Source: United Nations
Title: UN: Pillay: Opening statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council 13th Session, Geneva
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to address the High Level Segment of the Thirteenth
session of the Human Rights Council. I spoke before you for the first time
last year against the background of worsening financial and economic
These sudden and cascading upheavals exposed and exacerbated
existing violations of human rights. They also widened the areas and
increased the number of victims of abuse and hardship. Some countries have
now overcome the most acute phases of recession and hardship. However,
according to World Bank economist Shanta Devarajan, in Africa the crises
have thrown an estimated 7 to 10 million into poverty, 30-50,000 children
may have not reached their first birthday as a result of the recession.
The financial and economic downturns-together with food shortages,
climate-related catastrophes and continuing violence-have shattered
complacent or over-optimistic notions of expanding security, prosperity,
safety and the enjoyment of freedoms by all.
The cataclysmic earthquake that struck Haiti and its aftermath are
tragic illustrations of multiple vulnerabilities that leave so many
unprotected. My thoughts are with the victims of this catastrophe and with
those of the earthquake and tsunami that have hit Chile, as well as with
those who perished in the floods in Europe.
To counter deeply rooted and chronic human rights conditions in
many countries, such as repression, discrimination, and strife, as well as
rapidly unfolding man-mad and natural challenges to human welfare, such as
those we have recently experienced, five years ago the United Nations
initiated a process of reform that proposed several innovations, including
the creation of the Human Rights Council.
This new institution was conceived as a forum where responses to
inequality, repression, and impunity could be crafted and advocated to help
build a world in larger freedom.
The General Assembly envisaged a body guided by the principles of
universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, transparency, and
Accordingly, the founding resolution of the Human Rights Council
endowed the Council with a strong mandate. It empowered the Council to meet
as often as needed beyond its regular annual three sessions. Crucially, it
bestowed upon this body the responsibility to examine at regular intervals
the human rights record of all UN Member States through the aptly named
Universal Periodic Review mechanism. It also envisaged a review of the
Council after five years. This review of the Council, now forthcoming, will help the
international community to assess whether the fundamental principles of this
body's mandate have been solidly and consistently upheld. It need not be a
complex alchemy. The current operational framework of the Council enables
it to be both far-reaching in its interventions, as well as methodologically
well-equipped to discharge its mandate.
We must, however, address gaps in the Council's practices in order
to attain greater equality and a framework in which the public good is more
widely enjoyed. We must do so in a constructive, transparent, and pragmatic
manner, and benefit from the contributions of all stakeholders in Government
and civil society. Discussions of these themes and other issues that may
arise in the review process should not be, or be perceived as, a zero-sum
game. Critical thinking and suggestions are welcome, but we should not
focus on criticism. Rather, we must try to draw on lessons learned from the
Council's operations and seize this opportunity to make necessary
adjustments, while recognizing and not undermining its achievements.
Allow me to briefly discuss the latter. Achievements include this
body's standard setting, as well as its own institution-building process,
particularly the UPR. Its flexible modus operandi, its capacity to sound an
alarm in the face of crises, and its convocation of special sessions on
urgent matters are also notable. Equally important has been the increased
time and attention given to thematic Special Procedures.
Panels held during the Council's sessions and other forms of
debates enhance its responsiveness. The creation of fact-finding missions
expands this body's knowledge base, as well as that of the international
I wholeheartedly welcome the numerous and growing opportunities I
have had to interact with the Council and its individual members. These
appropriately paced exchanges help us sharpen our understanding of our
respective activities and responsibilities. I regard as essential the
contributions of regional organizations, National Human Rights Institutions
and civil society groups.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Against this background, I would like to suggest that four broad
areas may lend themselves to further improvement in the practice of the
Council. As a first observation, I note that, while the Council has often
reacted in a timely manner to emergencies, it could also become more alive
to the realities of drawn-out and less visible challenges to human rights.
In short, it should devise ways and means to devote more attention to
chronic human rights conditions that the waxing and waning of crises or of
public outcry neglect.
My second observation pertains to the need to improve coordination
among the various human rights mechanisms. Overlap or duplication of
recommendations must be avoided regarding States' reporting obligations to
treaty bodies, as well as with recommendations of Special Procedures, and of
the Universal Periodic Review. States may, in fact, be tempted or forced
to implement recommendations selectively. We need to generate synergy among
the outcomes of various human rights mechanisms. This will help Governments
to optimize efforts in implementation of their obligations under
international human rights treaties and address the concerns of both
independent experts and peers.
This consideration leads me to my third point which concerns the
Human Rights Council's effectiveness in influencing policy change in human
rights situations. The Council's authority will largely depend on making
its deliberations actionable and in a way that leads to discernible
improvements in human rights conditions. Ultimately, however, no matter how
well intentioned, determined, and incisive the Council's action is, this
body cannot by itself or through remote control, change realities on the
ground. Producing this change is, primarily, the responsibility of States
which need to act in partnership with civil society and national protection
To motivate States' compliance with their obligations and
responsibilities, the Human Rights Council needs both internal cohesion and
external credibility, since its influence rests on persuasion, not
coercion. Consequently, this body must avoid falling back on regional
Let me underscore that the HRC's reputation rests on
non-partisanship and collegiality, on its ability to create an enabling
environment and a forum for constructive, non-politicized dialogue and
cooperation on human rights. Ultimately, it is through cooperation, mutual
respect and goodwill that tangible change in the lives of affected people
can be produced.
My fourth observation regards the need to pair tasks with
resources in order to bolster the authority and credibility of the human
rights system. To be sure, the growing list and scope of activities carried
out by the Council, or on the Council's behalf, are a measure of this body's
ambition, activism and success. I encourage the international community,
including the Council's Member States, to ensure that the increasing number
and variety of human rights mechanisms' tasks are adequately resourced in
order to preserve and bolster the quality and the long-term effects of this
For its part, OHCHR will continue to assist the Council to the
best of its ability and reach out to victims wherever needed.
The expansion of our presence in the field, as well as the
increasing and deepening interaction with UN agencies and other crucial
partners in Government, international organizations, and civil society that
my Office has undertaken, are crucial aspects of the OHCHR mandate. In
pursuing this mandate, we seek to preserve the autonomy of judgement and
scope of action that are indispensible to human rights work and advocacy.
Later in this session, I will present my second annual report as
High Commissioner for Human Rights. That report contains a detailed account
of the whole range of activities that my Office carried out in the past
year. It also illustrates actions and results of the vision that underpins
And now allow me to recall the six priority areas that OHCHR has
identified as requiring additional focus in the next biennium. These
priorities, pursued with our core work on all rights, will provide more
visibility to issues of increasing concern. They are:
* Countering discrimination, in particular racial discrimination,
discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion and against others who are
* Pursuing economic, social and cultural rights in efforts and combating
inequalities and poverty, including in the context of the economic, food and
* Protecting human rights in the context of migration;
* Combating impunity and strengthening accountability, the rule of law, and
* Protecting human rights in situations of armed conflict, violence and
* Strengthening human rights mechanisms and the progressive development of
international human rights law.
The identification of these thematic areas stems from a broad
assessment within our Office which took stock of issues already identified
by States at the inter-governmental level.
Indeed, through our sharpened focus, and together with the Human
Rights Council, as well as with our partners in the UN, national human
rights institutions and civil society, we will endeavour to ensure that the
forthcoming review process will help Member States to enhance human rights
We should continue to build on the Secretary-General's vision of
reform and keep developing a narrative of the possible, the imperative and
the achievable, in the name, and for the sake of, human rights.
Thank you very much.