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Keynote address by Joaquín Maza Martelli at Glion IV on how to operationalize the Council's prevention mandate

18 May 2017

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

Good afternoon. It is an honour to have the opportunity to address all of you today, as you begin the 2017 Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Governments of Norway and Switzerland, and the Universal Rights Group, for organizing this fourth Glion Human Rights Dialogue and extend my congratulations for the achievements made in the previous three Dialogues.

Importance of the Glion Process

The Glion Dialogue process provides us with this opportunity to come together in this beautiful and inspiring setting and focus our thoughts and discussions on how to make the Human Rights Council more effective in the fulfilment of its mandate. Despite having come from all corners of the globe, we are all in the same boat, fighting for the same cause – to make our world a more just and humane place. 

I am grateful to all of you for having taken time out to participate in this dialogue and explore how the Council can strengthen its contribution to the prevention of human rights violations and enhance its response to human rights emergencies.

The Council's prevention mandate

The General Assembly acknowledged that the prevention of human rights violations is one of the most effective ways to protect human rights when it decided that the Human Rights Council shall contribute towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies.

Demonstrating the importance that the Council places on effective preventative measures as part of its efforts to promote and protect of human rights, the Council has adopted four resolutions since 2010 on the "role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights", the more recent being adopted last September. The Council also held a panel discussion on prevention during its 27th session, in accordance with Council resolution 24/16.

But more than ten years after the Council was created, we have not yet arrived to a common understanding of the concept of prevention in relation to the protection of human rights. In order for us to strengthen the Council's prevention efforts, we must enhance our understanding of the various aspects of prevention– which is indeed why we are all here.

Importance of dialogue and cooperation

The human rights system is a cooperative system, in which genuine and inclusive dialogue plays the starring role. In this light, the General Assembly provided the Council with the practical guidance that the Council's contribution towards prevention should be made through dialogue and cooperation. We must continue to work to enhance our dialogue and cooperation in the Council in order to effectively promote, prevent and protect human rights and respond promptly and effectively to human rights emergencies.

We must also work together in a cooperative manner to develop further the concept of prevention in the context of human rights, raise awareness of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights and encourage its reflection in relevant policies and strategies at the national level as well as regional and international levels.

Early warning in the HRC

Early warning mechanisms are essential in preventing human rights violations and mass atrocities. Since its creation, the Human Rights Council has demonstrated that it plays an important role in the prevention of continued human rights violations and the risk of the escalation of situations into crises by raising awareness of and sounding alarm bells on human rights situations of concern.

Indeed, we are well equipped in the Council with a number of mechanisms that play essential early warning roles --  such as our special sessions, the joint statements and reports of its Special Procedure mandate holders, the review of member states under the UPR process, and the statements and reports of national human rights institutions and civil society.

Although these mechanisms and tools have not been given specific prevention mandates, they all contribute greatly to providing the Human Rights Council with early warnings and thus play indispensible roles in prevention efforts.

By sounding the alarm early and acting promptly, the Human Rights Council can prevent further violations and the escalation of situations as well as provide information and make invaluable contributions to the response by the entire UN system. This, of course, requires the continual strengthening of relations between Geneva and New York. And I wish to highlight the great importance of strong cooperation and coordination between Permanent Missions in New York and in Geneva.

Prevention at the national level

But we must keep in mind that States have the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of all human rights, and the fulfilment of this responsibility requires efforts by States to prevent human rights violations. Thus, enhancing efforts towards prevention is a collective effort that must take place on both the national and international level.

As the lack of awareness of human rights is one of the greatest obstacles to the prevention of violations, human rights awareness-raising and education must be a key part of national level prevention efforts. The promotion of human rights, accompanied by human rights education and training, within schools, universities, local and national governments, security services and legislative bodies, is a fundamental part of efforts to create a culture of human rights at the national level.

Moreover, developing a strong rule of law and promoting transparent accountability is of utmost important, as is addressing all forms of discrimination. The promotion of the freedom of expression and the elimination of corruption must also make up part of States' efforts to prevent human rights violations.

A holistic approach on human rights across all sectors will result in more effective prevention. The goal is to create an environment where violations are unlikely to occur. And when they do occur, work to ensure the prevention of repetition through accountability.

The international community, and specifically the Human Rights Council, can support States in their national efforts towards the prevention of human rights violations. Through cooperation and genuine dialogue, the Council is poised to support States in their efforts to build strong national human rights prevention systems and fulfil their human rights obligations.

For example, the cooperative UPR mechanism, which celebrates 100% participation throughout it first two cycles and the first session of the newly-commenced third cycle, focuses on the improvement of human rights situations on the ground and provides a much-welcomed constructive forum to discuss each State's compliance with their human rights obligations and address implementation.

The role of NHRIs and civil society on national level

At the national level, national human rights institutions 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 serve as a platform for dialogue among stakeholders and 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.

Civil society also plays an essential role in prevention at the national level, as they are in prime position to monitor human rights situations on the ground and are often among the first to know when human rights violations occur or are at risk of occurring. Civil society can also alert national officials of concerning situations, make recommendations towards strategies to prevent escalation and violations, provide technical assistance and training to relevant actors, and lead efforts to protect human rights defenders. Domestic civil society organizations 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.


During these challenging times in which we are receiving daily reports of human rights violations taking place around the world, it is essential that our focus and efforts remain steadfast on the pre-eminence of the promotion and protection of human rights in all circumstances. I believe that we can all agree that it is extremely important and timely for the Human Rights Council, and the international community as a whole, to increase focus on preventing human rights violations and enhance preventative measures as part of the overall strategies for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Over the next day and a half, all of you have the ideal opportunity to focus on the concept of prevention and take steps towards developing a clear and, most importantly, consensual understanding of prevention and how the Human Rights Council can strengthen its delivery on this piece of its mandate. I strongly believe that the long-term effectiveness of the Council will depend greatly on its work on prevention, and the Council's work in prevention will depend greatly on our continued enhancement of genuine dialogue and cooperation among all stakeholders.

Before you enter into your discussions this afternoon, I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize the great importance of consensus as we work to define what prevention means in relation to the Council's protection mandate and develop a policy framework. Consensus will be necessary in order for the Council to be able to act promptly and effectively to prevent violations.

I wish you constructive and productive discussions over today and tomorrow, and I very much look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this fourth Glion Human Rights Dialogue.

Thank you.