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Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York

15 October 2019

Your Excellency, President of the General Assembly,

Distinguished Chairperson,

Excellencies,

Colleagues,

I am honoured to present the report of my Office A/74/36 pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/141. It outlines the human rights work of my Office, including our 77 field presences, between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2019 – spanning the world, and working across all three pillars of the UN.  Following requests by many delegations during my interactive dialogue here in New York last year, I have reinstated this report, which complements my annual report to the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/40/3.

Undeniably, we are facing rising challenges to multilateralism – and to many fundamental international human rights treaties, laws and values.  We are witnessing an increase in xenophobia, hate speech, pushbacks on women's equality and the rights of minorities, as well as restrictions on the civic space and widening inequalities in income, wealth, access to resources, and access to justice.

Nonetheless, I am convinced that we can work with Member States to strengthen the consensus of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: no matter what type of government or economic system –  across every culture and tradition – all States have an obligation to respect economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. And the mandate of my Office is to effectively assist all States to uphold all the human rights of all people. 

Open and honest dialogue with Member States is often the most productive approach for advancing the rights of people on the ground. A year after taking up my mandate, I see evidence that this emphasis on dialogue and partnership is beginning to bear fruit, in thematic areas such as climate change, inequality, and business and human rights, as well as with several specific country situations, and in our strengthened relationships with a range of partners.

Practical assistance to States

Excellencies,

Where shortcomings in human rights are the result of national gaps in resources, capacities or institutions, we offer support to Member States through technical cooperation programmes, capacity-building, policy guidance, and other practical assistance on the ground.

In 2019 so far, we have assisted in the implementation of more than 1500 activities across all regions, together with States, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations and the business sector.

Our recent efforts to promote, in particular, economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR), are essential building blocks in support of States' efforts under the 2030 Agenda and for sustained peace.

In Madagascar, we built the capacity of human rights lawyers, enabling them to support communities in protecting their economic, social and cultural rights. In Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, we promoted the use of human rights indicators to quantify States' track record in support of ESCR. In Tunisia, where I had the opportunity to visit in June, we built the capacity of domestic courts to adjudicate on issues involving ESCR. In Uganda, we supported the development and launch of guidance and training for judicial officers. And in Colombia, we facilitated indigenous authorities and the Governor of Amazonas to reach agreement on an indigenous intercultural health system.

In line with the 2030 Agenda, Member States have committed to ensure that the sustainable development goals contribute to the realization of all human rights, including the right to development. To promote its implementation, including in least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, we need to:  foster partnerships to address financing gaps; identify innovative strategies; facilitate inclusive programmes; and ensure safe participatory spaces-. This will provide opportunities to all sectors of society to become development partners – leaving no one behind. 

Gender equality is at the core of our work. In Argentina, Panama, Tanzania, and Uruguay the Office has worked with judicial authorities and institutions to address gender stereotypes and bias in the justice system, and ensure greater access to justice, including remedies, for women and girls. This work is vital to advancing Sustainable Development Goal 16, in every society.

To assist both national and multinational business actors to uphold human rights, we provide technical support for the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the creation of national action plans, as is the case in Cameroon, Chile, Honduras, Kenya, and Peru, among others. In Cambodia, this effort focused on agribusiness and land rights. In Fiji, we strengthened the capacity of civil society and United Nations agencies to monitor and report on the human rights impact of business activities, including in the context of climate change and the environment. In Indonesia and Thailand, we led workshops to identify linkages between business impact on human rights, the environment and migration. In Senegal, we supported a national study on implementation of Guiding Principles in the extractive sector. We are also boosting our work on important issues with respect to digital technology.

The Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a key entry point for engagement with States and other stakeholders on vital human rights issues.. States acceptances of recommendations under the UPR have increased significantly, and now average over 75%. I would like to highlight some of the actions adopted by the 42 States reviewed in this past year.  Chad abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes, while Eritrea ratified the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.  Cote d'Ivoire revised the penal code to address marital rape and domestic violence, and also prepared a human rights national action plan aligned with the SDGs. Ethiopia made extensive reforms in line with human rights recommendations. Malaysia, where I visited just last week, issued a standing invitation to Special Procedures mandate holders. Malta is establishing a national human rights institution and New Zealand an Office for Maori Crown Relations. Slovakia established independent oversight over the police force. Uruguay adopted laws on violence against women and trafficking in persons, and established a National Council for Racial Equity; and Viet Nam ratified ILO Convention  98 on the right to organise and bargain collectively.

In addition, through the Voluntary Fund for UPR Implementation, my Office is providing support to a broad range of countries. To take one example, in Mongolia we are supporting national consultations aimed at establishing a national torture prevention mechanism in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; working towards a national strategy to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;  supporting consultations on a draft law on human rights defenders;  and assisting the launch of a "Free and Equal" Campaign.

Mainstreaming

Excellencies,

The substantive issues raised in UPR reviews often mirror the recommendations issued by the Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies, as well as by my Office. Together, they form a cross-section of critical human rights gaps at the country level, which, if addressed, will build more resilient societies, and sustain development and peace. There is great potential for better and more focused use of human rights recommendations in system-wide action across the UN; such concerted action is supportive of the Secretary General's emphasis on prevention, as well as the 2030 Agenda.

For instance, next week, together with UNDP and UNDCO, we will be organising a regional consultation in Panama, to enable UN entities and representatives from 18 Latin American States to discuss ways in which human rights recommendations can boost implementation of the SDGs. This builds on similar regional events organized last year in Senegal and Cape Verde, in partnership  with the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa. This effort is also in line with our efforts to strengthen our relationships with the reformulated Country Teams and Resident Coordinators, within the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework planning system.

There is also a crucial need for the UN's peacebuilding and peace-sustaining activities to integrate human rights analyses and approaches. I view the human rights agenda as the essential foundation of any effective effort to ensure both prevention and peacebuilding.

My Office works closely with the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) to ensure that UN peace operations adhere to human rights, international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the Secretary General's zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse. We help States to strengthen their domestic systems to screen troops awaiting deployment in UN missions. We also provide training on human rights and international humanitarian law to support trainings in major troop- and police-contributing countries, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, China or Uruguay. With both DPO and the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, we support strategic planning in 12 UN peace operation, including those in transition, and participated in the strategic assessments of peace operations in Haiti, Darfur, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The fight against impunity and the pursuit of transitional justice are essential to healing wounds, resolving grievances and building support for peace. They are also critical for the prevention of further human rights violations. OHCHR has continued to support States and other stakeholders in the design and implementation of context specific, nationally owned and victim focused accountability and transitional justice processes. They include, among others, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, El Salvador, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

Partnerships with UN bodies and regional organisations

Excellencies,

The world's climate emergency constitutes a major threat to human rights.  I am determined to assist States and organisations to prevent, mitigate and adapt to climate change, with human rights based policies, particularly in terms of sustainable management of natural resources and development planning. To further the goal of coherent and coordinated action, and encourage greater acceptance of the human right to a healthy environment, my Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN Environment Programme in August.

My Office has also devised a joint work plan with the World Health Organization. Its purpose is to advance the human right to health – which is recognised in the WHO Constitution – and to support both the 2030 Agenda and the Secretary-General's Global Strategy on Women, Children's and Adolescent's Health 2016-2030. We will advance national implementation of human rights standards in health and health law; enhance the capacity of national partners to monitor health and human rights; and cooperate on developing specific guidance on key issues.

The Office has also forged agreements with African Union entities. Last month, we signed a cooperation agreement with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, and  in February  with the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Later this month, my Office and the AU will organise a Regional Meeting in Senegal on the International Decade for People of African Descent, and next month I look forward to signing a memorandum of understanding with the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region.

The African Decade on Human Rights, and the Ten Year Action and Implementation Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human and Peoples' Rights (2016-2026) provide us with many entry points for deeper cooperation, and we have already begun supporting the African Union Commission on the development of a compliance framework for African Union peace operations.  

 In the Americas, we continue to strengthen our partnership with regional bodies such as ECLAC, PAHO and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Our Joint Action Mechanism with the Inter American Commission seeks to maximize our available resources by coordinating strategies and complementing each other. This has resulted in closer cooperation in monitoring the situation of human rights defenders on the ground and in joint capacity building for human rights defenders. Next month, I will participate in the 3rd Forum of the Inter-American Human Rights System, jointly organized by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Ecuador.  

Treaty Bodies

Excellencies,

As you are aware, the human rights treaty body review will take place in 2020. International human rights treaties, and jurisprudence by treaty bodies, constitute the legal backbone of the entire human rights protection architecture. A stronger treaty body system would bolster all that we do as human rights actors – from the UPR, to expert and fact-finding bodies and capacity building work on national policies and laws.

I welcome the vision of the Treaty Body Chairs, and the fact that it echoes many of the important points of the non-paper coordinated by Costa Rica, which has been endorsed by over 40 States. This includes the need to tackle the resource gap; engage more in regions and with regional mechanisms; and better respect by States for their reporting obligations.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly's funding has not kept pace with the steady increase in the treaty bodies' work. The Committees do not have adequate resources to pursue regular dialogue with all States Parties or to carry out inquiries into grave or systematic rights violations. For example, the backlog in dealing with individual complaints now means many petitioners must wait more than four years for a decision on individual complaints.

This constitutes a credibility crisis for treaty bodies, for the Office– and for States – in terms of the effectiveness of a vital protection system. And more importantly, it constitutes a denial of justice for victims of human rights violations around the world.  My Office is exploring interim solutions to alleviate some of these problems, including diverting extra-budgetary funds to address some of the most critical gaps. But this comes at the cost of other OHCHR activities, and cannot solve the underlying issues.

Excellencies,

The performance of my Office in 2017-18 was assessed by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN). It noted "The Office has come a long way, despite the fact that its relatively limited resources are constantly stretched – across functions, themes and regions... the gap between OHCHR's mandate and resourcing is increasing, and funding is becoming less predictable. Nonetheless, OHCHR's organisational performance has, paradoxically, never been better."

This assessment has been of great value to me, highlighting our strengths in several areas to which the Office has given considerable emphasis in recent years. There is room for improvement and we are committed to addressing issues such as organisational arrangements for increased impact on the ground, and talent management and human resources issues.

I look forward to engaging with you in our interactive dialogue.

I thank you for your attention.