Human Rights Council, President Statement to GA HRC presidency for distribution

3 November 2010

Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to come before you today. Before going into my presentation, allow me, Mr. President, to congratulate you on your election and to express my best wishes for a successful tenure.  

Following the practice of my distinguished predecessors, today I will be presenting the annual report of the Human Rights Council to the General Assembly, in accordance with GA resolution 60/251.

But as you may already know, the Human Rights Council is undergoing a very important exercise this year, which is the review of its work and functioning and status mandated by UNGA resolution 60/251. Therefore, my presentation today will also touch upon the review. Particularly, I should like to share with you the progress made at the first intergovernmental working group on the review of the work and functioning of the Human Rights Council, which took place in Geneva last week. As, once our process in Geneva is completed no later than June next year, it shall feed into a separated yet complementary process of the review of the Council's status here by the General Assembly.

Mr. President,

The report presented to you today covers the fourth cycle of the Council, from the September 2009 session to the June 2010 session, under the presidency of Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen, Permanent Representative of Belgium, as well as the addendum covering the latest session in September this year under my presidency.

During the reporting period, the Council has fulfilled its mandates to advance the promotion and protection of human rights through various means.

First, through the Universal Periodic Review, the Council has now achieved the review of the human rights situation in 127 countries, which amount to two-thirds of the UN Member States. Proudly, I can report that the Council has secured a 100% participation of States under review thus far.

The UPR continues to be seen, and rightly so, as one of the most meaningful innovations of the Council. Grounded on the principles of universality, equality, constructive dialogue and cooperation, this mechanism has been successful in creating positive synergies in efforts to improve the human rights situation on the ground.

Starting from the national level, the UPR has brought government and civil society together to assess and find ways to improve the human rights situation within the country. The level of awareness and efforts to promote and protect human rights has been significantly increased. This includes immediate improvement in national policy and legislation, pledges to bring them in line with the state's international obligations, ratification of additional human rights treaties, submission of reports to treaty bodies, and increased cooperation with Special Procedures.

Second, in the area of standard setting, the Council advanced its normative work on a number of important thematic issues.

Complementing the overall UN efforts to enhance the rights and welfare of women, the Council discussed a number of issues relating to women's human rights, including maternal mortality and morbidity, the linkage between the right to education and the empowerment of women and girls, the elimination of discrimination against women in law and in practice, and integration of gender perspective into the Council's work. In the last session in September, the Council also decided to establish a Working Group of five experts from different social, cultural and religious backgrounds to work on the issue of elimination of discrimination against women.

The Council gave a clear sign of its commitment towards strengthening the rights of the child by holding an annual full-day discussion on sexual violence against children. The Council also extended the mandate of the Working Group to draft an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child, therefore, aiming toward the establishment of a complaint procedure for this particularly important right.

Other thematic issues discussed by the Council that I wish to highlight include the timely discussion on the impact of the global economic and financial crises on human rights; the human rights of persons with disabilities; human rights education and training; the right to the truth; the protection of journalists in situations of armed conflicts; and the adverse effects of toxic waste on human rights.

A total of 100 resolutions, 72 decisions and 3 Presidential Statements have been adopted in this reporting period. The Council has also been increasingly resorting to panel discussions as an innovative format for the exchange of views and expertise. These panel discussions benefited from a wide gamut of human rights expertise, including from its Special Procedures, its Advisory Committee and other subsidiary bodies, Treaty Bodies experts, UN specialized agencies, national human rights institutions and civil society. The Council also benefited from hearing the first-hand experience of victims of trafficking during a panel discussion in its June session.

It is indeed particularly enriching when the Council can avail itself of different sources of human rights expertise and information at its disposal. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the continued engagement of non-governmental organizations, with an average of 200 organizations present at each session, which often contribute to the Council's deliberations with first-hand information and critical analysis.

Distinguished Delegates,

Over the reporting period, the Council was seized with a number of pressing human rights situations that occurred in various parts of the world.

Striving for a constructive approach to deal with country situations, the Council has creatively utilized features and avenues provided for in resolution 5/1. In addition to continued engagement with country-specific Special Procedures and the holding of special sessions, the Council also resorted to in-session urgent debates, the establishment of independent fact-finding missions as well as the adoption of presidential statements and declarations.

A special session was held in January in support of the post-earthquake recovery process in Haiti. An urgent debate was held in June on the attack on the flotilla, followed by an interactive dialogue with the international fact-finding mission on such case in the September session. During that same session, an interactive dialogue was held with the Committee of Independent Experts to monitor and assess any domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian side in light of GA resolution 64/254.

An informative stand-alone interactive dialogue on Somalia, which significantly benefited from the extensive participation of a variety of international, regional and national stakeholders, was also held last September.

Mr. President,

Let me now turn to another important exercise undertaken by the Council, which is the review of its work and functioning in accordance with GA resolution 60/251. The review process in Geneva started formally last week with the holding of the first session of the open-ended intergovernmental Working Group established for this purpose.

This process presents a valuable opportunity for us to assess and build on what we have achieved and make improvements where we can to enhance the effectiveness of the Council in the promotion and protection of human rights for all.

While the common view is that this exercise is a review and not a reform of the Council, we must nevertheless be able to generate meaningful results. We must not lose focus of what we aim to achieve.

First, the Council should be able to make a real impact on the ground, leading to the improvement of human rights for all peoples. Second, the Council should do better in addressing chronic and urgent issues and situations involving serious violations of human rights, to react more swiftly and effectively to these situations wherever they may occur. And third, we should be able to streamline the Council's work to ensure that our time and resources are used in the most effective way to fulfill all the mandates given to the Council.

Excellencies,

The review also provides for a timely opportunity to address the relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. In this connection, there is a need to better coordinate the work of the Human Rights Council with that of the General Assembly, so as to enable the Council to respond to all human rights issues, in particular the urgent ones, with adequate financial and political backing from this Assembly.

The current arrangements do not allow the General Assembly to consider the Council's decisions and recommendations until the end of the year, thus yielding negative implications to both the Council and the work of the Office of the High Commissioner. Increasingly, newly-established activities and mandates have to either be postponed or supported by diverting resources on a temporary basis. This issue should be resolved in the context of the HRC review this year.

Mr. President,

As you know, the Human Rights Council is now entering its fifth cycle. This cycle is a challenging one in many aspects. We have to maintain the pace and progress of the regular work of the Council. At the same time, we have to embark on the review process of the Council.

At the beginning of my presidency, I stated that I would be guided by the following principles and let me repeat them here. First, the importance of taking constructive and cooperative approach to all human rights issues and situation. Second, maintaining and strengthening the capacity of the Council in terms of making a real difference on the ground and enhancing the capacity of the Council to react to urgent human rights situations in an even handed way. And third, ensuring that the work of the Council provides for inclusiveness of all stakeholders whose role is recognized as instrumental to advancing the course of human rights.

Before concluding, Mr. President, allow me to reiterating my personal commitment and that of the Council to support your leadership both in the review of the HRC's status by the UNGA this year as well as to further advance, session after session, towards the full implementation of the noble objectives enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  

I thank you for kind attention.