UN Human Rights Chief opens new regional office in Brussels

The UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay opened the first UN human rights office in Europe in Brussels today. Also present for the opening were Ambassador Frans Van Daele, Chief of Staff of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vice President of the European Commission Responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security Jacques Barrot, Antonio Vigilante, Head of the UN Country Team in Belgium, the Director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Morten Kjaerum, and the Personal Representative for Human Rights of Secretary General Solana, Riina Kionka.

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay opens the first regional UN human rights office in Europe - © OHCHRThe new office will foster the engagement of OHCHR and of the UN human rights system with European States and institutions by providing them with advice and assistance for integrating human rights dimensions in regional and national policies and programmes. The office will also work in close collaboration with the more than 20 UN agencies based in the European capital.

The Brussels office is the 11th regional presence set up by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “OHCHR was only founded 16 years ago, so it is still a young organization,” Pillay said. “We already have 10 other regional offices in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, and we are now present in 55 countries around the world in all. Europe was in many ways the missing piece in the puzzle, so it is a real pleasure for me to open the office at the EU’s headquarters here in Brussels.”

The office for Europe represents a more effective means of increasing awareness of the policies and activities of the UN Human Rights Office. It will also better promote and follow-up on formulating and implementing human rights standards and policies in Europe. Furthermore, it will seek to address the European Union’s role in promoting and protecting human rights and empowering rights holders in general.

By mainstreaming human rights into the EU’s work, the regional office will help address human rights challenges in Europe, in particular racism, discrimination, human rights violations related to migration or poverty, the fulfilment of economic and social rights, impunity and criminal justice, and the protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism. 

“This office will help EU countries in their efforts to combat racism and discrimination, and to tackle human rights violations related to migration and poverty, as well as deficits in other economic and social rights, particularly for minorities such as the Roma,” Pillay added. “A particular challenge in recent years has been ensuring that counter-terrorism measures do not undermine human rights standards.”

The human rights chief also said that the new office will also seek to ensure the integration of human rights principles in external EU policies and activities, including technical assistance, peace operations, mediation efforts, development and trade initiatives undertaken by the EU worldwide.

14 October 2009