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Human Rights Council holds annual discussion on technical cooperation

MORNING

25 March 2015

The Human Rights Council this morning held its annual discussion on technical cooperation, focusing on the issue of technical cooperation to support inclusive and participatory development and poverty eradication at the national level.

Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council, in his introductory remarks, said that the discussion today would focus on the issue of technical cooperation to support inclusive and participatory development and poverty eradication at the national level.

Anders Kompass, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening statement, said that poverty and the associated marginalization and social exclusion of generations of human beings was a terrible and avoidable violation of human rights. A human rights-based approach to poverty required dismantling of discrimination and other barriers that generated and sustained poverty. The discrimination and social barriers that held back marginalized groups would only give way if there was true inclusion, well beyond consultation and information-sharing.

Thani Thongphakdi, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva and panel moderator, said that the panel would address the intertwined relations between two of the three pillars of the United Nations system: human rights and development. As the world was embarking on future development goals, no one must be left behind; everyone must be able to take part and benefit from development.

José Manuel Fresno García, Director of Fresno, the Right Link, and Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, said that with the global economic and financial crisis, a shift in policy in the European Union had occurred, austerity policies had been adopted, and most of the European Union citizens had seen their social rights diminished. What was needed was a rights-based approach to structural reforms and social investment measures in order to prevent further negative social consequences.

Ali Bin Samikh Al Marri, Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission, said that one of the roles of national human rights institutions was to monitor the implementation of national and United Nations plans which aimed to eradicate poverty. This included monitoring the compliance of national legislation with international laws and obligations and drawing the attention of States to gaps.
Qatar was devising national economic plans that aimed to increase prosperity of all, particularly in the field of development and fair distribution of benefits arising from economic growth.

Jyoti Sanghera, Chief of the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the poor had the right to participate in decisions about the design, implementation and monitoring of poverty reduction interventions. The right to participation was a crucial and complex human right that was inextricably linked to fundamental democratic principles. Meaningful participation of the poor could not happen without ensuring their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the right to information and an elementary level of economic security and well-being.

Esther Mwaura-Muiru, Founder and Coordinator of GROOTS Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood, Kenya, spoke about the African Union’s Agenda to 2063 which visualized an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena. Kenya was at the heart of this agenda, but grassroots women had no ability to participate in decision making. The lack of basic infrastructure constrained the ability of women living in poverty to organize themselves, and there was a need to fund the empowerment of women and civil society.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations said that this year was specifically important for global poverty eradication as the world was finalizing the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. The advancement of technical cooperation at the national level needed to be seen in conjunction with the strengthening of the third pillar of the United Nations, namely human rights, and it was essential to allocate a greater share of the United Nations budget to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. States had the primary obligation for the promotion and protection of human rights and had to have national ownership of development programmes. When providing technical cooperation, the international community must obtain the consent of the State concerned and respect its national circumstances and the priorities set by that State.

Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Ecuador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Australia, Morocco, India, United States, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Turkey, Indonesia, China, Venezuela, Republic of the Congo, Norway, Libya, Paraguay, Algeria, Cuba, the Maldives, Sudan, Viet Nam, and France took the floor.

The non-governmental organizations participating in the discussion were Advocates for Human Rights, European Disability Forum, Association of World Citizens, and Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik.

The Council is holding a full day of meetings today. At noon, it will hear the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Iraq in light of abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups, followed by an interactive discussion. The Council will then hear the presentation of country reports on Bolivia, Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Guinea, and South Sudan, followed by interactive discussion.

Opening Statements

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, in his introductory remarks, said that the annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation would focus on the issue of technical cooperation to support inclusive and participatory development and poverty eradication at the national level.

ANDERS KOMPASS, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his opening statement, said that poverty and the associated marginalization and social exclusion of generations of human beings was a terrible and avoidable violation of human rights, including the capacity to fully enjoy the rights to food, adequate health, education, security, access to justice and political participation. A human rights approach to poverty required dismantling of discrimination and other barriers that generated and sustained poverty, including legislation on land rights, location and funding of schools and hospitals, and traditional practices that entrenched prejudice. It was vital to note that women might bear a particularly heavy burden of poverty and social exclusion, as they were often exposed to discrimination based on their sex, in addition to the same discriminatory factors that faced men; this discrimination was likely to have an acute impact on their children, and children's children. The discussion today was an opportunity to share insights into the multi-dimensional nature of poverty, and to exchange experiences of how true social and economic equality could be pursued through participatory approaches to development.

The report of the High Commissioner on technical assistance provided by his Office to support inclusive and participatory development and poverty reduction at the national level presented initiatives that demonstrated potential for real impact, and which might serve as examples for others to analyse and emulate. One of the key lessons was that the discrimination and social barriers that held back marginalized groups would only give way if there was true inclusion – well beyond consultation and information-sharing. People must be able to take an active part in decision-making at all stages; participation was not a last-minute gloss that legitimized predetermined outcomes. Meaningful and effective participation also demanded that people were able to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, so that they could exchange ideas and mobilize opinions. They must also be able to freely and safely challenge injustice through real processes for social, political and judicial accountability.

Statements by the Moderator and Panellists

THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva and moderator, asked the Experts several questions: how were human rights and development interlinked and mutually reinforcing? How could national human rights institutions promote the realization of rights in poverty eradication? How could the effectiveness of technical assistance and international human rights obligations be enhanced, and how could civil society be engaged in promoting inclusive and participatory development.

JOSÉ MANUEL FRESNO GARCÍA, Director and Founder, Fresno, the Right Link, and Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, said that Roma were still facing discrimination and exclusion in Spain, his country. However enormous changes in the last 30 years had led to progress and greater access to rights for Roma. The engagement of the Roma communities in understanding and claiming their rights in order to become full citizens had been very important. Likewise, the contribution of civil society organizations, including Roma civil society, had been crucial for empowering Roma communities, for influencing effective policies from the public institutions for access and enjoyment to education, employment, health care and housing, and for increasing awareness of the society about the need of the Roma to enjoy their rights and to become effectively integrated in the society. While substantial improvements in legislation related to human rights had taken place in the European Union in the previous decade, many citizens had experienced a rapid reversal of achievement. With the global economic and financial crisis, a shift in policy had occurred, austerity policies had been adopted, and most of the European Union citizens had seen their social rights diminished. Within that context, the Expert suggested that what was needed was a rights-based approach to structural reforms and social investment measures in order to prevent further negative social consequences. At an institutional level, it was advised that the European Union ratify the European Convention of Human Rights and promote and improve the participation of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion. Many people were not aware of their rights nor did they know how to claim them. The improvement of participatory development could be made by capacity building of people who had experienced rights’ violations, fostering mutual help, supporting those people and ensuring the respect of fundamental rights in times of austerity.

THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, asked the next panellist to share the best practices of Qatar and other countries in the Middle East.

ALI BIN SAMIKH AL MARRI, Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission, said that national human rights institutions had the role to monitor the implementation of national and United Nations development plans which aimed to eradicate poverty. Countries should ensure that all enjoyed human rights, especially the poor. This included monitoring the compliance of national legislation with international laws and obligations and drawing the attention of States to gaps. Qatar was devising national economic plans that aimed to increase prosperity of all, particularly in the field of development and fair distribution of benefits arising from economic growth. Education and health had been improved and Qatar ranked 37 on the human development index, and particular attention was being given to the situation of youth. Qatar had also increased its international cooperation with a number of countries around the world. There was a relationship between development and poverty and Qatar had in place 11 axes for development post-2015. During the last 10 years, the population of Qatar had doubled and 85 per cent were migrant workers. That was why Qatar was paying particular attention to the rights of migrant workers and to addressing the issue of human trafficking, which was criminalized. The National Human Rights Commission contributed to the protection of rights of migrant workers by undertaking unannounced visits, providing legal assistance to migrants, receiving complaints and providing the help line.

Turning to the next panellist, THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, said that technical assistance from the international community played an instrumental role in helping States meet their human rights obligations and asked Dr. Sanghera about the technical assistance programmes of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and whether the Office could do more.

JYOTI SANGHERA, Chief of the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was often believed that the identity of people living in poverty was defined by what they needed, that the poor were apathetic, retreated into dependency, and struggled to survive on a daily basis. Yet the historical identity of people in poverty was one of immeasurable resilience, persistent resistance and inalienable dignity. Eradicating poverty demanded learning from those in poverty what poverty was and how it was experienced, including what it meant to be condemned for life to social exclusion and stigma. It meant putting the poor at the centre of service provision and amplifying their voice in policy making. Poverty was now seen as multidimensional and not only economical, and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen described it as de facto lack of political rights and freedoms, vulnerability to coercive relations, and exclusion from economic choices and protections. A rights-based approach to development implied that the poor had not just needs but rights, entitlements that gave rise to legal obligations on the part of duty bearers. The poor had the right to participate in decisions about the design, implementation and monitoring of poverty reduction interventions. The right to participation was a crucial and complex human right that was inextricably linked to fundamental democratic principles; specific participation mechanisms varied greatly from one context to another and one size did not fit all. Meaningful participation of the poor could not happen without ensuring their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and the right to information and an elementary level of economic security and well-being.

ESTHER MWAURA-MUIRU, Founder and Coordinator of GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood) in Kenya, responded to the question on how her organization had helped strengthen the role of grassroots women in community development. Referring to the famous narrative “Africa is Rising,” Ms. Mwaura-Muiru stated that the African Union had convened its members to endorse the 50 year vision that affirmed Member States’ commitment to take advantage of a fast economic growing continent. This road map, popularly referred to as the 2063 Agenda, visualized an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena. However many nations in Africa over the last decades had been plagued with corrupt rulers who plundered national wealth, severe and recurrent internal conflicts and wars, manmade and natural disasters worsened by poor governance and climate change, sporadic outbreak of disease, the breakdown of family structures, inequality between poor and rich and men and women, and the lack of access to sanitation and clean water. Kenya was at the heart of Rising Africa, and its Government was banking on the exploitation of newly found natural minerals, gas and coal. However grassroots women had no ability to participate in decision making. Out of the elected 290 National Assembly members, only 5.5 per cent were women. The lack of basic infrastructure constrained the ability of women living in poverty to organize themselves. Funding for the empowerment of women and civil society was needed. The relocation of resources from the exploitation of natural resources had to have a human rights approach, ensuring that there was a long-term benefit to the citizens. Ms. Mwaura-Muiru called for the removal of structural barriers that prevented women from participating in the political economy, and called for the international community to stop the use of the term “poor.”

Discussion

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, underlined that technical assistance was crucial for capacity building, the transformation of countries and the monitoring and protection of human rights. Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that the international community could play a key role by providing technical cooperation and advisory services for inclusive development and building and strengthening national frameworks. European Union said that the effective implementation of development policies should be mainly made at the national level with the key participation of the private sector and civil society. Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, reaffirmed the importance of cooperation and solidarity amongst countries to support the eradication of poverty and the inclusion of vulnerable groups. Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that technical assistance should be based on a State’s consent and the existence of a direct link between the assistance and the needs of the State. Australia showed its commitment to contribute to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and in strengthening gender equality and women’s empowerment through technical cooperation assistance.

Morocco called for strengthening the financial capacities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enable it to implement technical cooperation programmes for African and least developed countries. India fully acknowledged the primacy of the role of the State in the promotion and protection of human rights and said that international cooperation should never lose sight of this tenet; States themselves were best placed to devise their development plans and set their development priorities. United States said that each State had the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights; Governments which created space for freedom of expression and association and for civil society reaped democratic benefits. Poverty was not only linked to lack of income, said Qatar, stressing that in its national strategy it had invested in sustainable development in order to give opportunity to everyone. Sierra Leone had launched its Agenda for Prosperity 2013 which set out the vision to become a middle-income country by 2035, with inclusive, green economy and 80 per cent of the population living beyond the poverty line. This year was specifically important for global poverty eradication as the world was negotiating the post-2015 development agenda, said Turkey, stressing that it was important to ensure that the end product of development was enjoyed by all.

Advocates for Human Rights called on the Council to ensure the rights of non-citizens in poverty without legal status living in the United States, particularly migrant workers and undocumented immigrants. European Disability Forum, speaking on behalf of International Disability Alliance, stated that a precise mention of persons with disabilities and disaggregated data by disability status should be included in the development agenda.

Responses by Panellists

THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, asked the panellists to respond to the question on providing concrete examples on areas where national human rights institutions could contribute to poverty alleviation by human rights. He also asked them to respond to the question on how to ensure that technical cooperation was based on clear objectives and aims and responsive to the dynamic of change in development.

JOSÉ MANUEL FRESNO GARCÍA, Director and Founder of Fresno of the Right Link, and Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, stated that 50 percent of people belonging to ethnic minorities did not feel discriminated against, although they were. Very few of these who felt discriminated against, complained. The reasons were lack of trust in the institutions, little knowledge on complaints procedures, and the belief that even if they complained nothing would happen. In 2001, a network of seven non-governmental organizations in Spain had been established, working with 800 discriminated persons annually. Since 2000 another programme was working on persons with disabilities, Roma and migrants, with the help of the European Union. This programme had tackled half a million people and over half of these accessed employment. For each euro invested in these people, the economic return was 1.40 euro. These two examples had four things in common: cooperation between the European Union and national cooperation; adequate policies for making effective legislation; access to legislation and policies; and the active engagement of civil society organizations.

ALI BIN SAMIKH AL MARRI, Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission,
stated that as far as national human rights institutions and their strengthening was concerned, especially for those suffering from poverty, it was clear that the Paris Principles played a crucial role. The creation of such institutions had the objective of strengthening human rights, and their mandates and roles for the protection of human rights in relation to poverty. Their primary role was to encourage the State to accede to international conventions in the area of human rights. These institutions should focus on the needs of individuals, especially women, and listen to what people had to say. On the basis of that, they had to find solutions for cases that dealt with discrimination and human rights. Raising awareness in the area of human rights was something that these institutions did well. These organizations would carry out this work through seminars, conferences and other activities.

ESTHER MWAURA-MUIRU, Founder and Coordinator of GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood), Kenya, said in response to how national human rights institutions could support those living in poverty to participate and to get the right to development, it should be stressed that the right to organize was very important. They needed to ensure that there was enough investment for people to organize themselves. The second issue was the right to a voice, how could communities find themselves in a situation where they could debate and contribute to issues that concerned them. National human rights institutions must be able to ensure this and should invest on those two issues and provide adequate resources to poor people in order to encourage their organization and participation. She had worked with communities affected by extractive industries; the women there lived in sheer poverty, they had not seen the agreements between the Government and the extractive industries and they could not participate in these agreements. They had been told that they must move out, but they did not know their rights. Communities must be given adequate resources and time to work with the authorities.

JYOTI SANGHERA, Chief of the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said concerning the role of national human rights institutions, she wanted to amplify further on the example given by Ms. Mwaura-Muiru. Extractive industries were one area where disempowered communities were being displaced, faced by the power of corporations and multinationals that was so immense. Women human rights defenders working on land had enormous struggles. She had spoken to women who said that they had no option other than to carry out hunger strikes. It was necessary for national human rights institutions to carry out mapping of such communities where there was such a life and death struggle. This was happening in some areas, and it was critical to centre on these communities and their needs. There had been good examples where institutions had mapped such communities and it was necessary for these communities to be involved in knowing where they would be relocated, to look at what alternative housing would be provided, how close was it to schools and work, whether there was water and sanitation accessible, and whether there was light available next to sanitation facilities. These were very practical aspects and they could only come to light when the participation of the community was ensured. Clear assessments at the national level were fundamental and this could only be ensured with cooperation with national authorities. Intersectionality of discrimination was also critical in such situations.

Discussion

Indonesia said that one of its priorities was to improve the quality of education, and create social welfare and a prosperous Indonesia with the participation of all stakeholders, and reiterated the importance of technical cooperation to this end. China called on the international community to continue to pay attention to the eradication of poverty in developing countries, to obtain the consent of the State concerned, and to respect the national circumstances and priorities set by that State when providing technical cooperation. Cooperation was the cornerstone of the Council and a manner to improve human rights situations via assistance and capacity building in consultation and with consent of States, said Venezuela, adding that this would only be successful if national policies were focused on the needs of the people and aimed to reduce social inequality. Republic of Congo said that the main obligation of the United Nations organizations was to support States and not compete with Governments in development programmes. Norway said that advancement of technical cooperation at the national level needed to be seen in conjunction with strengthening the third pillar of the United Nations, namely human rights, and it was essential to allocate a greater share of the United Nations budget to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Libya stressed the importance of national ownership of development programmes and the need for accountability, transparency and monitoring of all stages.

Paraguay stated that technical cooperation must work on building national capacities, with a particular focus on economic, social and cultural rights, and stressed the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation. Algeria stressed that it was up to each country to determine its own national strategy in development, and that technical cooperation should take into consideration these national choices. Cuba said that it would continue to share its experience, and promote projects such as “Miracle,” and “I can,” reminding that over 51,000 Cuban health workers worked in over 60 countries in the world. Maldives said that extreme poverty remained persistent in least developed countries. Small island developing States faced many constraints, especially due to the current climate change. Sudan said that developing countries had always called for the realization of the right to development. The fight against poverty required particular attention from States. Viet Nam shared the view that technical cooperation should be based on close consultations with States and the different stakeholders and by developing guidelines and strategies of comprehensive policies and programmes. France attached great importance to cooperation to eradicate poverty in the future and underlined its determination to fight poverty and fully participate with expertise to respond to countries’ needs.

Association of World Citizens said that there were not enough opportunities for the realization of several rights such as the right to health, and that through cooperation that could change. Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that combatting poverty should start with the identification of poor people: by making them visible and providing the exact data.

Concluding Remarks

JYOTI SANGHERA, Chief of the Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, raised three points. First, the importance of looking at temporal and special measures for marginalized and discriminated groups. That could strengthen the existing structures and make them more democratic and participatory. In that sense, participation should be inclusive of the marginalized groups. The second issue was the need to look at accountability frameworks; to put in place mechanisms for accountability; to set indicators which could capture the several issues discussed such as human rights indicators; to look at the budgeting and programmatic aspects; and to collect data and disaggregate it. Finally, the Expert underlined the importance of acknowledging the ownership of the people who were mostly affected.

ESTHER MWAURA-MUIRU, Founder and Coordinator of Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood, said governments had the primary responsibility of protecting human rights, and citizens had the primary role to hold their governments accountable. Money for women’s organizations to hold their governments accountable had reduced in recent years. Civil society needed more money to hold their governments accountable, and donors needed to address this need. Pragmatic and viable citizen participation roadmaps had to be put together. Ending poverty would require that the most vulnerable people be considered as parts of development, and not just as beneficiaries. Institutions that promoted equality and participation were needed. A gender sensitive approach to poverty measurement was also important.

ALI BIN SAMIKH AL MARRI, Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission, said the United Nations Development Programme had launched a programme for development plans, including consultations involving many United Nations agencies. Cooperation between all stakeholders was necessary for the realization of the right to development. Transparency was important on how funds provided by international donors were used. It was important that countries adopted a national plan in the area of human rights. National human rights institutions played a very important role for the protection and promotion of human rights. He urged all countries to establish such institutions and bring them in line with the Paris Principles.

JOSÉ MANUEL FRESNO GARCÍA, Director and Founder of Fresno, the Right Link, and Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, said it was important to take into account mainstream policies and how they took a human rights-based approach. Mainstream policies often created segregation or exclusion. Mainstream policies for social and economic development should follow horizontal principles related to human rights. Providing tools for effective implementation was critical. Effective monitoring was also an important point, and required the establishment of measurement indicators. Finally, capacity building of the relevant actors and public institutions had to be strengthened.

THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, recalled that States had the primary responsibility to promote and protect human rights. Promoting technical cooperation and capacity building was however important to fill the gaps and support States in overcoming challenges. It was important to empower communities, and in particular the most vulnerable, including women, children and migrants, to help influence policies. Raising awareness and addressing issues relating to discrimination was key for such empowerment. Civil society, the private sector and national human rights institutions had an important role to play. The establishment of indicators and disaggregated data was important to monitor progress and ensure that policies were inclusive and left no-one behind.

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