Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 16 September 2019
The technical cooperation, capacity building and advisory done by our Office is core to our mandate, and valuable to all our human rights goals. I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss aspects of this work, and receive your feedback and insights.
Effective technical cooperation is one of the keys to prevention. Prevention of deprivation and suffering; prevention of discrimination and marginalisation; and prevention and de-escalation of social tensions, violence and conflict.
This is an area in which we seek to bring together the work of all the international human rights mechanisms – drawing on the recommendations of the Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and UPR, as well as Council resolutions and the distinct work of the Office.
We also seek comprehensive impact for what we do. Resources are always limited, and no single technical cooperation programme can bring solutions to every challenge faced by the people of the country concerned. But establishing meaningful engagement with a wide range of national actors can be vital to promoting trust between them; to achieving respect for the rule of law; and to a long-term cascade of effects, resulting in more sustainable development; more inclusive and transparent governance; and stronger support for human rights.
In Togo, we established a country office in 2006, following the signature of a General Peace Agreement by political leaders. We worked steadily, and increasingly closely, with the authorities and civil society, for nine years, until budget issues obliged us to close our office in 2015. Since then, we have continued to provide support from Geneva and our regional office in Dakar, and this has included the short-term deployment of an expert team, as I will discuss in a moment.
Our country office provided support for the adoption of essential legislative measures, to assist the Government in drawing up a legal framework, in compliance with international standards, for more consistent human rights protection. The key areas of work included a new Criminal Code; a new Family Code – providing greater protection for women's rights; and revision of the Electoral Code and Penal Code. The legal framework for the National Human Rights Institution was also revised, to enable greater independence and extend its mandate to the prevention of torture.
We also worked extensively to promote human rights in the context of elections, which had been an area of tension and violence. In this context, we engaged in extensive mediation processes between the authorities, political parties, demonstrators and civil society.
We also trained and assisted in the deployment of several hundred human rights observers, the majority from civil society and local communities. By 2015, they constituted a strong and well-informed network of about 800 human rights observers, based in different parts of the country. The immediate purpose of the network was to monitor and report on human rights violations and abuses, including in an electoral context. In addition, hundreds of people were now aware of international human rights law; alert to the rights of those around them; and empowered to address human rights concerns with national officials whom they had worked with, as well as international actors. In other words, we participated in strengthening the bridge between civil society and national authorities, for both the immediate and longer term.
Another vital area of work was our lead role in supporting the creation of Togo's Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission. Many of its recommendations remain to be fully implemented. However, I believe that the work and public reports of this body were in themselves a landmark for the people of Togo, making it clear that everyone has a right to justice, no matter their social class, ethnic group, or gender.
Sustainable development is a core topic in every country. In Togo, it is overwhelmingly important to the lives and well-being of the country's 7.9 million people. We worked very closely with colleagues in the UN Country Team to promote human rights-based approaches to the Millennium Development Goals, with the participation of civil society. This very important effort continues today, in the context of the 2030 Agenda.
Others present here today will be speaking to Togo's experience during the nine years of our presence. But it was never a one-way street. As is always the case, everyone engaged in this effort drew lessons from the experience – and this includes lessons learned by our Office.
In particular, supporting the "bridge" I have spoken of, between civil society and government officials, was something we deeply valued – and I very much encourage the continuation of this emphasis on dialogue and partnership in Togo today. This approach is a core part of many of our technical cooperation programmes. Relationships of trust and mutual respect between the authorities and civil society are vital to every area of governance – and of human rights. From elections to development, women's rights, justice, the rights of people deprived of liberty, issues such as discrimination of specific ethnic groups, the rights of persons with disabilities and all others, dialogue – which involves listening, on both sides – and cooperative engagement are the foundation for all productive efforts of improvement. We saw this very strongly in our Togolese experience.
We also drew many productive lessons involved our close relationship with the UN Country Team. Our human rights monitoring of elections, our mediation work with political actors, our visits to places of detention – and many other areas of our work in Togo – were consistently conducted together with members of other UN bodies.
This certainly expanded our ability to get the job done. But it also greatly strengthened mutual interest and understanding among UN agencies. For example, joint visits to prisons with WHO were beneficial to us both; they facilitated access and enabled the promotion of human rights from a different perspective. Again, this depth and quality of cooperation with UN colleagues is something we try to carry into every situation.
One more lesson, among the many others we were able to gather from this rich experience. Although the Office, regrettably, was obliged to close our presence in Togo, that nine year-long presence in the country meant that we were reactive – and effective – when tensions rose late in 2017. Alerted by early warning signals, and with the Government's approval, we swiftly deployed two human rights officers and a constitutional expert for four months. That deployment helped to effectively de-escalate the situation. And this was very much the result of the relationships of mutual understanding and trust which had been developed during our country presence.
Even though the human rights pillar is under-resourced; even when we are forced to cut short our human rights work in countries, leaving many tasks unfinished; even in such cases, our work can have very significant and durable impact over the longer term.
I have briefly outlined a few of the many aspects of the work we have been able to do in Togo. I want to express my gratitude to the authorities, and to the Togolese people, for their trust, their tremendous efforts, and their welcome to our staff. We continue to offer guidance and support to officials as they meet Togo's human rights challenges, including aspects of the right to peaceful assembly, dialogue with political actors, and protection for human rights defenders. We have also continued our relationships with civil society, and media actors, to assist them in upholding the rights and dignity of all the women, men and children of the country.
I very much look forward to your insights and comments on this experience.