Header image for news printout

OHCHR Annual Report 2020

Presentation to Member States by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights



Thank you for joining this presentation of the 2020 annual report on the work of my Office to promote and protect human rights around the world.

This report covers the third year of the OHCHR Management Plan 2018-2021, which sets out the priorities, strategies and targets of the Office. It shows how our management plan has remained valid throughout the COVID-19 crisis while providing the needed flexibility to respond to changing circumstances.

In particular, the report highlights the progress made towards the results that we committed to achieving by the end of 2021. While our interactions with a whole range of partners have been affected by COVID-19 related restrictions, the report illustrates how our innovative measures allowed us to continue being operational; to implement much of our planned work; and to support States and other stakeholders to address the significant consequences for human rights of the pandemic.

An example of how we adjusted our working methods last year, is that 58% of our human rights training was delivered online. We also provided support to the international human rights mechanisms to operate remotely or in hybrid formats. This enabled the Human Rights Council and the UPR Working Group to complete their annual programme of work.


In 2020, we stepped up our monitoring and developed new strategies, working methods and data-based analytic tools to anchor human rights in responses to COVID-19. This report outlines a wide variety of examples of this work:

  • In every region, we delivered targeted and practical guidance. We issued 12 thematic guidance notes and we contributed to 18 UN policy briefs and technical documents. Our “Guidance Note on COVID-19 and Women’s Rights”, for instance was used to raise awareness about gender-based violence in countries such as Cambodia, Iraq and Syria, as well as, to advocate for the availability of support services and shelters during lockdowns.
  • Our detailed monitoring enabled a clear focus on vulnerable people. Based on disaggregated data, we developed a set of 10 indicators to assess the human rights impacts of COVID-19 on different population groups.  
  • We also created the COVID-19 Tracker, an information management tool to analyze trends, gather good practices and inform effective policy solutions. One example was to consolidate accessible health care and social protection systems. In addition, with DCO and UNDP, we issued a “Checklist for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Socio-Economic Country Responses to COVID-19.”
  • We protected the right to access information on COVID-19 and the impacts of the pandemic, in multiple languages and accessible formats for persons with disabilities.
  • We took steps to protect civic space and support the ability of experts, medical professionals, journalists and human rights defenders to speak without fear of reprisals or censorship in the context of the pandemic. Our work helped to repeal emergency provisions to limit freedom of expression in the context of COVID-19, for example, in Bolivia.
  • We raised awareness to ensure that emergency measures were necessary, proportionate and fairly applied, with a focus on safeguarding public health.
  • We called for immediate action to prevent COVID-19 from sweeping through places of detention and confinement, resulting in at least 267,500 people benefitting from urgent releases or alternatives to detention. In Burundi, we provided support to the holding of 7 mobile court sessions, resulting in the expedition of 206 cases and the release of 89 detainees. In Ukraine, we ensured access to justice during the pandemic by supporting revised regulations on court hearings, allowing remote participation.
  • We also worked to prevent discrimination against migrants and returnees. For example, our advocacy campaign in Honduras reached 255,000 users on social media.
  • Overall, we worked to ensure that rights-based approaches were applied to COVID-19 responses and recovery efforts by governments and UN partners. Our Surge Initiative contributed operational advice to 59 countries on integrating social and economic rights into pandemic responses, including through 27 seed funded projects. In Serbia, for example, we worked with civil society partners, Roma representatives and government officials to produce a deep dive assessment of over 700 Roma settlements – some of them lacking electricity, clean water and sewage systems, enabling the delivery of targeted support.


Turning to other important results, the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights has been a key catalyst for our Office last year. We played a central role in launching strategic initiatives across all seven thematic areas, backed by an extensive institutional architecture including 35 UN entities.

The Call to Action reflects that integrated human rights risks and opportunities analysis is essential to ensure a UN comprehensive action on human rights protection. We worked with our partners to spearhead regional dialogues with Resident Coordinators and generate collective engagement.

In cooperation with our global, regional and national partners all around the world, we strived to pursue our normative work and support the international human rights mechanisms. Our 92 field presences continued to provide capacity-development, advisory services and technical assistance to advance the promotion and protection of human rights for all. And we worked tirelessly to enhance the integration of human rights into all UN processes and activities, including development work, humanitarian action and peace operations. Some examples of this work include:

  • We provided technical assistance to support the establishment or strengthening of 46 National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up, and we supported the roll-out of the National Recommendations Tracking Database in the Republic of Moldova, Thailand and Uzbekistan.
  • We supported increased engagement with the UPR Working Group, for instance from Rohingya groups living in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, who issued the first UPR report on the situation of Rohingya people in Myanmar, or from 126 CSOs in Somalia, that submitted a joint report for their country’s third UPR review.
  • We launched the new Universal Human Rights Index with extended functionalities, making available online more than 180,000 observations and recommendations issued by the international human rights mechanisms. Automatic text classification algorithms use machine learning to help categorizing content against themes and the SDGs, enabling users to efficiently search the database.
  • We provided assistance to enhance human rights-based approaches to data in several countries, including through the signature and implementation of specific inter-institutional agreements in Albania, Kosovo, Liberia and Uganda. We collaborated with 200 national statistics offices to support the compilation of data for the SDG indicator 10.3.1/16.b.1 on discrimination and we developed a pioneering compendium of survey questions to support disaggregation by multiple characteristics in international and national censuses and surveys.
  • Addressing the global crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution continued to be a priority for us. For example, in Mexico, we helped setting up a Climate Justice Network with more than 25 CSOs, which met regularly to share information on issues like air quality, impact studies and the implementation of the Escazú Agreement, issuing recommendations to integrate human rights into Mexico’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.
  • We supported business actors to effectively implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. For example, in Cambodia, we provided mediation support to indigenous communities and business actors. In Colombia, we helped organizing dialogue spaces with unions, business associations and academia, leading to the adoption of the second National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.
  • My Office supported risks analysis, early warning and accountability for human rights violations to prevent conflict and violence and protect rights-holders. 13 staff members were deployed in 8 countries with deteriorating human rights situations. 3 emergency response teams were established to support UNCTs on risk analysis and early warning, providing inputs to CCA and VNR processes. We also supported 8 commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions in 2020.
  • We contributed to building and sustaining peace. In Yemen, for example, the findings of our human rights monitoring contributed to 14 advocacy initiatives and activities by key protection actors. In Libya, our advocacy efforts led to the establishment, in Benghazi and Tripoli, of specialized courts to address violence against women and children. In Kenya, 555 survivors of gender-based violence (477 women, 78 men) accessed safe shelters and medical and psychosocial services through the assistance provided by human rights defenders and members of the Survivors’ Network, trained by our Office.
  • Our work focused deeply on addressing inequalities and discrimination. We produced tools to change the narrative on migration and our campaign to stand up for migrants generated 1,500,000 views. Under the UN Free & Equal campaign, we advanced the human rights of LGBTI people through activities in 13 countries; and we reactivated the UN Network on Racial Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which issued guidance for UNCTs on combating racial discrimination and protecting minorities.
  • We also finalized a resource package with policy guidelines, human rights indicators and training materials on linkages between the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In Burkina Faso and Paraguay, for example, the government disability focal points have used these resources to create their own indicator frameworks and follow-up on national action plans and strategies to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • With the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, we spearheaded efforts that led to the adoption by the UN of a Guidance Note on the promotion and protection of civic space.
  • And we strived to increase public recognition for accountability and human rights-based responses to violence. In Tunisia, for example, we supported the creation of a Monitoring Unit within the Ministry of Religious Affairs that receives complaints about alleged human rights violations committed by or against imams and professional worship staff. In Cambodia, we released a series of animated videos entitled “Human Rights Explained” to raise support for human rights among Cambodian youth. The campaign reached 744,800 Facebook users and the videos were used by youth organizations in training activities.


For all these important results – and the many more that you will discover in the pages of this report – we are truly thankful for your Governments’ continued cooperation and political and financial support.

In spite of the complex pandemic context, in 2020 you contributed to our highest-ever level of voluntary financial support, with a record total US$224.3 million received in voluntary contributions (40 million more than in 2019). This provided us with much needed resources in these challenging times. Due to the large staffing element of our budget, our extra-budgetary expenditure in 2020 (US$184 million) was similar to that of 2019.

On the other hand, the regular budget allocation to my Office (US$116.8 million) did not keep pace with the growth in the number and scope of mandated activities. A record number of new Human Rights Council mandates were added in 2020. In terms of expenditure, our RB expenses decreased from US$113 million in 2019 to US$108 million in 2020. This is due, among others, to the regular budget liquidity crisis and recruitment freeze, and to COVID-19 restrictions that impacted mandate-holders and staff travel.

To cover the funding gap caused by the combined effect of the regular budget cuts, delays in payments and cash flow issues, my Office had to rely on voluntary contributions to finance approximately 24.8 per cent of its mandated activities.

The level of voluntary contributions received last year attests to your support for human rights. However, we still have a long way to go to reach an income level that is commensurate with the real needs for human rights work. In 2020, our extrabudgetary requirements were US$375.5 million, meaning that we had a funding gap of 151.2 million.

The constantly raising expectations and demands placed on my Office by Member States, human rights defenders, civil society partners, victims of human rights violations and other stakeholders, continue to pose increasing financial challenges. To meet such requests, we need predictable, sustained and flexible contributions, with unearmarked funds that we can allocate where they are most needed.

I hope that you will be able to maintain, or increase, your voluntary contributions, enabling my Office to deliver on the promise of our programme and fully promote and protect human rights.

[OMP extension]

Earlier this year, OHCHR’s Senior Management Team decided to extend the current OMP for two years, until 2023, while updating some of its aspects.

The rationale for this is that extending and updating the current OMP will ensure that results are consolidated while providing the necessary opportunity to re-calibrate our focus in response to the human rights impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, while ensuring that important initiatives like the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights and other recent developments are included. This extension will also align future OMP cycles with the High Commissioner’s mandates.

While the process of updating our current OMP will be a light one and will focus on discreet aspects only, we also wish to ensure that the recalibration of the OMP reflects the insights and experience of our main partners. I am therefore pleased to inform you that we will be organizing a Member States meeting at the end of October to receive your feedback.


The COVID-19 pandemic raced across pre-existing fault-lines in every society, exploiting and enlarging human rights gaps. Now more than ever, our priorities remain relevant and our message is unequivocal: in order to recover better, human rights must be placed at the centre of all recovery efforts, so that no one is left behind.

Thank you for your continuing support.