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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Address by Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - Introduction of the Annual Report, 4 March 2010, Geneva

04 March 2010

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

            I am pleased to present to the Human Rights Council my Annual Report which covers activities that OHCHR has undertaken in 2009.  In my introduction, I will highlight some of its key aspects, as many issues covered in the Annual Report are likely to engage us during our interactive dialogue.  I will also update you on specific situations.  I welcome every opportunity to exchange views with the Human Rights Council regarding our respective tasks and our collaboration.

            I recall with satisfaction that last year, my Office supported the Council in its wide and expansive range of activities, including its special sessions.

            It is now imperative that States devote their utmost effort to implement the Council’s recommendations and involve all relevant stakeholders to help them discharge this vital task.

            To this effect, independent expert mechanisms have continued to help the Council, the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies and entities.

            The Special Procedures now benefit from the work of 55 mandate holders, including the new Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights.   My Office facilitated the selection process for new mandate holders and their integration into the system.  To maximize their contribution, States should ensure that these experts are enabled to work in full independence and latitude.  Candid and robust interaction with governments flows directly from mandate holders’ knowledge, independence, and operational space. Let me take this opportunity to renew my call on States to invite mandate holders to visit their countries.

            I have information, as have Special Procedures, that individuals have faced reprisals following their cooperation with human rights mechanisms. A report on this issue will be before you at your next session. I urge States to ensure that those who are in contact with special procedures are protected against reprisals.  

            I have made the Council and the General Assembly aware of the fact that additional capacity and regular budget resources are required for my Office to ensure that new special procedures mandates can be supported and that additionally mandated activities can be implemented effectively without prejudice to other mandated areas of the experts’ work.

            The considerable workload of the treaty body system presents many challenges for my Office, including management of the expanding work of these mechanisms without a commensurate increase in resources.

            In my recent statements before the HRC and General Assembly, I also called on stakeholders to develop proposals which could enable the system to be more rational, coherent, coordinated and effective. I believe that treaty body experts are optimally placed to initiate such reflection and achieve the requisite balance between the specificity of tasks and the coherence of outcome. I welcome future initiatives in this regard.

            I have already had the opportunity to present the six priority areas of activity which OHCHR will focus on in the next biennium.  All of them already form an integral part of my Office’s work.

            Countering discrimination, in particular racism and intolerance, as well as exclusion on the grounds of sex, disability, religion, against indigenous groups and national minorities, and against others who are marginalized is one such priority. This emphasis was reflected in our selection of last years’ Human Rights Day theme which was “Embrace diversity, end discrimination.”   Under our coordination, a wide range of activities were carried out worldwide in partnership with a variety of stakeholders and advocates.

            And in this spirit OHCHR had worked strenuously to ensure the successful outcome of the review conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which was held in April 2009 in Geneva.
           Following the Durban Review Conference, I established an in-house Task Force to develop strategies to effectively implement the recommendations of both the DDPA and the Outcome Document. This has also led to the strengthening of OHCHR’s Anti Discrimination Section.
           I attach great importance to improved implementation of indigenous peoples’ and minority rights, and my Office has supported activities to enhance the visibility and impact of the pertinent Declarations, as well as other key standards. The focus of the Expert Mechanisms on the Right of Indigenous peoples on the right to education was particularly relevant in this regard.
           The past year has seen women’s rights and gender issues at the top of the global agenda. The 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the decision to create a new consolidated UN gender architecture, and clear confirmation by the Security Council that sexual violence against women in conflict is a threat to international peace and security, have all created an important momentum for action. During 2009, I enhanced the capacity and expertise on gender issues in four of our regional offices to integrate a gender-dimension into national policies and programmes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
           The rule of law forms the foundation of legal protection of human rights and combating impunity. In 2009 my Office continued to play a lead role within the UN system to strengthen accountability, good governance and the rule of law.  We worked with governments and other national actors, providing technical advice and assistance. We also briefed the Security Council at its request, on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, on the application of humanitarian law in conflict situations, on protection issues, and on human rights and counter-terrorism measures.
           Carrying through OHCHR’s lead role on transitional justice within the UN system, my Office convened an Expert Workshop on Lessons Learned and Future Directions on Transitional Justice in May 2009.
           The primary guardians of ensuring accountability and champions in combating impunity at the national level are the various components of the formal justice system and law enforcement agencies. Throughout 2009, OHCHR continued to work with these duty-bearers to help them discharge their responsibilities.  OHCHR also continued to provide technical assistance to States on constitution making and constitutional reform.
           My Office advocates a human rights approach to migration, including through its active participation in the Global Migration Group. This approach places human rights principles and standards at the centre of migration and uses the human rights mechanisms to protect migrant women, men and children from violations at all stages of the migratory process.
           I have previously briefed you on our activities and approach in response to the financial and economic crises. With regard to the global food crisis, my Office actively participated in the High Level Task Force for the Global Food Security Crisis, and in November 2009 the Deputy High Commissioner participated in the World Summit on Food.

Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
           In September 2009 the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was opened for signature. OHCHR was directly involved in supporting the process of the adoption of the Optional Protocol, and will continue to work towards the ratification of this important instrument for providing redress to rights holders.
           The promotion and realization of the right to development remains a key dimension of our work. The consensus achieved in the intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development over the past years marked progress in translating this right from political commitment to development practice.   I regret, however, that a vote was called for at the last session of the Council when it adopted the resolution on the right to development, and there were several abstentions. I trust that consensus will be restored as early as possible. To this end, I look forward to the forthcoming session of the Working Group in April.  I also look to the Working Group and the Council for guidance regarding ways to mark the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development in 2011.
           In this context, I wish to point out that my Office has paid increasing attention to mainstreaming human rights in national poverty-reduction strategies and supporting the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.
           Turning now to our activities in the field, let me stress that, since my last report to the Human Rights Council, new OHCHR field presences have been established. I inaugurated the United Nations Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region in Doha, Qatar, and the Regional Office for Europe in Brussels, Belgium. I also signed an agreement with the Government of Mauritania to establish an OHCHR country office. The renewal of existing agreements is an encouraging sign and, in this context, I would like to thank the Governments of Uganda, Cambodia and Chile for their continued trust and cooperation.
           Our rapid response unit provided support to fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry in Gaza and Guinea, and to missions aimed at providing technical advice to the UN country teams in the aftermath of crises, such as those in Honduras, Madagascar and now in Haiti.
           We were also actively engaged with UN Country Teams, deploying additional human rights advisers. We secured the endorsement of the UN Development Group for an ambitious proposal to strengthen support for mainstreaming human rights into the country level work of UN partners.
           To reinforce national protection systems, OHCHR continued to support the establishment and strengthening of national human rights institutions.  We also seek to bolster cooperation and dialogue between regional and international human rights mechanisms.  In this context, let me extend a warm welcome and OHCHR’s support to the newly created ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
           Last year we worked to develop our third Strategic Management Plan (SMP), which was launched in January 2010.  The plan sets forth our expected accomplishments and operational strategy for the 2010-2011.  The SMP is based on Programme 19 of the Secretary-General’s Strategic Framework, which is reviewed and approved every two years by the General Assembly.  In effect, the SMP provides us with the detailed operational plan and the management tools we need to enact the Strategic Framework. 

Mr. President,
           Now I wish to offer some updates regarding the human rights situation in different parts of the world.  I will outline both situations of concern and positive developments. In the interest of time, I will only discuss a few outstanding cases. This presentation is, therefore, in no way exhaustive. Later in this session OHCHR country-related reports on Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Honduras, Nepal, Sierra Leone, as well as on the occupied Palestinian territory will be presented. 
           In Sri Lanka, I welcome the progress made in returning displaced persons, and hope the review and release of security detainees can similarly be expedited.  But the opportunity for peace and reconciliation continues to be marred by the treatment of journalists, human rights defenders and other critics of the Government.  I am convinced that Sri Lanka should undertake a full reckoning of the grave violations committed by all sides during the war, and that the international community can be helpful in this regard.
            I remain deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran where there has been a violent crackdown on dissent, including the arbitrary arrest of demonstrators, human rights activists, journalists and prominent political figures. Many have been given harsh sentences, including capital punishment, for their role in post-election protests after questionable trials.  I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with the Iranian delegation during the recent UPR, and have suggested that the authorities allow my Office to visit Iran.
           On a more positive note, I wholeheartedly welcome the announcement by President Tsakhia Elbegdorj in Mongolia of a formal moratorium on the death penalty. I commend the leadership shown by several Member States on this issue in the Asia-Pacific region to address the fact that more executions continue to take place there than in the rest of the world combined.

            Turning now to Africa, let me underscore that, on 22 October 2009, the Heads of States of the African Union set a global precedent, reaching agreement on a regional treaty which seeks to prevent the forced displacement of populations inside countries and safeguard the rights of those who have been internally displaced.
           I am pleased to announce that OHCHR and the African Union Commission have recently confirmed their longstanding cooperation to promote and protect human rights in Africa by signing a Memorandum of Understanding during the 14th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January-February this year.
           Throughout 2009, I met with representatives of Sudan and expressed deep concern over death sentences and executions imposed and carried out in that country.  I note the Presidential pardon of all alleged combatants of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).  However, the wave of executions, including of six men executed as recently as 14 January 2010 is deeply troubling.  A positive step in the peace process in Sudan was last month’s Framework Agreement between the Government of Sudan and JEM, which was reached with the help of Qatar and Chad.  I am concerned, however, over recent reports of fighting in the Jebel Mara. All parties should make the protection of civilians their utmost priority and I encourage all armed movements to enter into dialogue for peace and to respect the right to life.
           Let me take this opportunity to underline the excellent cooperation between the United Nations, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West-African States (ECOWAS) in relation, to the violence that erupted in Guinea last September. The international Commission of Inquiry into the events and their aftermath, as you know, was called for by the AU and ECOWAS, and established by the UN Secretary General “with a view to determining the accountability of those involved.”  One of the recommendations of the CoI is that OHCHR establish an office in Guinea.  OHCHR has received full support from the current authorities and the United Nations system in this regard.
           Last month, I visited the Central African Republic, where I met with various government authorities and representatives of civil society, focusing on the critical place of human rights in the context of the peace process and upcoming elections.
           Earlier this week, I called on the Egyptian Government to immediately order its security forces to stop using “lethal force” against unarmed migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert.  There have been some 60 fatal shootings over the past two and a half years.  An urgent and independent inquiry into these killings must be conducted.
           In October, when I opened our regional office in Brussels, I raised issues of persisting concern, particularly combating discrimination against migrants and minorities, such as the Roma. While the European Union and some European governments have sought to improve the situation of Roma, in many other countries, including Slovakia and the Czech Republic, their condition appears to be deteriorating. In addition, Roma in many European countries continue to face open racism and racially motivated attacks from non-state actors. I will raise the issue of discrimination and attacks against Roma, as well as against migrants, with Italian authorities when I visit that country next week and will continue to do so wherever appropriate. I commend the Hungarian delegation which organised a side-event on the situation of Roma in Europe this session of the Council.

            Reports over the past year of a spate of attacks on Indian residents in Australia are also disturbing.  While the Australian authorities have questioned whether these incidents were racially-motivated, there is a need for concerted attention by federal and state authorities, both in terms of the investigation and prosecution of such crimes, as well as addressing the root causes behind such violence.
           At various forums, I have also consistently voiced my concern regarding attacks against human rights defenders and my dismay at the impunity of their assailants. These are subjects that I will continue to prioritize in the future and shall also discuss in the course of my upcoming visit to the Russian Federation in May.
            I wish to note that in parts of Central Asia, freedom of expression and association continue to be severely curtailed.  To ameliorate human rights conditions, I urge Uzbekistan to extend cooperation to the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Asia.  Moreover, both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan should also invite additional special procedures’ visits to their countries.  
           Over a year ago, I welcomed the decision of the United States to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay and to ban methods of interrogation, transfer and detention that contravene international law. Since then some progress has been made.  The United States should now conduct thorough investigations into allegations of torture at the detention centres in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, account for practices that may have contravened international law, and hold violators to account.
           Let me note that in the course of my visit to Brazil last November, I signed a Memorandum of Intent envisaging a three-way partnership between Brazil, OHCHR and other countries that request help in the field of human rights.
           At the opening of this Council’s session I mentioned my concern over the situation in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. I also wish to underscore that, despite the global effort to assist the population, essential services and essential means of subsistence have not yet reached a significant portion of the affected population.  The lack of food, water, shelter, and medical assistance continues to jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of countless Haitians.  I am particularly concerned about the most vulnerable people, including the injured, the aging and the disabled, as well as orphaned children and those separated from their parents. In response to the disaster, OHCHR - jointly with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees - has dispatched a mission to Haiti to support the human rights team there in helping to coordinate the protection efforts of both international and national actors. In partnership with the Government and supporting UN agencies, OHCHR is engaged to ensure that human rights are put at the centre of all humanitarian and reconstruction activities.
           Let me conclude my presentation by urging  all Members of the Human Rights Council to wholly pursue and fulfil the pledges and commitments they made when they sought  membership in this body.   Indeed, all States and all stakeholders must join efforts in the vital task of responding to the expectations and needs of countless victims all over the world.  I look forward to our interactive dialogue, a practice that is of great benefit to me and to my colleagues. 
      Thank you.