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General meeting of the Asia Pacific forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

3 September 2019

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to such a diverse range of human rights institutions from the Asia Pacific region.

Each of you is a frontline actor, playing a key role in the achievement of human rights protection for all the people of your countries.

The topic of your conference – combating hate and discrimination – is at the core of the universal struggle to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.

These issues are cross cutting. They damage people's lives in many different ways, and harm entire societies by undermining the values of peaceful and respectful coexistence. We need everybody to be able to participate fully and equally in our societies, economies and political decisions.  This can ensure the best possible policies and the best possible future for everyone – without distinctions of any kind, whether on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability status, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.

The Asia Pacific region is vast and diverse. Each of the NHRIs at this conference addresses a specific range of issues. But there are also common challenges across the spectrum of nations represented. Xenophobia against migrants, discrimination against women, racism and discrimination against LGBTI people are common to every society. Ideas of racial, religious, ethnic or national supremacy have no basis whatsoever in reality. But we are seeing a dramatic increase of hate speech ­– including, but not only, online.

This includes the targeting of some NHRIs, their members and staff for hate speech and discrimination, as well as other, less visible but potent threats of administrative restrictions and budget cuts. If high-profile human rights defenders with institutional backing can be attacked with impunity, this sends a message of fear to others at national or community level who are not afforded the same visibility.

OHCHR will continue to support the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, and UNDP, in the implementation of the guidelines on reprisals and other acts of intimidation against national human rights institutions. That includes monitoring any harassment and smearing of NHRI members and staff, and responding promptly to such cases.

More broadly, the UN Secretary-General recently launched a new Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, with the overriding objective of preventing and combatting this threat. It is crucial for us to band together and stand up to stop hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous.

Technology is transforming not only the delivery of hate speech, and people's access to it, but also its content and the scope of its political influence. In line with the UN Strategy and Plan of Action, I encourage all NHRIs to develop tools for monitoring hate speech, and to work with all kinds of media to prevent its proliferation.

I particularly encourage you to pay close attention to the spread of hate speech on social media and across the Internet, and to evaluate the factors, which may drive individuals towards violence in your countries.

All of us share a common interest - to create inclusive societies that both embrace and celebrate the variety of social and cultural differences of the world's peoples. This conference is an opportunity for you to work together and learn from each other's strategies for combating hate and discrimination in all their forms.

I urge you to use this opportunity to expand regional cooperation on the major human rights challenges in the Asia Pacific region.

My Office stands with you in combating hate and discrimination.

We value the role each of you play as national human rights institutions, in monitoring, reporting and advising governments and civil society on human rights based policies.

You also play a facilitation role, serving as a bridge between domestic and international human rights mechanisms. By conducting consultations and enhancing cooperation among international organizations, national authorities, civil society organizations and victims of discrimination, you are integral to the protection and promotion of human rights. The role of NHRI in preventing and addressing reprisals as part of their support for cooperation between States and the United Nations, has been acknowledged by the Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Office will never falter in our support for your work, including our assistance with capacity building initiatives for the staff of NHRIs.

Thank you.