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Statement by Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the plenary of the Third Committee, at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 21 October 2015

Mr. Chairman,
Colleagues and friends,

A year after my appointment as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I am honoured to present the annual report of my Office for August 2014 to July 2015.   It lays bare the urgent need for better human rights protection, across every field of human endeavour.

The turmoil and crises that the international community faces clearly demonstrate the disasters that may occur when human rights are neglected and ground down.   And they will only be solved when States apply the binding human rights commitments to which they have agreed.   It is by insisting on the dignity and worth of every human being, and securing their rights, that our States, together, will thrive.

The right to express dissent or criticism.   The right to peaceful assembly. Freedom from torture and ill-treatment.   The right to decent public services, such as education and health-care.   The right to development.   The right to fair trial, under an impartial rule of law. Freedom from any form of discrimination.   The peaceful resolution of disputes, and in the case of conflict, due protection for civilians and protected locations stipulated by international law.  These are the factors that will generate durable solutions to turmoil.

My Office has engaged with all possible strength, at every level, to urge and assist States to promote and protect the third pillar of the United Nations: the rights of every human that are the core of development and of peace.   OHCHR has identified priority areas that require urgent action in every State, worldwide.  We have investigated abuses and called for accountability across a vast range of complex situations.   And we have assisted, in numerous areas, to build up States' capacity to enhance the rights and well-being of their people. 

 My report provides an overview of OHCHR's work over the reporting period.    I will focus here on a few key areas – notably, elements that can assist in solving the world's multiple migration crises, from better migration governance to nurturing civil society and addressing inequalities through the Sustainable Development Agenda. I will also address OHCHR's vital work with Human Rights Up Front to boost early warning throughout the UN system, and our work in the field.  Finally, I will outline my plans for an organisational change initiative to increase the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of my Office.

 In the past year, humanitarian crises and conflicts have generated the worst human displacement since World War II.   We face a crisis of migration governance globally, and in several regions.   More effective approaches, grounded in the human rights of the people concerned, are urgently needed.   The Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders issued this year by my Office detail criteria for the rights-based governance of borders.

 Since becoming High Commissioner, I have repeatedly attempted to draw greater focus to the rights of migrants, be it their right to life and security of person, their rights to health and education, or the intolerance and xenophobia that drive many violations of migrants’ rights.   As the Secretary General said last week, "there are not two kinds of people: ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ migrants.

 There are only members of our common human family who need protection, assistance and support.   Refugees do have special rights under international law – but all migrants must have human rights protection."

 As co-Chair of the Global Migration Group Working Group on Migration, Human Rights and Gender, my Office has sought to inject a human rights perspective into national, regional and global discussions of migration.   OHCHR has carried out multiple capacity-building activities for key officials and civil society activists in numerous countries, and is finalising a new training package on migration and human rights for government officials, civil society and national human rights institutions.

 In Asia and the Pacific, our staff have monitored multiple ongoing human rights issues around boat arrivals, including trafficking and the detention of migrants.  In the Americas, we have intervened to uphold the rights of migrants and others threatened with deportation.   A new OHCHR study on the human rights of migrants in transit is in preparation, as are plans to train the personnel of the European Union's counter-smuggling operation in the Southern Mediterranean, recently approved by the Security Council. Monitoring missions are also underway in the central Mediterranean, and Aegean and Western Balkan arrival routes.

 Through the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, OHCHR is also responding to conflicts and related refugee movements by providing urgent assistance to 5000 victims of torture, and family members, who have fled the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The Fund's support for multiple specialized rehabilitation centres was made possible by contributions from States and private donors.

 I welcome States' renewed and welcome attention to root causes, in this context. With so many countries locked in internal conflict, the task of re-establishing peace, justice and the rule of law is increasingly urgent.

Notably, insecurity continues to escalate in several countries of the Middle East and North Africa region.  Many States have responded by imposing counter terrorism measures that fall short of international norms, with arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and ill-treatment of thousands of people, as well as harsh restrictions on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

It is particularly vital that countries which face real, and often severe, security concerns recognise that they must address these issues in ways that further the dignity of the people.   Their challenges can be overcome, but only through greater inclusion, including the participation of civil society, women, minorities, youth and an independent press.   A healthy civil society space is the strongest and most durable antidote against violent extremism.   Encouraging such policies will continue to be a priority for my Office, including engagement and assistance by our field presences such as training and capacity-building of law enforcement officials and civil society groups.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

 It is also vital that States address, both singly and together, the economic injustice that holds back development for all, and which drives so many to leave their homes.  Today, 11 children die every minute of preventable causes, and one woman dies every two minutes from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Such extreme inequalities are unjust, divisive and socially corrosive.   They breed economic instability, social unrest and sometimes violent conflict.  This suffering is not inevitable: it is a product of the choices we make.

 The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will save and improve millions of lives.   OHCHR contributed significant input to ensure that human rights – including the right to development – were integrated at the heart of this agenda, which brings unprecedented hope that we can set our planet on a course of greater inclusion, more sustained prosperity and greater justice.    I hope that adoption of the Agenda will give renewed impetus to intergovernmental deliberations on the right to development. 

 Implementation of the Agenda must be monitored to secure accountability to citizens, measuring progress at the local, national, regional and global levels.   Monitoring efforts should build on what we already have, including the wealth of information and recommendations generated by existing human rights monitoring mechanisms, notably the Universal Periodic Review.   Monitoring and review also need to be backed by a human rights-sensitive indicator framework.   I welcome the Agenda`s recognition that it is only by tracking progress for different groups, in all countries, that we can ensure no-one is being left behind, and we must make sure that this political commitment is not diluted.    The development of SDG indicators should not be seen as just a technical exercise.   I urge you to join us in our call for greater disaggregation of data, which is vital to ensuring that the Agenda addresses inequalities and discrimination, including gender discrimination.

 All actors should be held to account, including the private sector.   We have seen significant progress on this important issue since the Human Rights Council's 2011 endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights.   States have started to develop national action plans on business and human rights, and many companies are engaged in genuine efforts to more effectively manage their human rights risks.   However, we need greater leadership and much more robust action by both States and companies if the promise of the Guiding Principles are to be realised, and to address entrenched challenges in this area.

 In the coming year, OHCHR will present recommendations to the Human Rights Council on how States can improve aspects of their legal systems to enhance corporate accountability and improve access to remedy.   We will also step up our advocacy, with both States and companies, for more concerted and effective action on respect for human rights in the context of economic activities, including as it relates to financial institutions.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

 OHCHR's staff have continued to monitor and investigate human rights violations in many regions, often in dangerous and challenging conditions.   During the reporting period, at the request of the Human Rights Council, we deployed an investigation team to Iraq, to report on abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups.   OHCHR also deployed a team to investigate violations committed in Libya since the beginning of 2014, and despite limited resources, has continued monitoring conflict-affected areas of Yemen.   And we deployed human rights teams to Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, to collect information on human rights abuses committed by Boko Haram, as well as violations perpetrated by State armed forces involved in counter-insurgency operations.

 Furthermore, in recent weeks my Office issued a historic report on reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, following a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations human rights during the armed conflict that was mandated by the Human Rights Council.

 The Human Rights Council has also requested my Office to prepare a report on human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.   In addition, OHCHR was requested to urgently undertake a mission to engage with the Government of South Sudan, monitor and report on the situation of human rights, undertake a comprehensive assessment of alleged violations, and make recommendations.

 I note that the Human Rights Council has extended for a further year the mandates of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.   OHCHR also continued to support investigations by commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions in the Central African Republic, Sri Lanka and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

 Among multiple other monitoring and reporting tasks undertaken by OHCHR's field presences, I note our reports on Ukraine, including the conflict in the east of the country.   Throughout the 2014 conflict in Gaza, OHCHR's sub-office remained operational, and as the human rights situation deteriorated across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, OHCHR sub-offices in Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Hebron continued to perform monitoring and reporting activities.

 My Office has sustained its engagement with peace operations, and in the context of humanitarian crises, we deployed rapid response teams to the Central African Republic, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ukraine, Nepal and countries in the Middle East, in relation to the Syria crisis.   My Office also remained strongly engaged in the humanitarian response in Myanmar and Yemen 

 I and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights  who is here with us today, have had multiple opportunities to brief the Security Council on specific country situations – including Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq, South Sudan and Ukraine – and on thematic issues, such as minority rights in the Middle East, protection of civilians, conflict prevention and women, peace and security, and the human rights impact of small arms and light weapons.   I believe these interactions are important early warning tools.
 OHCHR is also active in implementation of the Human Rights Up Front Action Plan, with a view to ensuring UN-wide efforts to prevent grave human rights violations.    An online course has been developed, which will be mandatory for all United Nations staff, which will help integrate human rights into the lifeblood of the entire UN.   We also continue to contribute to the planned common information management system on serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, to ensure rapid and adequate responses across all sectors of the UN's work.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

 With the support of my Office, the Human Rights Council, has continued to be actively engaged in urgent and chronic human rights situations.   In addition to its normal operations, three special sessions were held in the past year, along with an enhanced interactive dialogue on migrants, and a new procedure for informal briefings was added to the Council's toolbox.

 The Council established three new special procedures mandates in the course of the reporting period, on unilateral coercive measures; the rights of persons with albinism; and the right to privacy.   This brought the number of its Special Procedures mandates to 55 mandates and 79 mandate holder positions at 1 July 2015.   The Council also held 22 panel discussions which were organized by OHCHR.

 My Office continued to facilitate reporting by States and civil society to the Universal Periodic Review, and supported the work of the ten human rights treaty bodies, facilitating review of State party reports; the adoption of views and decisions on individual communications; conducting country visits; organizing thematic debates and supporting the drafting of general comments and recommendations.   OHCHR is also supporting implementation of GA resolution 68/268 on strengthening the treaty body system.   This important process relies on your continuous support and sustained attention in lead up to the review of the system in 2020 by the General Assembly.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Work on human rights norms, treaties and recommendations is not a goal in itself.   They must be viewed as means to reach and improve people’s lives.   It is their application – including our work in countries – that makes sure that the human rights norms are useful, living concepts, which enable people to obtain justice for wrongs and protection for their rights.

 Requests for OHCHR to provide field-based technical cooperation have considerably expanded, particularly in follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review.   At July 2015, OHCHR's field presences numbered 64.   We opened a new country office in Burundi in January, and a field-based structure in Seoul in June, with a mandate to work on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea through monitoring, engagement, capacity building and advocacy.    An agreement was also signed to open an office in Honduras.   Conversely, offices in Kosovo and Togo closed, and human rights adviser posts in Ecuador and Honduras were discontinued.

 These resources are significant, and the quality and dedication of our staff are considerable, but they pale in comparison to the challenge of addressing today's human rights crises.  The Office has responded to needs, opportunities and requests from Member States, UN partners and humanity worldwide.  These steadily increasing requests have outpaced our budget.

 Seeking new and better ways of delivering our mandate more effectively and efficiently, I announced, in March, an organisational change initiative.   It capitalizes on our role as the UN’s leading reference point and advocate for human rights, and prioritises working directly and through partners to transform the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms into real changes on the ground.    It will place a premium on partnerships within the UN and across the international system, especially with regional organisations.
 We will achieve this vision within our existing resource budget. We will strengthen our work in New York, to better mainstream human rights in the development and peace and security agendas.  We will recast roles and divisions at Headquarters, to eliminate duplication, consolidate thematic expertise and more effectively support the human rights mechanisms.   And we will set up eight regional hubs, which will establish the more balanced global presence that Member States have long called for, making us fully operational in developed and developing countries alike.

 The hubs will also ensure that we can provide human rights mainstreaming expertise to Member States and regional organisations, as we work together to fulfil the promise of the 2030 Agenda.  They will position OHCHR to deliver on the early warning and prevention aspirations of the Human Rights Up Front Plan of Action.  They will be able to provide surge capacity when needed, and make OHCHR more accessible to States that request support to implement the recommendations of the treaty bodies, UPR, and other human rights mechanisms.   I count on Member States to support this change initiative, which, as I have noted, does not entail any additional resources.

OHCHR's work in defence of human rights has had significant impact on the lives of millions of individuals worldwide.   Our strong advocacy is valued, and our assistance is sought by many States and actors.   I ask for your support in continuing to strive for a world that is more secure, more prosperous, more equal and more just.

Thank you.