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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Presentation of the UN Human Rights Office 2019 Annual Report to Member States

05 June 2020

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Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

5 June 2020


Thank you for joining this virtual presentation of the annual report on the human rights work of my Office around the world in 2019.

It demonstrates how my Office supports States to uphold all human rights in the context of eroding multilateralism, shrinking civic space and an increasingly challenging climate for human rights.

The report covers my first full year in office and the second year of the OHCHR Management Plan 2018-2021. It describes the mid-point progress towards the overall results the Office committed to achieving by the end of 2021.

It spans the range of work carried out by my Office in cooperation with our partners all around the world. This includes the normative work we do here in Geneva; the support to the integration of human rights in UN peace operations in New York; the capacity-development and technical cooperation we conducted in our 84 field presences around the world; the monitoring and protection we provided through human rights components in 12 peace missions; and the extensive global, regional and national advocacy we carry out to build a broader constituency for human rights.

These are some examples of our work in the past year:

  • we facilitated 37 new ratifications or accessions to the core human rights treaties;
  • provided rehabilitation support to almost 36,000 victims of torture in 77 countries;
  • facilitated the work of 172 treaty body experts during 27 sessions for a total of 95 weeks, which enabled them to review 133 reports;
  • strengthened human rights mainstreaming in the work of UN Country Teams by increasing the number of Human Rights Advisers from 32 in 2018 to 37;

To sensitize and engage the incoming European Parliament on the SDGs and its linkages with human rights, the UN Brussels Team – comprising 25 UN entities, including OHCHR – invited candidates standing for the European Parliament elections, to sign a 10-point pledge to “Leave No One Behind.” By the end of 2019, 67 Members of the European Parliament had signed the pledge.

In Guatemala, in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, we provided technical assistance to the National Civil Police for the integration of human rights standards into the development of the Protocol on the Use of Force, with a view to improving the performance of their duties in the upcoming elections. The Protocol was adopted in June, prior to the general elections, during which the Police played an important preventive role.

In the Middle East and North Africa region, we supported selected State institutions to significantly improve their compliance with international human rights norms and standards on migration. For example, in Lebanon we conducted a training programme on the protection of migrants across borders for the Lebanese General Security. As a result of the programme, 150 General Security Officers were trained on human rights principles and guidelines for border management, trafficking and due process in border management.

In Georgia, we helped establish the Office of the State Inspector, following five years of advocacy efforts by my Office in co-operation with the national human rights institution and NGOs. The Office of the State Inspector has been designated as the independent institution responsible for the investigation of serious human rights abuses allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.

As a result of our support to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Commission was re-accredited with “A” status by the Sub-Committee on Accreditations of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, in November. The Afghan Commission held public hearings across 33 provinces, in March and April, as part of its National Inquiry on the Role of Women in Peace and Security in Afghanistan. The hearings provided women in these provinces with an opportunity to raise their concerns regarding political participation and peace-related processes.

Through our the Treaty Body Capacity-Building Programme we contributed to the establishment and/or strengthening of National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, El Salvador, eSwatini, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Mauritius, the Republic of North Macedonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Zambia.

We have also taken steps to strengthen our focus on the Sustainable Development Goals; economic, social and cultural rights; and gender equality. The feature story on page 41 of the report is a good example of the changes we helped Tunisian women achieve, by improving their access to social security. In Ecuador, at the request of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we monitored the human rights situation in the context of the October pro­tests where economic, cultural and social rights were among the root causes. In Vietnam, following our advocacy efforts and the targeted recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, the forced eviction of approximately 10,000 ethnic Vietnamese living on floating houses on the Tonle Sap Lake in the Kampong Chhnang province was prevented.

In 2019, my Office adopted a Prevention Strategy and allocated funds for its implementation. The Strategy aims to ensure that our work to promote economic, social and cultural rights, and to combat inequalities, contributes to the prevention of conflict and social tensions. Information is also a driver of prevention, and we have strengthened our efforts to build practices, skills, and resources that can deliver timely, reli­able, accessible information and analysis to inform prevention efforts. For example, in Malawi, we developed an in-country prevention platform, which provided integrated UN analysis throughout the electoral process to guide UN responses, particularly those of the Resident Coordinator.

In September, I launched a “Surge Initiative” to identify and pilot ways to further support implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the field. A surge team, composed of four staff and a senior econ­omist, spearheaded this effort. Through the Initiative, we are documenting impactful changes and exploring ways to replicate or scale up good practices. The surge team has facilitated pilot projects to achieve cross-fertilization among field pres­ences, and has provided advice to over 50 field presences. Thus in Liberia the surge team assisted the Country office to assess the impact of austerity measures on economic, social and cultural rights, especially in terms of exacerbating inequalities. In eSwatini, the surge initiative focused on the review of macroeconomic aspects of the Common Country Analysis in preparation for the Cooperation Framework. In Nepal, we conducted ESCR risk analysis and provided recommendations to the Regional Monthly Review (RMR) process, which is at the heart of the Secretary-General’s prevention strategy.

At the global level, we provided inputs and guidance to ensure that the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks have a strong normative and human rights foundation. This work is even more relevant today, in the context of the pandemic's economic turmoil.

We also further deepened our work on the SDG indicators, particularly in the context of conflict and discrimination. We cannot fix what we cannot see, and these indicators will be useful to helping policymakers build back better as we recover from the pandemic.

Our work faces many challenges. Not least, our continued difficulties regarding resources. The regular budget was again cut in 2019 by about 16% from 2018 levels, further affecting the work of the human rights mechanisms, and jeopardizing the implementation of one of the core mandates of the Office. To cover the funding gap caused by the combined effect of regular budget cuts, delays in payments and cash flow issues, we had to rely on voluntary contributions to finance approximately 23% of our officially mandated activities. You have the detailed figures in the report before you.

This situation has been further exacerbated by the current cash flow crisis that the UN faces due to non-payment of 2020 assessments and arrears by some Member States. To address the situation, we were informed on behalf of the Secretary-General in April that all recruitment for regular budget posts across the Secretariat were suspended until further notice, as a temporary measure to ensure the Organization’s continued liquidity.

These two combined issues have made it impossible for the Office to honour all regular budget mandated activities and this situation is going to impact them all.

We are therefore currently in the midst of a comprehensive internal review encompassing all funding sources, working to re-direct savings from cancelled/postponed activities while avoiding new obligations to ensure that we can “build back better”. In this re-assessment of priorities we are examining areas for improvement with more focus and sustainability as we emerge from this heavily constrained environment.

We will need to count on more voluntary contributions if we are to deliver on the promise of our programmes - with more flexibility, timeliness and predictability.


2020 may be a watershed year. Only by advancing human rights can we stem the pandemic's public health impact and the resulting unravelling of economic, social, political and development gains achieved over decades. Now more than ever, in this time of crisis and profound uncertainty, we ask for your strengthened support to upholding human rights and human dignity across the world.

Thank you.