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Statements Human Rights Council

Opening Statement by Ms. Flavia Pansieri United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at Side event on Human Rights indicators

23 June 2014

Human Rights Council 26th Session  

23 June 2014
13:00-15:00, Room XXIV, Palais des Nations

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you all, and I would like to thank our colleagues and friends from the Permanent Missions of Portugal and Paraguay for the invitation to take part in this important event.

If human rights are to be truly enjoyed by every human being, we must complement legislation with monitoring of implementation on the ground. Only with robust statistics can we establish the vital benchmarks that translate human rights commitments into targeted policies, and only they can measure how effective those policies are.

Thus, at the heart of the work on indicators undertaken by OHCHR is a commitment to strengthen human rights implementation on the ground.

Today we will hear from Paraguay and Portugal, two of the countries at the forefront of the development of indicators for human rights at the national level, in consultation with partners from civil society. These two countries are already putting into practice the human rights indicators methodology developed by OHCHR. The methodology is outlined in the publication Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation , which was launched last year.

The Guide is one of our most in-demand publications. In fact, it is so popular that we have simply run out of hard copies, but you can download it in English, French and Spanish from our website, and there are flyers at the back of the room.

Why is there such a strong interest in human rights indicators? The main reason is, of course, that indicators provide essential evidence as to the level of enjoyment of human rights and the effectiveness of law and policy. They also help us to detect discrimination, provided they are sufficiently disaggregated. In short, indicators allow us to design and implement evidence-based policies and programmes at country level. Transforming human rights commitments into practice requires resources and good policy responses - in particular public interventions that empower the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups to advocate for their own rights. 

While there is a longer tradition of using indicators in the promotion of economic and social rights, it is today widely recognized that indicators are also essential to measure civil and political rights, including on violence, participation in decision-making and the administration of justice. The use of statistical information is already apparent in the reporting of States and in the review processes conducted by treaty bodies and special procedures as well as in the peer review under the UPR. Indicators are critical if we are to measure progress across the reporting cycles, and for Governments to develop appropriate policy responses.  Furthermore, OHCHR’s methodology on human rights indicators and benchmarking has contributed to developing national human rights action plans, including those designed to follow-up UPR recommendations and to making them more results-based.

The illustrative indicators provided in OHCHR human indicators guide come primarily from data collection carried out by national statistical institutions. These indicators constitute a bridge for the realisation of human rights at two levels:

  • first, a bridge between the international and the national. That is, a bridge between international human rights commitments and their translation, through policy measures, to the national level. In the context of the Millennium Development Goals for instance, we have seen countries developing more comprehensive systems of indicators and integrating further human rights and governance issues.
  • Secondly, indicators are a bridge between the human rights and statistical communities at country level. We are increasingly seeing human rights reflected in statistical work, including through the engagement and collaboration of national human rights institutions with statistical organisations.

At these two levels, indicators facilitate the concretisation of human rights standards. Reliable indicators improve access to information, as part of the right to freedom of expression, and strengthen accountability. When the efforts taken and their results are measured and available in a transparent way to rights-holders, those rights-holders are in a better position to hold policy-makers to account.

Take the example of violence against women: States need data in order to assess rigorously the extent of this violence and the impact of their efforts to reduce it. Figures released by WHO last year tell us that globally one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. [1] While this indicator does not give a comprehensive picture and needs to be complemented with qualitative analysis, it does show a very serious and worrying gap in women’s enjoyment of their human rights.

Collecting data at national level allows us to reach out to victims and survivors who may not have access to remedies, contribute to their empowerment and raise awareness of human rights issues among the population.

We need, however, to make sure that such data are collected with due respect for human rights. We know that this is not systematically done – not every question included in surveys in some countries respects the principle of the right to privacy, or the right of individuals to self-identification as members of minority or ethnic groups, for example.

We also need to pay particular attention to the independence and capacity of national statistical offices to ensure the quality, relevance and credibility of the figures they release. The system of independent national human rights institutions may provide interesting standards and practices in this context.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While interdependence and mutual benefit between the human rights and statistical communities are increasingly recognized, there is a critical need to strengthen dialogue and collaboration between these two communities. Both communities can further learn and benefit from one another’s experience, both at the national and international levels.

Learning about the experiences of Paraguay and Portugal is therefore particularly timely. It should encourage other countries, Governments and civil society to engage further in these efforts, and to also share their experience with OHCHR to contribute to our collection of good practices and lessons learned.

The importance of participatory processes and national ownership in the development of indicators, based on internationally accepted human rights standards, is a key feature of OHCHR’s approach on human rights indicators.

The work of Paraguay and Portugal demonstrates the practical relevance of our methodology. Such experiences and exchanges of practice help us to gain insights and to move forward in the building of the necessary bridges between human rights, statistics and policy-making.

I wish to thank again Portugal and Paraguay for their on-going work on indicators for human rights and for their initiative to organise this event. I understand that they have already been approached by other countries engaged in human rights indicators work.

As always, OHCHR stands ready to support countries in the use of its methodology for human rights indicators to enhance follow-up on recommendations from international human rights mechanisms and implementation on the ground.

Thank you.