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Keynote Address to the Glion Human Rights Dialogue III, 3 May 2016

by
CHOI Kyonglim
President of the Human Rights Council

Glion III
 Human rights implementation and compliance: turning international norms into local reality

The Human Rights Implementation Agenda

Mr. State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland,
Mr. Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Norway,
Mr. High-Commissioner for Human Rights,
Excellencies,
Colleagues,
Friends,

Good morning. I am greatly honoured to have been invited here this morning to address all of you, as you begin this third Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

Contribution of the Glion Process to the work of the HRC

I find it very important to occasionally step outside of our daily routines, which are normally overloaded with meetings and events covering a wide range of issues, and take time to truly focus our thoughts and energies on the topic at hand. The Glion Dialogue retreats allow us, and in fact encourage us, to do exactly that.

I see before me this morning representatives of the various stakeholders of the Human Rights Council, eager and prepared to focus their attention and engage in frank discussions with the aim to strengthen the international human rights system. All of you have left Geneva behind for a short period, in order to join efforts and work hard to come up with innovative solutions to the challenges that we face -- and for that I applaud you.

I wish to commend the Governments of Norway and Switzerland, and the Universal Rights Group, for designing and executing the Glion Human Rights Dialogue process. I also wish to express my sincere congratulations for the achievements already made in the previous two Dialogues. The thoughts and ideas that have been formulated thus far through the Glion Dialogue process are extremely useful, and I have no doubt that this third edition will be even more fruitful.

Challenges ahead of the 10th anniversary of the HRC

Over the past ten years, the Human Rights Council has grown and developed into a highly respected intergovernmental body and the premier forum on human rights where all relevant stakeholders are given a voice. Our discussions and debates in the Council cover a broad range of human rights issues. Our resolutions and decisions play an important role in the evolution of human rights norms. And, our recommendations provide guidance to States on how those norms and their related obligations should be met. The Council has shown us the immense potential that it holds, and it is up to us, the stakeholders, to foster its continued development in order to meet that potential.

To do this, we must face some challenging questions. Is the Human Rights Council truly fulfilling the purpose for which it was created? Are the countless hours that we spend in discussions, debates, dialogues and negotiations leading to the desired impact on the ground? How can we better translate our words into actions? What must be done in order to strengthen implementation and achieve tangible results?

Answers to these questions will not come easily. I am certain, though, that through continued constructive dialogue, we will come up with innovative solutions to increase the Council’s focus on implementation and enhance the role that it plays in prevention.

More impact on the ground: Focus on Implementation and Prevention

Increasing focus on and efforts towards implementation must take place on both the national and international level. It is a collective effort that goes hand-in-hand. The implementation of Council decisions and recommendations must be State-owned. However, the international community, and specifically the Human Rights Council, can support States in their implementation efforts by reminding them of their obligations, providing them with recommendations and guidance and monitoring the status of implementation.

In the past ten years, the Human Rights Council has demonstrated that it also plays an important role in the prevention of crises and conflicts, by raising awareness on worrisome human rights situations. Through the joint statements of Member States, the reports of Special Procedure mandate holders, and its special sessions, the Council sounds the alarm on potential or deteriorating crises and triggers debates in other venues.

The Special Procedures act as the Human Rights Council’s ears and eyes throughout the world. Their reports provide the Council with up-to-date, reliable information on the condition of human rights on the ground, playing a pivotal role as an early warning system. The Special Procedures also contribute to implementation efforts by clarifying for States their human rights obligations, initiating communications to governments about complaints of human rights violations, and identify good practices.

The work of the UPR serves as an additional tool in the area of prevention. It informs us of the human right situation in each of the 193 Member States and provides a manner for the Council to recognize if the situation of a State is improving or deteriorating.

The UPR also provides an appropriate forum to discuss the compliance of States with their human rights obligations and address implementation. The implementation of recommendations that a State received and accepted under prior reviews should be examined during subsequent reviews. Best practices of States could be exhibited during their reviews, and exemplary cases of States implementing recommendations should be highlighted. Moreover, voluntary UPR mid-term reports are a valuable tool that States can use to take stock of their efforts and achievements in implementing previously accepted recommendations.

The Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures and UPR mechanisms have produced numerous good examples of States implementing human rights norms as a result of recommendations received through these mechanisms. For example, States have made important legal reforms to combat discrimination subsequent to recommendations posed and accepted at the UPR and the visit of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion. National human rights action plans have been set up and have become operational vis-à-vis UPR recommendations. And the list goes on.

I truly believe that the UPR stands out with its potential to be an effective tool in both implementation and prevention. With the second cycle coming to an end, it is the right time to consider how to make the UPR a more implementation-oriented, more dynamic and more interactive mechanism. 

Participation of multi-stakeholders

In order for the work of the Council to have more impact on the ground, it is essential that all stakeholders, including Parliaments, NHRIs and civil society, play out their respective roles in the implementation process.

The Human Rights Council has acknowledged the crucial role that Parliaments play in implementation through translating international commitments into national policies and laws. In its upcoming 32nd session, the Council will hold a panel on the contribution of Parliaments to the work of the Council and the UPR, to take stock of the contribution of Parliaments and identify ways to further enhance that contribution. This would be a prime occasion to bring the discussion of implementation into the 32nd session, and explore how Parliaments can further contribute to it at the national level.

National Human Rights Institutions are invaluable partners in implementation and prevention efforts. NHRIs bridge the gap between States and civil society, raising awareness of State responsibilities in the area of human rights and working to prevent violations and achieve accountability for when violations occur. They are uniquely positioned to monitor domestic implementation efforts and ensure that their Governments follow-up on the recommendations and decisions put forward by the Council. Moreover, they are well poised to foster a culture of respect for human rights and assist States in building capacity to better protect human rights and prevent violations.

Increasing implementation and prevention also requires the active participation of civil society. Domestic NGOs educate citizens on their human rights and the State’s responsibilities to uphold them, and empower them to freely express their views and participate in the decision-making process. Moreover, they monitor and inform the Council of the status of implementation on the ground, provide technical assistance and training to relevant actors, and lead efforts to protect human rights defenders. Civil society also plays an essential role in prevention. NGOs are very often the first to become aware of emerging patterns of violations and the escalation of situations, and the Council relies on them to flag potential crises when prevention is still an option.

The need for more space and time

In order for the Council to better contribute to and support implementation efforts, it must increase follow-up action on its discussions. But the Human Rights Council needs more time and space to do this. For example, we need space to take stock of the actions taken by States to implement Council recommendations and comply with their human rights obligations. We also need time to expand our discussions and debates to include the status of implementation and how to better support States in their implementation efforts.

The Council stands in a good position to be able to effectively contribute to preventing human rights violations, crises and conflicts, but we need time to examine how to further strengthen its role in prevention.

As you know, one of the two priorities for my Presidency is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council. This translates into enhancing the working methods of the Council so that it has appropriate time and space to focus on implementation and bridge the gap between the dialogues and decisions of the Council, and positive, concrete actions on the ground.

Conclusion

Follow-up on the Council’s initiatives and decisions is key. We must continue to work to turn our words into actions – actions that truly improve human rights situations on the ground and enable rights holders everywhere to fully enjoy the freedoms they deserve and are guaranteed. If we fail in this regard, we risk undermining the very notion of why the Council was created.

I encourage your discussions here to be candid, constructive and innovative. I very much look forward to hearing about the ideas formulated and the outcomes produced here at Glion three.