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Statement by Ambassador Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, at the organizational session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 9 December 2022


09 December 2022

Personal Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

I would like to begin with several words of thanks.

To my government for having entrusted me with the responsibility of representing my country and giving me the opportunity to chair the Council.

To GRULAC for the trust placed in me by endorsing my candidacy. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean constitute a region of peace, without weapons of mass destruction. It is a region that, with great effort, continues to struggle to maintain our democratic institutions and respect for human rights as the guiding principle of our policies of inclusion. I was proud to be President representing GRULAC, a region that this year remained active and united despite our diversity.

Thanks to all of you, member and observers, for making it possible for the Council to continue to fulfil its three fundamental roles: the UPR, addressing urgent situations, and developing new norms and standards for the international protection of human rights. In all three roles we made very important advances, even in a geopolitical context that was and continues to be very difficult. I felt like the captain of a ship with a very valuable cargo in the middle of a storm. Some voices asked me to put all of the weight on the bow and others on the stern. But, I was always convinced that my responsibility as captain was to keep the ship afloat. I am deeply grateful for the trust, the dialogue, and the cooperation from all of you who helped me in that difficult task.

I would like to thank the members of the Bureau for their continuous support and valuable contributions in overcoming the challenges we faced: Ambassador of Germany, Katharina Stasch; Ambassador of Armenia, Andranik Hovhannisyan; Ambassador of The Gambia, Mohammadou Kah; Ambassador of Uzbekistan, Ulugbek Lapasov; and former Ambassador of Libya, Tamin Baiou.

I also thank the two High Commissioners with whom I have worked, Michelle Bachelet and, more recently, Volker Turk. Two persons who are very committed to the cause of human rights and whose contributions have been vital to the work of the Council. Through them, I thank all the wonderful staff of OHCHR who supports the Council, in particular Mr. Eric Tistounet and Mr. Gianni Magazzeni and their respective teams. From the podium, I witnessed the enormous effort they make to keep everything running, to respond to all requests and to solve technical and substantive problems. It is truly a team for a World Cup. I also thank UNOG and all of its staff, including our dear interpreters, who allow us to understand each other as we express our ideas and our deepest values.

I extend my thanks to the civil society organizations, national human rights institutions and the press. You are true human rights defenders who give voice to victims from all over the world. To have you here again, to return to the physical presence, to the interaction in the Serpentine, to the side events and to the noise in the Palais is the best way to end a Presidency that began when we still had many restrictions. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Council's media team, whose constant work makes it possible to amplify its message so that it leaves this room and has an impact on the lives of millions of people.

I thank the team of the Permanent Mission of Argentina in Geneva, whose dedication and professionalism allowed me to serve as President while attending my other responsibilities at the same time.

Finally, I thank my dear team at the Office of the Presidency, Gustavo, Kristen, Pape and Eugenia. Their constant effort, professionalism, human warmth and good advice helped me undertake with joy one of the most fascinating challenges of my diplomatic career.

I conclude with a few reflections that are the product of my experience chairing the Council. I share them as proposals for collective thinking:

Let us take advantage of the 2023 commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action. We have the opportunity to reinvigorate these two extraordinary social contracts. The one we made after the horror of World War II and which gave life to the revolutionary idea of international human rights law, and the one we made in the post-Cold War era where we agreed on the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. We have a collective obligation to analyze in detail every aspect of the universal human rights system to see how to improve and enhance it in the face of today's challenges.

Let us significantly improve the human and financial resources dedicated to the human rights pillar of the United Nations. –Only 4% of the regular UN Budget, after having agreed that there is no peace, security or development without human rights, is insufficient and even contradictory.

Let us recuperate the conviction that the collective responsibility of the Council transcends our national positions. Let us reaffirm the notion that the 47 States that vote represent the 193 member States of the UN. Let us recognize that our constituency is 8 billion people. That is why this year we became the body of the entire United Nations system with the highest presence in social media. Because people identify with what we do.

Let us fully support all mandates that arise from the resolutions we adopt, whether by consensus or by vote. It is systemically and ethically incorrect to ignore mandates because we voted against them or we abstained. Because these mandates refer to people, victims of violations whose situations are addressed by legally adopted resolutions. And they may concern victims suffering violations and abuses in one of those 146 States that are not members of the Council. We have no right to deprive people who are suffering of international protection because we voted against a resolution. We may have differences during the negotiations, but once adopted, the resolutions are valid and the mandates must be implemented.

Let us cooperate with the independent mechanisms we create, because they are complementary to the efforts we make to fulfill our obligations. We should not cooperate selectively with some mechanisms and not with others. And I am of the opinion that the members of the HRC have a greater responsibility in this regard.

Let us continue to improve the system. The disparity that exists between different Council mechanisms affects the coherence of the system. They perform similar jobs, but follow different rules. Some are appointed over several months through a very rigorous, extensive and structured procedure that includes the Consultative Group and they must obey a code of conduct. Other mechanisms are appointed directly by the President, can start working immediately and are not explicitly covered by the code of conduct. In other cases, the appointment is made by the High Commissioner. In addition, there is all the work done by the treaty bodies and OHCHR in the field. In short, the system is dispersed and it would be interesting to begin to analyse this and other issues in order to maximize the efficiency of the system and of the Council.

This year, 70% of the candidates appointed by the Council to fill special procedures vacancies were women. These decisions have contributed to breaking the glass ceiling for women in several mandates and have helped to significantly improve the gender balance in other mandates with a historical underrepresentation of women. It is essential to continue this trend and consolidate it, because not only is it easy for setbacks to occur, but there are still spaces where representation and equality are needed.

Let us actively participate in the review of the Council's status that is due to begin soon at the UNGA. The year 2023, in which we have such important commemorations, could be the beginning of such a review. Having visited New York twice this year, I am firmly convinced that it would be illogical for Geneva not to be able to make its contribution to the review process, given the first-hand knowledge we have here about the lights and shadows of the Council and how to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

In the same vein, I am convinced that dialogue between Geneva and New York is essential to improve the effectiveness and impact of the universal human rights system.

Let us continue to promote good initiatives such as "Bring Your Child to the Council Day", which was very successful. I have also been discussing in recent weeks with UNOG and Geneva authorities to try to incorporate a Human Rights Council model in all schools in the Geneva area. We should aim at bringing this idea to our own countries, as we already do with the General Assembly model.

Let us consider other initiatives. For example, to explore the establishment of a UN Human Rights Fellowship for young diplomats. This would make it possible to form a global critical mass in human rights for future negotiations, following the successful example of the UN Disarmament Fellowship.

Let us project our work outside the Palais des Nations. This year I saw how much potential the Council has to reach out to different think tanks to disseminate our work. In the three world-shaping events we are experiencing - the effects of the pandemic, climate change and the escalation of armed conflict - the Council responded quickly and forcefully. So, I found a lot of interest in what we do in both the media and academia in Geneva and in the various countries I visited. I propose that this outreach to the press, academia and think tanks should not only be the responsibility of the Presidency and the Office of the High Commissioner, but that all stakeholders should disseminate the work we’re doing and actions we’re taking. Let us be strategic and collectively project our work in order to place the Council and its results in the global public discussion.

Finally, I would like to warmly congratulate my dear colleague and friend Vaclav Bálek on his election as President for the seventeenth cycle of the Human Rights Council. I wish you every success and you know that you can count on my full support. I am sure that you will end next year with the same feeling that I have today. There is no greater satisfaction than feeling that you are part of a collective effort to positively transform reality. That is what the Human Rights Council is all about and we are all here to fulfil that mission.

Gracias. Merci. Thank you. Spaciva. Xie Xie. Shukran.