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The Human Rights Council’s 25th session opens in Geneva

04 March 2014

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, highlighted the role of the Human Rights Council in surveying crises and challenges around the world, during the opening of the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In particular, the UN chief spotlighted the situations in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In reference to the crisis in Syria, Ban Ki-moon said that Member States of both the Human Rights Council and the Security Council “have a special duty to end this bloody war and ensure robust accountability”. “The besieging of communities, death by starvation and indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons of terror are unacceptable,” he said.

Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of the landmark initiative, Rights up Front, which was launched last year to address the need for better organizational preparedness by the UN to deal with evolving crisis situations.

“This initiative places preventive action to ensure respect for human rights at the core of the UN, to avoid future conflict,” said UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, adding that “human rights violations are often the first tremors on the ground, that can signal potential larger scale violence”.

In Pillay’s opening address to the Council, she spoke of the growing number of people confidently laying claim to their rights. “Streets, airwaves, entire countries are buzzing with demands for economic, social and political justice,” she said.

She highlighted that respect for human rights is not only a legal obligation but also bestows legitimacy on those leaders who ensure this respect. “Those who ignore these voices often find themselves being called to account – sooner or later –and lose their power.” 

Pillay also expressed the ongoing need to combat discrimination in all its forms, which remains at the core of her mandate. 

“Intolerance of ‘the other’ adversely affects the enjoyment of rights by indigenous peoples, migrants, minorities, LGBT and other marginalized persons,” she said.
More specifically, Pillay highlighted the importance of fully implementing the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the comprehensive, action-oriented document that proposes concrete measures to combat racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. She added that the Office is already promoting the implementation of many of its recommendations through its 58 field presences around the world.

Pillay also expressed concern for issues affecting women, including physical or sexual violence, which continues to affect more than one third of all women. Child marriage is another issue she highlighted. More than one in three women aged between 29 and 49 world-wide were married before their 18th birthday, she said. 
“We must put a priority on women’s empowerment and on fundamental sexual and reproductive rights,” said Ban Ki-moon in his opening remarks.

As this being Pillay’s last High-level Segment of the Council as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep gratitude for her work, saying that she has been a “fearless defender of the most vulnerable” and an “outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and an eloquent voice against racism, xenophobia and intolerance”.

Looking ahead, Pillay acknowledged much left undone and the daunting challenges for the protection and promotion of human rights for all. In particular, she highlighted several current issues including discrimination, civil strife, the development of new technologies – such as drones and lethal autonomous robotics, social media and new information technology which raises the question of where the public and private space lies, and the environmental degradation. 

The Human Rights Council is holding its 25th session from 3 to 28 March 2014 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. A wide range of human rights issues will be addressed, including presentations from the independent commissions of inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and on Syria and from the independent expert on Central African Republic, as well as interactive panel discussions on human rights mainstreaming focusing on the human rights of migrants, the death penalty, genocide, and the promotion and protection of civil society space. 

A highlight of the session is the opening four-day High-level Segment during which over 90 ministers and other senior dignitaries will address the 47-member Council on global human rights matters.

4 March 2014