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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

"Promotion and protection of human rights: comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action"

Human rights work update

15 October 2018

Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,Michelle Bachelet

Third Committee Agenda Item 74: Promotion and protection of human rights

15 October 2018

Distinguished Chairperson,

I have been honoured to be appointed to the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights at this key moment in history. I will lead the Office as it enters a new programme cycle, from 2018 to 2021.

This is a testing period for the principles and institutions of the United Nations. Multilateralism is eroding, and with it, the values and norms which underpin the shared global commitment to human equality and human dignity.

I am deeply committed to the work of my Office to uphold those values, within the framework of the multilateral institutions which preserve dialogue and cooperation between States.

We must ensure that human rights – all human rights – remain a core focus of multilateralism, and the basis of the United Nations. If we do not succeed in this, all of the UN’s pillars will be undermined.

We can attain more sustainable peace, security and development – but only if we advance towards greater justice and equity.

Human rights build on each other to form a strong and interlocking basis for sound societies. Economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development, help to diminish despair, grievances and violent extremism. Civil and political rights, and measures to promote equality, drive powerful, sustainable economic development to which every member of society can fully contribute.

There are many legitimate points of view on how best to achieve those common goals, but only one overriding way forward: collective, cooperative work.

Member States are the primary actors in delivering on human rights, and in safeguarding a human rights-based multilateralism. The core vocation of the Office which I lead is to assist Member States, the wider UN system, and civil society to protect, respect and realize human rights.

I am deeply committed to ensuring we work in partnership with Member States and all other stakeholders – UN bodies, regional and intergovernmental actors, civil society and the private sector.

Steady, open and constructive dialogue can bring diverging views together and help us achieve the systemic changes that will advance us towards greater respect for human rights, and more sustainable peace and development. And in this 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I believe it is essential to take a closer look at how Member States and the UN system can make full use of the potential of human rights mechanisms and bodies.

The strong value of the early warnings generated by human rights monitoring has been amply demonstrated. Years of work, by successive Special Rapporteurs and other actors, regarding the situation of the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, are a particularly tragic and powerful example of early warning.

But – and I want to emphasise this point: the human rights system is not a Cassandra, correctly predicting crises yet unable to prevent them. It is a force for prevention. When it is backed by the political will of key actors, effective, sustained human rights work prevents, mitigates and helps to resolve conflict: this is the essence of what we do.

Similarly, the entire 2030 Agenda, which is rooted in the right to development and all other rights, can only be achieved with a focus on human rights – by seeking out and fixing the root causes of insecurity; reducing inequalities; ensuring stable, transparent and inclusive institutions; and eliminating pervasive discrimination.

Distinguished Chair,

It is my privilege to present to you the report of OHCHR’s work from 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017, A/HRC/37/3, together with this oral introduction and update.

The work of the Office spans every region of the world and all three pillars of the UN. It extends across almost all UN mandates – from development to intellectual poverty, agriculture to cultural heritage, peacekeeping to public health – and the full spectrum of rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development.

It includes our vital work in technical cooperation and capacity building; our monitoring and reporting on human rights situations; our advocacy – both private and public; standard-setting and other work to build legal and normative expertise; and our extensive support to the UN human rights mechanisms, including the Treaty Bodies and the Human Rights Council, its Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures.

In this context, I note the increasingly relevant role of the Human Rights Council, and its continuing efforts to make its work more visible; more efficient; more connected to New York-based bodies and other UN entities; and more effective on the ground. The recent visit to Geneva by the Chair of this body was most useful in this regard.

I would now like to highlight a few examples of the technical cooperation effected by the Office. These are drawn from our 71 field presences around the world – including 17 country offices; 12 human rights components of peace missions; 12 Regional Offices or centres; and 30 human rights advisers to United Nations Country Teams and other human rights mainstreaming projects. Many more detailed examples are contained in the report (A/HRC/37/3) that is before you.

Ensuring sustainable development

To assist implementation and measurement of the 2030 Agenda, OHCHR has been leading work to integrate human rights in data collection and disaggregation. For example, in Kenya, a leading advocate of the 2030 Agenda, it has been crucial to monitor progress towards the SDGs, particularly with respect to groups at highest risk of being left behind. Our Human Rights Adviser to the UN Country Team provided advice and assistance to the National Commission on Human Rights and the National Bureau of Statistics, to establish institutional collaboration with the aim of identifying disadvantaged groups, including groups not previously a focus of their work, and to ensure stronger data collection and analysis.Twenty-five population groups most at risk of being left behind were identified — including indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, slum dwellers, and women from the poorest regions, and work is underway. This approach has already been integrated into next year’s Census, for example with a question relevant to people with albinism.

A series of regional workshops will seek to replicate aspects of this project elsewhere in Africa, as well as in the Americas and other regions. Already, a similar cooperation agreement has been signed with the statistics office and national human rights institution of Palestine.

Women’s equality

Promoting gender equality and the human rights of women is essential to the work of all our presences. In July 2017, Tunisia further strengthened its position as a regional leader in women’s equality with the adoption of a landmark law on eliminating violence against women and girls, in full compliance with international human rights standards. The Office participated in the five-year process of developing the bill, working alongside the Tunisian authorities, civil society groups and UN organisations. Positive provisions in the Tunisian legislation include the classification of gender-based violence as a public order offence, which means a person can be prosecuted even if their alleged victim withdraws the complaint, and the establishment of a police unit to deal with gender-based violence. This law demonstrates the potentially life-transforming outcomes when UN Human Rights works within countries at a technical cooperation level, ensuring that the human rights of many women and girls are enshrined in national law.

Transitional justice and human rights defenders

In Colombia, where the historic peace agreement is at a critical juncture, my Office is supporting a victim-centred approach to transitional justice. The work of the Truth Commission, the Search Unit for Missing Persons and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace have the potential to yield very positive human rights change, if adequately funded. The protection of human rights defenders and a safe environment for the defence of human rights are at the forefront of our endeavours. My Office has assisted the development of a special protection protocol for at-risk populations by the national police. We are also supporting the Prosecutor-General’s Office work to identify patterns of attacks against human rights defenders, and the masterminds behind such attacks. These efforts need to be matched by efforts by the authorities to address structural inequalities and root causes of violence, emphasizing the right to equal participation and social justice.


These are just some of the examples of the constructive outcomes of our field-work. Among the many crises which our world is suffering, there are many other good stories. We can, and we do, achieve progress. I am eager to communicate these positive stories, and to expand our messages in a much wider range of languages – resources permitting.

Fundamentally, the success of my Office in protecting and promoting rights is defined by the extent to which Member States meet the human rights commitments which they have set. Every action that my Office takes aims ultimately to support States to this end. OHCHR cannot succeed when States are not themselves succeeding.

For OHCHR to serve these aims, we need the General Assembly’s full support. We need the support of the Fifth Committee to provide resources. We need the political support of Governments to work with us, for the benefit of their people. We need decisions taken by Member States at the Human Rights Council to also be supported by the General Assembly and Security Council, and vice versa.


In 2017, the Office consulted Member States, the UN system, civil society, the private sector, and our own staff in planning a new four-year management plan.

This process confirmed the ongoing value of OHCHR’s work under six ‘pillars’: support for the international human rights mechanisms; mainstreaming of human rights within development and peace and security efforts; and advancement of the core human rights principles of non-discrimination, accountability and participation.

We will strengthen our work to prevent conflict, violence and insecurity; help expand civic space; and help broaden the global constituency for human rights. We will also seek greater understanding of the human rights dimensions of climate change; the digital space; inequality; corruption; and the displacement and movement of people. And we will focus strongly on the 2030 Agenda, highlighting the human rights of women, young people, and persons with disabilities.


I am particularly proud to lead the Office forward as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Uncertainty, conflict and inequalities are likely to remain prominent in the coming years. The rights laid out in the Universal Declaration, and the commitments made by States to realise it, through the core human rights Covenants and treaties, remain our most secure and universal guidance.

They can help us can set a constructive course together – towards inclusion, sustainable prosperity, justice, dignity, freedom, and sustained peace.

Thank you.