Opening remarks at Social Forum

4 October 2010

Madame Chairperson,
Mr. Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to meet with you at this opening session of the 2010 Social Forum. At the outset, I should like to congratulate my distinguished colleague, Her Excellency Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre, the Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations Offices in Geneva for her nomination and appointment as the Chairperson-Rapporteur of this year's Social Forum.

Let me begin by underscoring, on behalf of the Human Rights Council, the importance we attach to the Social Forum. Every year, the Forum provides a much needed space for an open and interactive dialogue on important human rights issues between the representatives of Member States, civil society and intergovernmental organizations. And I believe this is the most vital function of the Social Forum.

In particular, the attendance by many grass-roots organizations representing the widest spectrum of society, especially those with real experiences on ground, is truly an asset of the Forum - because it brings in the practical and action oriented approach that enriches the discourse on human rights and help us in translating our commitments on human rights into concrete actions on the ground.

Another asset of the Social Forum lies in the approach that you bring to bear on important issues on you agenda. For example, the Forum in the past few years have been focusing on poverty eradication and negative impacts of economic and financial crisis. These issues have been discussed in many international fora but the Social Forum provides the value added by looking into them from a human related perspective – focusing on the human and social dimension and, most importantly, human rights dimension.

For these reasons, inputs from the Social Forum have been much appreciated by the Human Rights Council and we indeed look forward to receiving the results of your deliberations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year, your deliberation, focusing on the effects of climate change on the full enjoyment of human rights, is most timely and significant for us all. The threat of climate change is indeed a global challenge confronting all of us. Beyond the ecological and economic impacts, the social and human rights implications of climate change must definitely be given greater priority.

The reality is that climate change has far-reaching implications on the enjoyment of human rights, especially for the vulnerable groups – those who are on the front line in facing the threat of climate change, especially in places where even small climatic changes can have catastrophic consequences for lives and livelihoods. In addition, impacts of climate change can increase vulnerability to poverty and social deprivation of all populations - and hence threaten their fundamental human rights such as rights to life, food, water and health, as well as prevent their full enjoyment of other economic, social and cultural rights.

It is therefore important to look into the human rights perspectives and undertake human rights based approach when identifing and implementing measures and actions to address the adverse effects of climate change.

The Human Rights Council itself has tried to draw attention to this more holistic approach by adopting two resolutions on climate change and human rights. The first resolution requested the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a study on the issue and the second one mandated a panel discussion on this subject in the Council. The Panel was held in June 2009 with a view to providing strong message of the critical importance of not losing sight of human rights perspective in climate change negotiations. To give further importance to this effort, the Council decided for this year's Social Forum to focus on human rights and climate change. 

In the wake of the perceived failure of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change and in view of the upcoming Climate Conference in Cancun in this November, your deliberation on this topic could not have come at a more timely moment. The Human Rights Council very much looks forward to receiving and considering the conclusions and recommendations from this Social Forum at our next session in March 2011. So I wish you all fruitful deliberations and a successful outcome.

In addition to this, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to bring another important development to your attention. As many of you may already be aware, in this cycle year from June 2010-June 2011, the Human Rights Council will be undertaking the review of its mandate and functions.

The goal of this review is first to take stock of how effective the Council has been five years after its establishment, in carrying out its mandates in the promotion and protection of human rights. We will also assess the performance of various mechanisms and instruments of the Council as well as the process and the way by which of which the Council discharges its function.  

In this review, we have to be objective in assessing where we have succeeded and where we can and must make improvement. There are a number of areas and specific issues that we must address, one of the most important being how the Council can do better in dealing with urgent issues and situations involving violation of human rights. In terms of strengthening the Council's institutions, we need to see how we can do better in fully utilizing the Council's mechanisms and subsidiary bodies, including the Social Forum, in the complementary and coherent way in order to achieve a high level of synergy that would enhance the overall work of the Council in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The review process will start by the convening of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on 25-29 October 2010.  We also expect to have one more meeting early next year to finalize the review for submission to the General Assembly. Given the importance of this undertaking, I would like to encourage all of stakeholders to provide concrete inputs, ideas and thinking for this review process.

Let me conclude by emphasizing my belief that, in this review process, we must stay focused on our overriding goals. We need to approach all human rights issues in the spirit of constructive dialogue and engagement, not only with countries concerned but with all the relevant stakeholders. We need to address all human rights issues and situations in a transparent and even-handed way. We need to think of innovative and more sensitized means to deal with pressing and complex human rights issues. Above all, we need to realize that ultimately the credibility of the Human Rights Council lies not with what we pronounce in this chamber but in a way that we act to make a real difference in the lives of our peoples.

It is in this spirit of making a meaningful difference in the lives of peoples that I wish you a successful and rewarding meeting.  

Thank you