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Speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

OHCHR 2021 Annual Report

Presentation to Member States

10 June 2022

Delivered by

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


I am pleased to be here today to present the highlights of my Office’s Annual Report for 2021.Thank you for joining us in this presentation.

This report outlines the results achieved in 2021 in line with OHCHR’s 2018-2021 Management Plan. I am happy to say that this plan has allowed us to remain flexible - and relevant - during the COVID-19 response and recovery phases. It has helped us to address the raft of human rights challenges in our rapidly changing world, leading to our decision to extend it until 2023.

The determined efforts of 1,669 UN Human Rights staff members, across our 103 field presences and at headquarters, made our 2021 planned results a reality. I thank them for their dedication.

Global upheaval was a clear marker of the world’s status quo in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continued its rapid spread, with new and more dangerous variants destroying lives and livelihoods. It exposed – and deepened – existing inequalities. Against this backdrop, the climate emergency kept simmering, providing a persistent threat to our survival and to our human rights. And conflicts and wars the world over erupted and endured, ravaging the lives of individuals and extinguishing democracy, peace and security in many countries.

Let me begin this presentation with an overview of our work last year on COVID-19.

2021 marked the second year of the pandemic, its consequences creating massive shocks and setbacks for human rights all around the world. Throughout the year, my Office continued to advocate to place human rights front and centre of response and recovery efforts. We emphasised the critical need for Governments to prioritise social protection, health and other economic and social rights, with a particular focus on vulnerable and marginalised groups.

We persisted with the successful advocacy efforts we had commenced the year prior, calling for action to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 through places of detention. In 2021, this resulted in the urgent release or alternatives to detention for 62,300 people.

We expanded our work with vulnerable groups to provide awareness information on COVID-19. For example, in Moldova, we worked with local partners to distribute information to Roma, people with disabilities and older people. In Iraq, more than 17,000 posters were translated into six minority languages and distributed through 25 districts, enabling to inform minority communities about the impacts of COVID-19, health protection measures and vaccinations. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, we conducted awareness raising for people with disabilities and their families on COVID-19 and available psychological and social support services.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our monitoring, tracking and reporting of human rights issues of concern has been instrumental in providing timely and accurate information for decision-making and advocacy with key stakeholders. For example, in West Africa, we provided daily updates on the infection rate and vaccine administration in the region. In seven West and Central African countries, we partnered with UNICEF and UN Women to implement COVID-19 Rapid Gender Assessments. In collaboration with national authorities, these assessments measured the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls – including issues such as distribution of unpaid care work, education, discrimination and violence – and supported informed and evidence-based policymaking.

I am also proud of the work of our Surge Initiative. Comprised of a team of economic, social and cultural rights experts, and working closely with economists, the Surge Initiative continued its focus on strengthening societies in the COVID-19 recovery phase, making targeted efforts to leave no one behind. Some examples of their work include Ukraine, where they analysed provisions in municipal budgets for social protection, looking at how to improve participation of communities, particularly the most marginalised, in budgetary processes. In Nepal, the team identified and costed the minimum essential elements of the right to adequate health for three marginalized communities of women working in the informal sector, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health. These analyses provide key tools for advocacy. And the Surge Initiative also worked to support the integration of human rights into the UN Country Teams’ work in Zambia and Kenya, focusing on inequalities and the impacts of COVID-19 on marginalised communities.

Let me turn now to some of our other key results for 2021.

As multiple wars and conflicts raged around the world, we continued our work in risk analysis, early warning and accountability for human rights violations to prevent conflict and violence and protect the human rights of affected individuals. As of 2021, we have a total of six emergency response teams established to support UN Country Teams on these processes. An additional three teams will be established in 2022 in East Africa, Central Asia and Pacific.

Our efforts to build and sustain peace remained at the core of our work in 2021. For example, our involvement in the review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy led to the inclusion of stronger language on civic space, the rights of the child, women’s rights and gender equality. In Libya, technical support from my Office strengthened monitoring efforts to ensure effective documentation of conflict-related sexual violence and better coordinated UN responses. And in Yemen, we provided 208 conflict victims with assistance such as legal aid, medical assistance, access to shelter, basic items, psychosocial support and financial assistance.

We maintained a strong focus on addressing inequalities and discrimination. In July 2021, I presented my report and a conference room paper to the Human Rights Council in which I outlined a four-point agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality. Subsequently, the Human Rights Council established an international independent expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement. We also supported the consultation process which led to the General Assembly’s adoption of resolution 75/314 in August, leading to the formal set-up of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.

We strived to increase public recognition for accountability and human rights-based responses to violations. In Somalia, with our support, the Minister of Defence adopted a human rights policy for the Somali National Armed Forces. This important policy reaffirms the promotion and protection of human rights and urges their compliance to prevent all forms of conflict-related sexual violence. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, my Office led or participated in multiple investigations and monitoring missions. We supported 17 mobile courts to address emblematic cases and provided technical assistance to judicial authorities on handling international crimes. A total of 175 convictions were recorded as serious human rights violations.

Around the world, we conducted a total of 83 capacity building activities, attended by more than 2,300 participants including 995 women, to support integration of human rights in development agendas as well as engagement with treaty bodies.

We also provided technical assistance to support the establishment or strengthening of 70 National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up. Sudan for example, established its permanent National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up.

On climate change, arguably the biggest human rights challenge of our era, we continued to raise awareness on the links between human rights and the environment. We launched our own first publication on the issue and worked with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Committee on Capacity-building to develop and launch an e-learning course on human rights and climate change. And in October, the Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution, recognizing, for the first time, the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

As the 2030 deadline fast approaches, we continued to strengthen the UN system’s work in supporting States to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and other development efforts. By integrating human rights analysis and recommendations into the heart of the UN’s development work, we supported 61 Cooperation Frameworks processes for UN Country Teams and Resident Coordinators.

Throughout the year, we also supported the effective implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. For example, in Argentina, we conducted training sessions for local and provincial human rights institutions, leading to the development of a protocol of actions to deal with business-related human rights abuses. In Peru, with our technical support and advocacy efforts, the first national action plan on business and human rights was approved.

We continued our work on leveraging better data, leading to stronger analysis and decision-making on human rights. We provided assistance to enhance human rights-based approaches to data in several countries. We trained over 3,000 people from 145 countries from statistical offices, government ministries, NGOs, academia and the UN on data collection for 20 SDG 16 indicators. With our support, the National Human Rights Institutes and National Statistical Offices in Albania, Jordan, Mongolia, the Philippines and Moldova signed Memorandums of Understandings to establish formal agreements to disaggregate data and integrate human rights into official development statistics. And in Kazakhstan, our advocacy and support led to the integration of human rights indicators into a government Plan of Priority Action on Human Rights and the 2020-2030 Legal Policy Concept Paper.

Additionally, I am pleased to announce that our new global website was launched on 15 March. The site has been transformed in line with UN Web standards and guidelines and the new OHCHR branding. It is now mobile-friendly and more accessible to persons with disabilities. Thousands of pages and documents have been tagged and over 5,000 pages were rewritten or reorganized to make it easier to search. We would like to thank you for your contributions, which made this possible. We will be sharing a survey in due course for your feedback.


Without your continued political and financial support, the results I am presenting to you today - as well as the numerous other achievements outlined in our Annual Report - could not have been achieved. I thank you wholeheartedly for your generosity and your commitment.

In 2021, UN Human Rights received the highest-ever level of voluntary financial support of US$ 227.7 million. This is an increase of US$ 3.4 million compared to 2020. However, our requirements in 2021 were US$ 385 million, meaning that we had a funding gap of US$ 157.3 million.

Moreover, the rapid growth in the number and scope of our mandated activities was not matched by the regular budget allocation. For example, last year alone, the Human Rights Council adopted 65 resolutions with implications on programme budgets. Despite the ever-expanding need for investment in human rights around the world, my Office received only four percent of the total UN regular budget, with an allocation of US$ 131.6 million.

As the world continues to navigate through this period of massive upheaval and crisis, investment in human rights work will become ever-more crucial. Resources required in 2022, if our Office were to address all assistance needs, amount to US$ 400.5 million. As per commitments to date, we are approximately 300 million short. The current level of funding available remains far beneath the scope of the needs and demands. I am deeply concerned by recent developments, linked to the conflict in Ukraine. While many Member States came forward with additional contributions to support our work in Ukraine, some of our largest donors announced significant cuts to the rest of the Office’s funding, which could reach up to US$ 25 million. Unfortunately, we cannot drop our work on the many crises that are ongoing worldwide, in Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, Nicaragua or Ethiopia, to mention just a few. Further cuts in funding will affect our ability to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, and risk reversing progress achieved.

To fulfil our mandate to promote and protect the full range of human rights and freedoms, I take this opportunity to emphasise our ongoing need for predictable, sustained and flexible financial contributions. I am also making a call for unearmarked funds, which enable us to allocate resources to where they are most urgently needed.

I urge Member States today to prioritise human rights in your funding allocations, and to maintain – and increase where possible – your voluntary contributions to my Office. Together, we will be able to enhance our capacity to support nations in upholding their human rights obligations.

As we stand amidst global crisis, we all have an opportunity to do better, and to use human rights as a tool to reverse the setbacks we face. The legacy we must leave for future generations is not only that we listened, but that we took action for real and sustained change.

Thank you for your commitment and support for human rights. And thank you for your attention.