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Introduction to thematic reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under items 2, 3, 5 and 8 by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 16 September 2016

Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council, 

Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

This [afternoon/morning] I will introduce eighteen reports of the Secretary-General and of the High Commissioner concerning a range of thematic issues.  

Four reports contain summaries of discussions already held – on the right to development, on the tenth anniversary of the Council, on violent extremism and on violence against indigenous women and girls.

Since you already have been introduced to the issues covered by those reports, I will focus now on most important findings of the other fourteen reports.

I will start with item 3, and our technical guidance on how a human rights-based approach can help reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (A/HRC/33/24).

This report details how the technical guidance tool is being used in different contexts, and demonstrates how this tool has assisted a variety of stakeholders to improve the enjoyment of human rights related to maternal health, and sexual and reproductive health more broadly.

Applying a rights-based approach to maternal health helps challenge unjust power dynamics which foster inequality, recognizing the inherent dignity and autonomy of every individual.

The 2030 Agenda is an unprecedented opportunity to ensure full protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the report points to critical entry points where the technical guidance could help guide implementation of the SDGs.

You also have before you our report preventable mortality and morbidity of children under 5 years of age (A/HRC/33/23).

This report describes the office’s work to implement our technical guidance on how a human rights-based approach can help reduce child mortality and morbidity. It analyses issues that require further attention from a human rights perspective, including in relation to the newborn child, the quality of care in the delivery of health services for children, the marketing of breast-milk substitutes and the impact on children of attacks on health facilities. The report concludes that investing in child survival remains key to ensuring a future for all children. The new born child deserves particular attention, as that stage is when most deaths occur.

Moving now to the report on universal birth registration and statistics development (A/HRC/33/22). Millions of people continue to be born and die without leaving a trace in civil registration systems, including many people from the most marginalized groups. These millions are uncounted in vital statistics and invisible in development strategies. Death registration, despite its importance for monitoring progress towards development goals, lags even further behind registration of births. Comprehensive, well-functioning systems for civil registration and vital statistics are key to ensuring respect for rights. The commitment to improved and disaggregated data in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offers an important opportunity here.

Registration of births and other vital events must be made accessible to all without discrimination of any kind, including through removal of registration fees, penalties for late registration and unreasonable documentation requirements. Registration documents should also be comprehensible and available in minority and local languages.

Awareness-raising on the rights, benefits and responsibilities of civil registration is crucial to expanding registration rates. Access to services and other entitlements, however, should not be conditioned on being registered or in possession of a birth certificate.

Next is our report on preventing and countering violent extremism (A/HRC/33/29).

Acts perpetrated by violent extremists in recent years have been shockingly brutal. Each State has the duty to take measures to protect all individuals within its territory and those subject to its jurisdiction from such violence. At the same time, such measures must be fully consistent with human rights – not only to comply with legal obligations, but also because responses to violent extremism that respect and protect human rights have simply been proven to be more effective and sustainable. We know what works, and let me highlight five action points to States from the report:

  1. Clearly define key concepts related to violent extremism; human rights risk being violated when laws and policies use the terms “extremism” or “radicalization” to cover non-violent activity. States should ensure that the focus of their measures is on actual conduct, rather than mere opinions or beliefs – in other words, it is violence that must be prevented and countered, not peaceful extremism.
  2. Provide clear and evidence-based justificationsfor measures that entail human rights restrictions.  
  3. Clearly set out the legal basis, criteria and guidance on when, how and to what extent online content is blocked, filtered or removed as part of efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism online.
  4. Carefully review policies and practices concerning surveillance, interception, collection and retention of personal data.
  5. Finally, make sure that measures are gender-sensitive, inclusive, tailored to the specific local context and based on a climate of trust. They must neither discriminate nor stigmatize particular groups or communities. Supporting the resilience of communities to threats of violent extremism is also vital.

Moving now to our report on the human rights of migrants in the context of large movements (A/HRC/33/67), which mirrors some key provisions contained in the New York Declaration to be adopted next week as a result of UN summit on refugees and migrants.

Based on an analysis of the human rights challenges migrants face in the context of large and mixed movements, the report calls for timely, concerted and joined-up action by States and other stakeholders to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights, including through upholding the fundamental principle of non-refoulement. Criminalization of migrants and refugees is the wrong way to go. What’s more, routinely detaining people solely for their migration status is a disproportionate measure in beach of international human rights and States should establish a presumption against immigration detention in law and practice, and implement human rights-based, non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention. 

We all must confront violence, stigmatization, discrimination, social exclusion and other manifestations of xenophobia against migrants and refugees, and in this context support the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to initiate a global campaign to confront xenophobia.

A second report on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/33/30) before you today contains a summary of the written submissions received from Governments in response to a note verbale sent from our office requesting information on the implementation of the resolution.

Next is our annual report on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/HRC/33/27). It reports on violent deaths of indigenous human rights defenders connected with development projects. It also shows how indigenous peoples' human rights continue to be violated through development policies, conservation initiatives and investment projects that were designed without sufficient due diligence, at times supported by multilateral development banks.

Respect for indigenous peoples rights can be achieved only if we work towards that goal in partnership with indigenous peoples.

Let me mention also that during the 32nd session of the Council, our Office presented the report of the expert workshop to review the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We are pleased to see that the Council is taking steps towards strengthening the mandate of the Expert Mechanism, and we hope to see the Council act to that end during this session. Our Office stands ready to support the implementation of a strengthened mandate for the Expert Mechanism, with the end goal of making the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a reality on the ground.

I am also looking forward to next week’s panel discussion on the urgent issue of violence against indigenous women and girls.

Moving now to our summary report on the expert workshop on the right to participate in public affairs (A/HRC/33/25).

This right is the cornerstone of any democratic government, which inherently is based on the consent of the people. Common challenges to the right to participate in public affairs include violence and conflict, attempts by incumbents to hold on to power, as well as underlying structural inequalities such as poverty, illiteracy, discrimination and exclusion. States need to tackle all of these.

At the same time, the right to participate is inextricably linked to an environment that permits an active civil society to thrive and to institutions that enforce the rule of law. Without respect for the freedoms of opinion and expression, association and assembly, and access to information, there can effectively be no right to participate in public affairs. Consultation with concerned individuals and groups and their direct participation in the drafting of laws and policies affecting them are essential.

The need for improved participation is highlighted by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – and national reviews of the implementation of the SDGs should look at ways to ensure participation. This Council’s UPR could also systematically assess the right to participate.

The next report before you (A/HRC/33/20) is the yearly supplement to the Secretary-General’s report on the death penalty, covering the period from January 2015 to June 2016.

This report confirms the trend towards the universal abolition of the death penalty. In addition, it highlights initiatives restricting the use of the death penalty in several States, including in some that continue to apply the death penalty. States have also taken numerous initiatives to implement safeguards protecting the rights of those facing the death penalty. At the same time, a minority of States continue to use the death penalty in contravention of international human rights law.

The Secretary-General encourages all States that have not yet ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to do so without delay. Pending abolition, international law requires safeguards to ensure that those subject to the death penalty are treated fairly and not executed unless it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that they have committed a crime that meets the threshold of being “most serious” under international law. One such safeguard is the procedure to request clemency, pardon or commutation, which acts as a final check to ensure that no-one is executed contrary to national or international law.

States that use the death penalty should ensure that, as required by the ICCPR, effective clemency, pardon or commutation procedures are available to death row convicts, and that the human rights of children of parents sentenced to the death penalty or executed are fully respected.

The last report before you under item 3 (A/HRC/33/31) concerns the right to development.

The right to development now has an imminent action agenda in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the report before you emphasises that the 2030 Agenda, in turn, must be implemented in line with international human rights law. Human rights principles and standards, including those of the right to development, should also be increasingly integrated into finance, trade and investment policies.

The follow-up and review of the implementation of the SDGs provide a solid basis for assessing the progressive realization of the right to development – and for this to happen, data disaggregation and indicators to measure SDG achievement at the national level can and should be based on human rights principles and standards. Recommendations made by the Working Group and other human rights mechanisms can provide useful information in this regard.

Moving now to item 2 and the report on measures taken to correct the imbalance in the geographical composition of OHCHR staff (A/HRC/33/18). This report gives an overview of the professional and higher category staff members at 31 December 2015, according to their recruitment status, nationality, grade and sex. It also highlights the results of continuing efforts to expand the geographical diversity of the Office. This will be the last such report on actions taken within OHCHR, as human rights staff members now fall under the new staff selection and managed mobility system, and decisions are being made centrally by the Office of Human Resources Management in New York. The information contained in this report continues to be available as part of the report of the Secretary-General on the composition of the Secretariat.

I will close now with brief introduction to three reports that will be considered during item 5 and item 8:

During your general debate on item 5, the Secretary-General’s report on alleged reprisals against those cooperating with the UN and its mechanisms (A/HRC/33/19) will be considered. In addition to describing cases of alleged intimidation and reprisal and responses thereto, this years’ report also includes a new section referring to the work of the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations and raises concerns over the deferral of applications which may be seen as attempts to hamper their access to the United Nations in the field of human rights.

The report also highlights that, if initial warning signs are ignored, acts of intimidation and reprisal are likely to become more severe over time, not only targeting those engaging with the UN in the field of human rights but also anyone else linked to them. Every such act undermines the UN’s work in the field of human rights and must be halted immediately. Various parts of the UN system, including this Council and special procedures have developed specific tools and protocols to respond to this issue, which is welcomed. However it also highlights the lack of coordinated response to this problem.

In the light of the increasing number of cases of reprisals the SG intends to strengthen the collection of information by asking all parts of the United Nations system to report to him more regularly on such cases. In consultation with the High Commissioner, he will make use of existing staff to take up the issue within the United Nations system and with Member States, and to advise the High Commissioner and himself as appropriate.

I strongly encourage all of you to use the opportunity of the debate under item 5 to address the issues raised in the report, keeping in mind that it is crucial for the UN to be able to cooperate with the widest pool of stakeholders as possible without putting anyone at risk.

Two reports (A/HRC/33/33 and A/HRC/33/34 and Add.1) will be considered during your general debate on item 8. They concern, respectively, national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights and the activities of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in accrediting national institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles.

During the period under review, OHCHR provided advice and assistance on the strengthening of 62 national human rights institutions and the establishment of 31. The Secretary-General, recommends Member States to establish or to strengthen existing national human rights institutions to ensure fully compliance with the Paris Principles; and for
Member States to continue to provide financial contributions to OHCHR to sustain high-quality support for national human rights institutions and to provide secretariat support to the GANHRI and its Sub-Committee on Accreditation. The enhanced participatory rights of “A” status national human rights institutions in this Council, and their goal of achieving similar rights in other United Nations mechanisms and processes, requires a more rigorous and transparent accreditation process.

Distinguished President,

This concludes our introduction of the thematic reports under items 2, 3, 5 and 8.

Thank you for your kind attention.