High-level dialogue with relevant United Nations entities on the promotion of preventive approaches within the UN system
04 March 2014
4 March 2014
Mr President, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to open this high-level dialogue with relevant United Nations entities on the promotion of preventive approaches within the UN system.
The interest of the Human Rights Council in this major issue is entirely fitting, as prevention lies at the heart of its mandate. General Assembly resolution 60/251 states that the Human Rights Council must contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies.
Every day, events demonstrate the need to accelerate the transformation of human rights principles into concrete results. All States face difficulties in their work towards the full achievement of all human rights. Limited resources are often invoked as the main challenge, but conflicts, corruption, racism and intolerance, inadequate systems, and impunity are other major obstacles.
But, as the Secretary-General’s initiative called Rights Up Front points out, the consequences of failing to prevent serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are all too evident, whether for individuals, countries, or regions. In terms of lost lives and people displaced, the price paid due to these failures has been staggering.
Protecting human rights can help prevent armed conflict and mass atrocities. Deterioration in respect for human rights can be a telling sign of impending crisis. Success in promoting and protecting rights and in ensuring accountability for the violation of human rights, can offer effective means to de-escalate conflict and to forestall the human and financial cost of humanitarian crises. Once conflict erupts, the imperative is to use all practical means to protect civilians. At these times, respect for international humanitarian law is critical, as is respect for human rights.
This event today provides an opportunity to discuss how the UN system as a whole is engaged in helping States prevent human rights violations. We will hear from colleagues working in the political, humanitarian, development and human rights field about how UN programmes and activities contribute to prevention, about their good practices and their challenges.
For all of us in the UN system, the starting point is our Charter, expressing determination to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
These high goals have demanded heavy United Nations investment in prevention and have made prevention one of the top priorities in the Secretary-General’s 2012-to-2017 five-year action agenda. This agenda sets out a new policy framework and an operations matrix to chart progress and identify gaps in the use of a range of human rights instruments.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The duty of States to take legislative, administrative and other appropriate measures to prevent human rights violations is well established in law. But the persistence of human rights violations around the world clearly demonstrates that States still have much work to do.
Increasingly, assistance is at hand. UN entities are working harder than ever before to strengthen the preventive dimension of their human rights activities in cooperation and constructive engagement with States and civil society. To strengthen this role, six action points were highlighted in the Rights Up Front initiative that can make a qualitative difference in the way the UN System meets its responsibilities:
Action 1: Integrating human rights into the lifeblood of staff so that they understand what the UN's mandates and commitments to human rights mean for their Department, Agency, Fund or Programme and for them personally.
Action 2: Providing Member States with candid information with respect to peoples at risk of, or subject to, serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.
Action 3: Ensuring coherent strategies of action on the ground and leveraging the UN System’s capacities in a concerted manner.
Action 4: Adopting at Headquarters a “One-UN approach” to facilitate early coordinated action.
Action 5: Achieving, through better analysis, greater impact in the UN’s human rights protection work.
Action 6: Supporting all these activities through an improved system of information management on serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
Your own work here at the Human Rights Council, particularly in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, has created much of this momentum for more energized UN engagement with human rights issues at the country level. Holistic and strategic action on human rights across all functions of the State would result in more effective prevention, as I submitted in my report to this Council in 2011 on the Role of Prevention in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The report highlighted both the direct and indirect aspects of prevention. It recommended the development of practical tools to help States and other actors understand the role of prevention and guide them in strategic and integrated policy-making on prevention at national level.
Let me say a word about the practical work of my Office in this regard. Preventing human rights violations is at the very core of its functions and activities. The Office implements a variety of preventive approaches through measures that include, as you know, early warning about possible violations, particularly in the context of conflict; advocacy for the ratification of human rights treaties and support to the human rights mechanisms, including respective early-warning systems and visits.
Also, particularly through our Field Offices in 58 countries, we offer technical assistance to States to build and enhance effective national protection systems, including properly constituted national human rights institutions. This includes capacity building for representatives of governments, civil society and NHRIs, and education and awareness raising campaigns.
We advise States on the design and implementation of anti-discrimination laws and policies, thematic strategies and action plans, and democratic institution-building. My Office has also developed various practical tools including training materials, guidance notes and comprehensive databases. These include, for instance, the universal human rights index and the recently-opened OHCHR database on practical means to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need to move promptly. There are new opportunities for action. We should look to the powerful new tools on the Internet and in social media that can carry effective awareness-raising messages to millions of people in a second. Yes, preventive measures challenge our creativity and tax our energy. They take political will and leadership. They are sometimes hard to measure in terms of impact and efficiency. But they save money. And they save lives.