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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk at the organisational session of the Human Rights Council

09 December 2022

Delivered by

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk


Organizational session of the Human Rights Council

Mr. President,


Distinguished colleagues,

Before I begin let me take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation for your excellent stewardship of the Council over the past year. You have a lifelong commitment to the human rights cause and your open, genial and creative approach has helped to steer the way forward during turbulent moments.

The Human Rights Council is a fundamental pillar of the human rights ecosystem.

It has proven to be a unique forum to draw attention to human rights situations as they arise around the world and to take action.

And it bears repeating: it is a sign of agility that the Council fulfilled its work programme during the successive COVID-19 lockdowns.

That it reacted promptly to emerging situations, quicker than a few years ago.

The Council has as of today established 13 accountability mechanisms and held crucial urgent debates and special sessions.

Furthermore, the Council held discussions and adopted resolutions on thematic issues that are critical to our societies. The adoption of the resolution recognising the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was a seminal achievement, leading to its recognition by the United Nations General Assembly. We have important work to do to make sure this is acted upon in practice.

We witnessed the participation of all countries in the UPR with an average of 100 States making some 230 recommendations to each State under review. The third UPR cycle also saw an increase in the role of Parliaments, NHRIs and NGOs throughout the various phases of the UPR.

These are crucial achievements from the principal UN intergovernmental body in charge of human rights.

It is well known to all of us in this room that implementing human rights requires political will, at national and international level, as well as international solidarity. The COVID pandemic is just the latest stark reminder of how global crises need global responses.

The very essence of human rights implies that their violations are a matter of concern to the international community.

This lies at the heart of the universal consensus around the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

That consensus is eroded when human rights are instrumentalised for political gain or when politics lead to undermining the effectiveness of the Council’s mandate to protect and promote human rights; and to prevent human rights violations.

The Council must be a place of open and effective dialogue. A place where, in spite of differences and even geopolitical tensions, we come together to protect our shared human rights values, our shared humanity.

What must we do – you as member States, with the support of my Office and that of others like civil society organisations and national human rights institutions – to achieve that objective?

1. Universality and Indivisibility

Two fundamental human rights principles that this Council must embody are indivisibility and universality.

Universality of human rights means we are all equally entitled to our human rights. All of our rights.

Indivisibility means that we cannot successfully promote and protect one right if others are disregarded.

There is no dichotomy between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

If we look around us and our own everyday realities, human rights are by their very nature interconnected and interdependent.

We see people across the world protesting to claim their rights to an adequate standard of living or to demand an end to corruption. One cannot fully enjoy their right to health without the right to claim it, including through the peaceful protest, when it is being restricted.

Women’s empowerment depends on fulfilling a range of rights – freedom of movement, the right to privacy, the right to work, the right to health, the right to be free from violence – to only name a few.

For this Council to uphold the principles of universality and indivisibility requires paying equal and fair attention to human rights issues, regardless of where they take place.

This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of the human rights system: to ensure equal attention to all issues, in order to protect the rights of all.

Because in reality, numerous crises fall out of the headlines and others never even make the headlines.

I just mentioned a few at the press conference – such as Haiti, Somalia, Northern Mozambique, Afghanistan and Yemen. But there are others.

These forgotten crises not only have severe consequences for the people directly affected, but are likely to have ripple effects across borders, and risk further de-stabilizing their regions. And they should attract the attention of the Council, and its subsidiary bodies. The important work of my staff in relevant field presences can be of support in that regard.

Universality and indivisibility also include dealing meaningfully with all rights, including the right to development, racial justice, and all other forms of discrimination; and taking steps to reform the international financial architecture and the debt system.


We cannot only claim to be interconnected when it suits.

An affront to human dignity is a matter of legitimate concern to the entire international community.

All Member States must ensure cooperation with all mandates established by the Council, including on country issues. Even if this entails bridging with others on issues you may not necessarily endorse or uphold.

And ensure mutual respect of views and opinions of others, regardless of disagreement. While avoiding at all costs subjecting any mandate-holder or others to intimidation and reprisals.

2. Look to the future

Rapidly evolving technologies, global health developments, economic downturns, changing demographics and the consequences of the triple planetary crisis continue to reveal new and complex human rights challenges that we aren’t necessarily prepared for, even though some could have been predicted to some extent.

This Council has already started to venture into some of these areas. Such as in its work on the impact of technology on human rights, including in the military domain; on the importance of casualty recording; on neurotechnology; and cyberbullying; and the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands.

It is important for the Council to remain nimble to meet and address emerging human rights issues.

We have to make sure our respective parts of this human rights ecosystem can meet those challenges. By having the necessary strategy foresight, and by being able to adapt.

This requires creativity, innovation and a contemporary understanding of the legal framework and of concepts of justice in light of current and future challenges.

I would also urge us to push our thinking on other pressing issues as human rights and governance and how to renew the social contract; on the impact of urbanization; on intergenerational justice; and on the full implementation of the right to development and the right to a healthy environment.

3. Strengthen the human rights ecosystem

The Council is a critical part of the human rights ecosystem – to ensure the centrality of human rights in governance for the future.

It has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the human rights architecture it supports, such as the special procedures, the UPR and other mechanisms, is fit for purpose. To ensure that these mechanisms are optimally functioning and financially sustainable.

From my vantage point, the responsibilities entrusted to me and my Office as part of this ecosystem are manifold.

Importantly, they include having sometimes uncomfortable, complex, difficult conversations with each and every Member State about those issues that are a blind spot, the shadow side of society and often the Achilles heel.

I am duty bound to do it with the only purpose in mind but to serve the human rights cause for everyone everywhere.

Next year we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.

The Universal Declaration is a miraculous text, written and adopted as the world emerged from the ruins of World War II.

The Universal Declaration makes it clear that human rights are universal and indivisible – and that human rights are the foundation for peace and development.

But despite these ideals, the realities on the ground tell a different story.

Today, I launch the UDHR 75 initiative, as an opportunity to recall the global consensus this Declaration envisaged.

The initiative will involve conversations, activities, across every region, with the support of my Office and our partners – including yourselves. To rebuild the constituency for human rights, especially among young people; to assess and prepare for human rights challenges that lie ahead over the next 25 years; and to bolster the human rights infrastructure, including my Office.

All of society needs to be engaged in dialogue on human rights.

To rekindle the spirit, impulse and vitality that forged the Universal Declaration 75 years ago and strengthen the remarkable human rights infrastructure we have constructed.

I thank you for the confidence placed in my Office’s work and expertise, which you draw on to deliver the growing number of mandates entrusted to the Office. But as always, the resources to meet these needs deserve strengthening.

As I have repeatedly stressed, human rights are one of the three pillars of the United Nations system, but the UN Human Rights Office is under-funded and under-resourced.

Human rights are for all of us.

And with adequate funding, we will be able better to deliver to protect people and planet.

I hope I can count on your support.

So that we all take ownership of protecting and promoting our shared values.

Thank you.