Header image for news printout

Yanghee Lee, Chair of the Coordination Committee, presents the Annual Report of Special Procedures to the 34th session of the HRC, 15 March 2017

Thirty-fourth Session of the Human Rights Council
General debate under item 5

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to take the floor today as Chairperson of the Coordination Committee to present the report of the 23rd Annual Meeting of Special Procedures, including updated information on special procedures (A/HRC/34/34).

My colleagues and I regularly receive questions about our work. What do special procedures do, what is their impact, what kind of activities do they undertake, how do they consult with each other, what is the extent to which States cooperate with them, to name only a few.

The report before you is an attempt to respond to these questions. It aims at providing the Council and other stakeholders with a comprehensive overview of what the special procedure system has achieved in 2016. It is our hope that by presenting all this information in a single report, our work and its impact will be more easily accessible and visible.

The report also contains facts and figures about what special procedures have done in 2016, including through numbers, tables and graphics as reflected in its 15 annexes. This time these facts and figures form a separate addendum. We hope that this new format will facilitate its dissemination. I strongly encourage all of you to use this material as it is very informative.

I would draw your attention in particular to the first annex which consists in a one-page factsheet on special procedures. You will find there information such as the number of mandate holders, the composition of the SP system, statistics on the country visits conducted or the communications sent, the reports presented, the number of press releases issued or the various consultations and meetings held.

Mr. President,

In 2016 we had the pleasure to welcome two new mandates into the system, one on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and one on the right to development. In terms of the composition of the system, the gender and geographical representation has slightly improved but efforts are still necessary. In this context, I would like to highlight that the high quality and independence of mandate holders are key to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of the system. The selection process should ensure that the best qualified candidate in the field of the mandate is appointed.

The report presents also information about our cooperation with States. Two more States have issued standing invitations. In 2016 mandate holders have conducted more country visits than in the previous year and the response rate to communication now reaches 55 %. While positive, these developments are however not sufficient. Non-cooperation by States is still a serious and continued challenge. Some States don’t cooperate at all while others choose to cooperate only with a selected few. This is a serious impediment to our ability to fulfil our mandates. Unfortunately such lack of cooperation does not necessarily come with consequences for the States concerned. Non-cooperation with human rights mechanisms should not remained unnoticed. We call on the Council to look more closely into this issue and assist mandate holders in getting full cooperation from all States.

Mr. President,

The capacity to engage with all concerned, be they State representatives, civil society, academic, regional bodies or other UN entities, is one of the added values of mandate holders. In doing so we offer to all stakeholders the unique opportunity to share their point of view and help us in making a fair assessment of the situation.

The report before you reflects the various kinds of engagement and partnership developed by mandate holders. For example, in addition to States, mandate holders have sought closer cooperation with the wider United Nations system and agencies, programmes and funds, as well as with regional mechanisms, including by raising awareness on their mandates and conducting joint activities. Engagement with other parts of the UN system has also been strengthened by the Coordination Committee with a specific focus on how the UN system can contribute to a better follow-up to recommendations by special procedures.

Civil society is also a key player for mandate holders and its contribution should be preserved, including by ensuring that its representatives have full and unhindered access to the UN and its mechanisms.

Given the centrality of cooperation and engagement for our mandates, we cannot accept that those who cooperate with US mandate holders are subject to reprisals or intimidation. Combating this phenomenon has been a priority for special procedures for years and several actions have been taken. The report presented today contains a dedicated section on this issue; a member of the Coordination Committee is tasked to consistently look at the matter and allegations of reprisals are systematically raised with all concerned. In addition a dedicated webpage has been developed highlighting how special procedures deal with this issue. After calling for this move for a long time, special procedures are particularly happy that the ASG has been designated to lead the UN efforts in this regard and look forward to cooperating closely with him.

Mr. President,

Themes addressed by mandate holders in their 2016 reports concerned a range of human rights issues. Some mandate holders focused their reports on integrating gender perspectives in their thematic areas. Others focused on conflict and humanitarian crises, while the SDGs were also the focus of reports issued by some mandate holders.

Through their reports, mandate holders hope to contribute to discussions on human rights issues and help shaping the international response to them, including in this Council. The Council is indeed the main recipient of special procedures recommendations. Being responsible for creating special procedures mandates, the Council has also the responsibility to give sufficient attention to their work and findings.

Unfortunately in recent years the Council has reduced the time dedicated to special procedures in its programme of work. This session has been particularly difficult for mandate holders in this regard. Six of them were not able to be present for the entirety of their interactive dialogue due to the significant delays in the programme. This prevented them to respond to all the questions made and had a particular impact on civil society whose representatives always speak at the end of the dialogue.

Some of these dialogues were divided in several parts which significantly undermined the coherence of the discussion. In addition, the required accessibility measures were not available for the whole duration of the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities which would be the minimum as accessibility measures should be provided all throughout, preventing her from participating fully in the whole dialogue.

While the duration of clustered interactive dialogues was already reduced to four hours recently - which already had an impact on the quality of the discussion - it was further reduced at this session with speaking time of delegations limited to two minutes, meaning one minute per report. This measure makes it almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion on special procedures reports.

This reduced time allocated to special procedures has also an impact on the attention given to follow-up to human rights our recommendations. Follow-up is a priority for special procedures. As shown in the report, more mandate holders undertake follow-up activities and as a system we have called on the Council to allow for more discussion on this issue. We welcome the efforts made by some States to use the interactive dialogues to share information about what they have done to implement recommendations, but the limited time available does not permit to give these welcome initiatives the necessary attention they deserve.

Special procedures are well aware of the time and workload constraints faced by this Council. We however express the hope that sustainable measures will be taken to address these problems in a way that would preserve and strengthen the engagement with mandate holders, in particular the interactive dialogues. Mandate holders are ready to support the Council in its reflection on these issues, including on how they can improve their contribution to the Council’s work.

I would also like to reiterate my disappointment that I was prevented from showing pictures during my interactive dialogue despite the fact that other mandate holders were given this opportunity in the past.

My colleagues have also faced difficulties in the way their reports have been processed, in particular in relation to their editing and translation. Some of my colleagues raised these issues in more details in their statements to the Council in the last two weeks. In consultation with the mandate holders concerned The Coordination Committee will address this matter with the responsible entities within the UN and will look for solutions that will respect special procedures mandates and independence.

Mr. President,

Special procedures would actually welcome more opportunities to contribute to the work of the Council, including outside the segment dedicated to them. In light of the focus on prevention initiated by the Secretary General, special procedures call on the UN system, including this Council, to rely more on special procedures and their expertise. Special procedures’ reports, recommendations and actions are an important source of information to keep abreast of human rights developments. Information from special procedures also contributes to the identification of early warning signs of human rights violations. Similarly, action by special procedures can help prevent or respond to serious human rights violations. Special procedures are also key partners in fostering constructive relations and engaging on human rights issues with States.

In this context, we welcome recent initiatives taken by the Council to associate special procedures with some investigations. Special procedures are also an ally in the Council’s endeavours to ensure that other UN intergovernmental bodies integrate A human rights dimension in their work. This engagement is also reflected in our support to the Human Rights Up Front Initiative.

Mr. President,

I will end with a few words on the role of the Coordination committee which is reflected in more details in the report. Let me just highlight that we have continued our efforts to enhance the capacity of the Committee to coordinate, represent and act on behalf of special procedures. In addition to facilitating joint actions by mandate holders, the Committee has continued to give advice on all matters related to the work of special procedures. It has also enhanced its interaction with other UN counterparts.

I would like to also stress the interface role that the Committee plays between the SP system and all other stakeholders. Let me reiterate in that context my availability as CC Chair to discuss special procedures related matters with all those interested.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, let me stress that the objective of this report is to contribute to a better understanding and awareness about what special procedures do and what kind of support they can offer to this Council, Member States, civil society and other stakeholders.

In conclusion I hope that this report will be the basis for a thorough discussion about the contribution of special procedures. While there is no interactive dialogue on this report, which I hope will be the case in the future, I look forward to reactions from the floor and I will also be available to discuss these and other issues after the debate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce that the next annual meeting of special procedures will take place in Geneva from 26 to 30 June. As usual we look forward to exchanges with Member States, NHRIs and NGOs in this context.

I thank you.