Opening remarks by Ms Michelle Bachelet,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
1 June 2021
It is a pleasure to address this meeting, connecting current and former Members of the Board of Trustees.
It is a remarkable occasion for you to share experiences, views and recommendations gathered over the last four years visiting OHCHR’s and other UN programmes around the world.
I take this opportunity to warmly welcome Ms. Nozipho January-Bardill to the Board as the new member from Africa; and to, once again, thank Ms. Esi Sutherland-Addy for the over the last six years, especially as Chairperson of the Board.
More than a year has passed since we last met. It was just at the beginning of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, the impacts on lives, livelihoods and protections have exceeded all projections, leading to millions of deaths and an unprecedented setback on development.
As we anticipated then, the pandemic is more than a health crisis. It is a human rights crisis, with devastating socio-economic and humanitarian impacts. It has both fed off and exacerbated the already alarming levels of poverty and inequalities. And, as we are seeing, can quickly lead to critical levels of instability.
Against this bleak outlook, we have supported and seen very encouraging responses demonstrating the value of a human-rights based response – and showing what it possible with commitment and political will.
While we have regrettably witnessed many instances of the pandemic being used to further restrict rights, particularly linked to freedom of expression and civic space, the examples of governments taking swift action to protect fundamental rights have been numerous. Many have extended healthcare, reinforced new social protection measures, and put in place specific policies and programmes to avoid the worsening of the impacts. This is key to recovering better.
Flipping this crisis into a real historic opportunity requires building a new social contract based on human rights and equal opportunities for all. This is also a key objective in the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights.
Worldwide, successful measures in overcoming the devastating effects of the pandemic have been based on a renewed commitment to human rights, in particular economic and social rights. These experiences do not only include the investment of the maximum available resources in the realization of these rights: they affirm the importance of more inclusive investments for the benefit of entire societies.
Meaningful and inclusive participation of all groups in shaping these policies is key to ensure their support, as well as social cohesion.
However, evidence-based responses cannot be designed and monitored without fully disaggregated rights-based data.
My Office has been working to ensure worldwide visibility of the human rights dimension of the crisis and advocating for specific actions to address all its complex aspects. I thank you for recognizing our efforts as critical.
They have been possible thanks to investments and the rapid adjustment of our work methodologies to ensure full understanding of the situation and allowing us to provide solid recommendations. That shows, as you have always pointed out, the natural succession of events between our monitoring, technical cooperation and advisory roles.
Clearly, the thematic pillars of our programme will continue to be critical in the coming two years. However, we need to reflect on how they can respond to the new realities, continuing to support the most disadvantaged and discriminated and ensuring a rights-based closure of the inequalities gap. New global challenges, including, for example, shrinking civic space, also bring opportunities for the Office’s further engagement. If strategically tackled, they can make our convincing and convening power even stronger.
Within this context, the outcomes from the Universal Periodic Review and other international human rights mechanisms can allow Member States, the United Nations and the wider international community to work collaboratively towards recovering better, advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and sustaining peace.
The universal periodic review is a truly universal peer-review mechanism, which can serve as both an entry point and a guide for UN entities to support progress on human rights at the country level.
It is also a proven valuable tool to support UN efforts on prevention. Accepted recommendations often encourage coordinated and strategic action, and noted ones often highlight critical issues that may lead to further violations of human rights and escalation into conflict.
As part of the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, the recently issued UPR Practical Guidance provides advice on how UN entities can engage with this mechanism and integrate its outcomes and also those from other international human rights mechanisms within their development, humanitarian, and peace sustaining efforts.
The global challenges we face today demand global solutions. We need to strengthen and expand our collaborative efforts -- within the UN system and with Member States -- to achieve concrete results in protecting human rights and achieving the SDGs.
Let us use these entry points, such as the UPR outcomes, to go beyond a reactive approach and towards one that also addresses the root causes of poverty, violence, insecurity and conflict.
The positive impact achieved through my Office’s “surge initiative” is extremely encouraging. The initiative aims to enhance economic expertise with a human rights perspective and to foster partnerships among Governments at various levels, United Nations entities and local human rights advocates. We have managed to expand national efforts to support the implementation of recommendations from human rights mechanisms, including the universal periodic review, which requires human rights as well as socioeconomic expertise.
As you might recall from our very first meeting upon my arrival as High Commissioner, we all concurred on the need to undertake this key investment. Your encouragement at that time, as well as your full support explaining the role of my Office to global constituencies, has been much appreciated.
Your Session represents a crucial opportunity to reflect on what you have been observing on the ground, through your visits and consultations with all our partners and beneficiaries.
You can help us assess what are the new frontier issues where the Office has a key role to play; Where we should prioritize our efforts? What are the groups that require more targeted attention from our programmes to ensure that no one is left behind? And how can we continue strengthening the use the UPR and other international human rights mechanisms to support these efforts and ensure tangible results?
These have been difficult times. But, as I told the Human Rights Council special session last week, 2021 is supposed to be a year of recovery. And, above all, a chance to recover better.
The international human rights framework continues to provide the strongest basis from which we can do so, effectively putting us on track to achieve the goals we all committed to by 2030.
I look forward to your views and practical experience on how we can ensure a rights-based recovery.