – the Republic of Vanuatu, the Republic of Nauru, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, as well as the additional 8 Pacific Island States which serve the Council from New York and Brussels. This is a moment of great achievement for the Pacific region.

I also express my sincere gratitude to all members of this Council for entrusting me with the task of serving the Council.

This is a day on which we look at the year ahead with a sense of purpose, and an acknowledgement that it will be a challenging one. Not only are we still working during a pandemic, which shows no signs of abating, but we are also facing financial constraints, and a broader ideological discussion on the relevance and effectiveness of the Council.

I am committed, just as previous Presidents of this Council have been, to reiterate the need for this Council to continue its work, and to remain relevant and effective. I am also committed to working with all stakeholders, on managing the work of the Council whilst keeping all attendees safe.

I am committed to continuing and strengthening those processes, including the efficiency processes, which are designed to make the most efficient and effective use of the precious time and resources we have at our disposal.

I am committed to furthering the existing work of the Council in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to further enhance the inclusive and representative nature of the Council. In this regard, I refer in particular to the SIDS/LDCs Trust Fund of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Trust Fund is intended to assist those states which find it difficult to achieve representation in the Council for reasons such as capacity constraints. It has helped countless delegates to become familiar with the work of the Council, thereby assisting the countries they represent, to ensure effective input to the Council, whether as members or observers. I acknowledge the important role of those States which have supported the Trust Fund.

Dear Colleagues,

I take this opportunity to commend the work and achievements of, and express my gratitude and appreciation to, my predecessor Her Excellency Elisabeth Tichy Fisslberger. 2020 was a year which was both challenging and decisive. Her Excellency’s leadership of the Council was determined and unwavering and allowed all sessions to proceed with precautions as to the health and safety of all. Hers will be a hard act to follow, and I undertake to do my best.

I look forward to working with the strong team of the Human Rights Council Bureau, namely the distinguished Ambassadors of Sudan, and Netherlands and – a fellow SIDS representative – Ambassador of the Bahamas. Having served the Bureau in 2019 under the strong leadership of the then President, His Excellency Ambassador Coly Seck of Senegal, I know and value the importance of a committed and informed Bureau, one determined to ensure that the Council fulfils its mandate and remains guided by the principles of universality, and constructive international dialogue, in order to enhance the promotion and protection of all human rights, everywhere.

Our plate will certainly be full this year. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose important organizational challenges to this body and to the wider United Nations. But more than that, it is true to say that while the virus does not discriminate, its impacts certainly do. It is our collective responsibility to draw attention and to respond to the deep inequalities that have been laid bare by the pandemic - and to ensure that human rights standards, in combination with our shared commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, will guide us as we do all we can to recover from what is, a global health – and a human rights - crisis. We know, as a community of nations, that emergencies and disasters, whether caused by a climate crisis or a health emergency, have the effect of exacerbating existing inequalities and of deepening poverty. This Council, and the constructive and inclusive nature of the dialogue it is able to host, is crucial to the building of societies which are fairer, resilient, and built on human dignity and equality. In doing so, the Human Rights Council takes on a role which is capable of transforming social, national and global relationships.

2021 also sees the opening of the five-year window during which the General Assembly is due to review the status of this Council in accordance with its resolution 65/281. In this regard, I wish to assure you that I am entirely in your hands. As my colleague President Seck did in 2019, I intend shortly to convene an inclusive consultation process to hear everyone’s views as to how the Council should contribute to the review process. I look forward to hearing the views of all delegations on this important process.

Dear Colleagues,

I look forward to the input and partnership of the United Nations Office at Geneva and its Conference Secretariat, the Human Rights Council Secretariat including the Secretariat of the Universal Periodic Review Branch. I look forward also to the input of representatives of civil society, who support, contribute to and enrich the Council`s work and ensure the inclusivity of its dialogues. As to the latter, I commit to ensuring the safety of civil society space and to defending the rights of NGOs and human rights defenders who seek to cooperate with this body and its mechanisms.

I commit to you all that I will bring to the Council a determination to maintain both impartiality, and inclusivity. Above all, I will bring to the Council a commitment to further and to strengthen human rights everywhere. At this time, in this moment in history, strengthening the enjoyment of human rights, promoting and protecting the inherent dignity of all people, and placing equality and non-discrimination at the centre of sustainable development, are all of compelling importance.

I commit to doing my best in serving you all and I look forward to working with you in ensuring that this year remains a success, not just for the work of this Council, but also for the promotion and protection of human rights for all our people.

Vinaka vaka levu, I thank you.