18:20-20:00, Thursday, 28 January 2016
International Service for Human Rights, 5th Floor, 1 Rue de Varembé, Geneva
Excellencies, Dear colleagues and friends,
It is a great honour for me to be here today. I would like to thank the International Service for Human Rights for hosting this reception and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you.
I am also very glad to be here today with my esteemed colleagues from the Bureau of the Human Rights Council this year.
First of all, I would like to thank Ambassador Ruecker for sharing with us his reflections on his presidency last year. He and other members of the 2015 bureau did an outstanding job (for the cause of promoting and protecting human rights as well as making the Council more efficient and effective). I am sure that the members of this year’s bureau will join me in expressing a sincere appreciation for the work of Ambassador Ruecker and his bureau and building upon their accomplishments.
Since when I was elected as President of the Human Rights Council, many people have been asking me what my priorities are as President for this year. I tell them, in jest but only partly, that my first priority is to lower the expectation for the president.
As I said at the outset, Ambassador Ruecker had set a very high bar for the presidency and I think that it is not really fair to expect the following presidents to fill his shoes.
I also tell the people who ask about my priority that I will just continue to do what Ambassador Ruecker set out to do at the start of his presidency: strengthening the Geneva-New York connection in the area of human rights, enhancing the efficiency of the work of the Council, and enhancing the effectiveness of the Council’s work on the ground. These are all really important tasks that deserve focused and continued efforts of the Council. Given the complexity of the issues involved, it would be unrealistic to expect that we can finish these works in just one year. And indeed, in spite of the valiant efforts of Ambassador Ruecker and his bureau and the significant progress they achieved, it is obvious that we need to continue to work on these tasks. Hence I believe that it would make more sense for me to follow through these unfinished works rather than try to set a different set of priorities of my own.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council. Over the last decade the Council has made great achievements. Being the premier United Nations body dedicated to human rights, the Council has been crucial in promoting the universal respect for the protection of human rights as well as addressing critical situations of human rights violations. We dispose of strong independent mechanisms (which examine, report, monitor and provide recommendations) as well as a unique peer-to–peer review mechanism. Also, we have been able to identify protection gaps and advance in the broader recognition of international standards. However, I believe there is ample room for improvement. In particular, progress has been less than stellar when one looks at how many of the disciplines, declarations and recommendations are put into action and translated into realities. As I said at the Council when I was elected last December, we should be more implementation-focused for the years to come.
Since I arrived in Geneva I also have heard a great deal regarding the unsustainable increase in the Council’s workload. I was able to see it myself the first time I was presented with the draft programme of work for the next March session. We should bear in mind that it is not the number of discussions we hold or resolutions we adopt that matters, but rather it is the real impact our work has on the ground. I think that we have reached a stage where the unreasonably heavy workload of the Council is affecting not only the efficiency but also the effectiveness of its works. This is why we have to continue the efforts to improve the working methods of the Council.
In the same vein, this year offers an excellent opportunity to look at the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism. The UPR will be closing its second cycle at the end of this year. The UPR, considered as one of the most prominent innovations of the Human Rights Council, has proved its mettle. We can take significant satisfaction in its universality. And with the spirit of cooperation that has prevailed since its inception, the UPR has shown itself as a powerful tool to promote changes and reflection on sensitive issues for each community, region and country. As the third cycle approaches, it is therefore a right moment to direct our efforts to consider possible ways to improve the UPR mechanism, including enhancing its impact on the ground.
In our common efforts to promote and protect human rights, civil society actors, including human rights defenders, play a fundamental role. They provide a unique perspective throughout the entire stages of our work. And for us to work well, all voices must be heard, even if at times when we might not like what we hear. It is precisely the balance of perspectives that ensures our strength as a body. It is therefore of vital importance to continue to ensure a safe and enabling space for civil society to effectively participate in our work.
As my predecessors, I am committed to do my utmost during my Presidency to ensure that the work of the Council proceeds without any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.
With regard to the Geneva-New York connection, many believe that there is a significant gap between the two places. Examples abound. Initiatives undertaken in Geneva are not always adequately supported by the budget decisions made in New York. Information relating to the discussions under way in New York frequently fails to reach Geneva in time. If we are to enhance the effectiveness of the work of the Council, we cannot let this gap persist. We have to work harder to ensure that Geneva and New York are always connected to and engaged with each other.
The connectivity issue carries added importance this year. As it is solidly rooted in human rights standards, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an excellent platform for the Human Rights Council to continue promoting the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system at all levels. It is crucial that we now make sure that the human rights gains are not being lost in the implementation phase. Therefore, this year’s high level panel on human rights mainstreaming at the March session could not be more timely.
Before concluding, I would like to remind you that against our best hope, this year is going to be an extremely difficult one for human rights. Regional conflicts in various parts of the world, in particular in the Middle East, show no signs of lessening.
Terrorism is rampant. (As a consequence), the refugee crisis will continue to intensify.
All these developments, by themselves and in combination, create tremendous human sufferings. The photo of the dead body of a small child at seashore and the news of people dying of hunger in war ridden villages are only glimpses of the broad and devastating human tragedy that we face today. It is thus with a heavy heart that I am starting my presidency. It is going to require of all the states and stakeholders a true sense of urgency, spirit of cooperation and willingness to engage in genuine dialogues, if the Council is to help alleviate human sufferings in a meaningful way and go on to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. It is my sincere hope that we will be able to do so. I count on your support.