Welcoming Remarks by Ms Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the International Thematic Conference on Human Rights ICPD Beyond 2014 Review Process

The Hague, 7 July 2013


I would like to welcome you warmly to the ICPD Review Process and thank you for being here tonight.

I am particularly pleased to join in the discussions of many NGO representatives who attended the ICPD Cairo Conference.

Over the next three days, we will be embarking on a journey together that many of us have already been travelling for decades. We were in Cairo when the landmark consensus was reached at the International Conference on Population and Development.

And we have been working since then to implement this ground-breaking agenda.   Much progress has been made as we strengthened our focus and drive not only to deliver on the commitments made in the Programme of Action, but also advance – towards a world where all people enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Let us appreciate the dramatic impact of the information revolution – people are connected in ways we have never witnessed before, and this has had a knock-on effect on how people are claiming their human rights. We see this across the world as more and more people come together in outrage when human rights violations occur. People are also being educated in greater numbers than ever before – by 2030, it is estimated 51 per cent of the global population will have completed primary education, and slightly more than half will have completed secondary school.  And we are also making progress in closing the gender gap in education. These are important developments, which we must track closely – information and education will help us achieve the agenda set out by ICPD, but, if ill-conceived, could also undermine it. We must capitalize on this new era of information and education and use it positively, in order to dismantle gender stereotypes, tackle taboo subjects which have a serious impact on peoples’ lives, and ensure that people have access to the latest scientific information so they are able to make informed decisions about their lives and health.

The Programme of Action provides a solid foundation for us to translate human rights principles into reality on the ground.   When we placed gender equality and sexual and reproductive health at the core of the Programme of Action, we recognized that sustainable development is unachievable in a world in which discrimination against women is widespread, with sexual and gender-based violence one of the most vicious manifestations of such discrimination. We recognized that unless all couples and individuals are able to choose how many children they have, and when to have them, our vision of sustainable development would not be realized. Since 1994, we have come together many times to reaffirm these understandings.

The human rights community has played a particularly important role in advancing the ICPD agenda. United Nations human rights experts, some of whom are mandated to monitor human rights treaties, and others who are tasked by the UN Human Rights Council to examine particular human rights issues, have provided us with clear statements of the standards to be achieved according to human rights law.   For instance:

  • The right to life means that preventable maternal deaths, of which there are as many as 800 a day, must be stopped. This means ensuring women have access to emergency obstetric care, and to safe abortion services, as well as the means to reach health facilities. It also means addressing the other main causes of maternal mortality and morbidity.
  • The right to health requires that health services, goods and information are available, accessible, affordable, culturally acceptable and of good quality. This applies equally to sexual and reproductive health services and goods, such as maternal health and contraceptives.
  • The right to information and to education means that women, men, boys and girls should have access to accurate information about sexuality, and barriers to such access -- such as consent requirements -- should be removed.
  • The right to security of the person means that all forms of gender based violence must be eliminated, that acts of violence must be investigated and prosecuted regardless of whether they are committed by public or private actors, and that victims are provided with remedies
  • The right to freedom of expression and association means that women and men who defend these rights should be able to do so without fear of violence, threats or other reprisals.

The standards are there, and we know what they require. Our big challenge is implementation.  Some aspects of this challenge are related to lack of resources, lack of coordination, lack of knowledge. But much comes down to political will. I am not only talking about our politicians, but the will of each and every one of us to eliminate gender inequality, to respect women as fully autonomous human beings (rather than only defining them in relation to others – as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters or victims).  It also means action by all of us to address intersecting forms of discrimination, which have compounded effects on the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights, including for indigenous and minority women, rural women, women living in poverty and LGBT persons. The vision laid out in the ICPD Programme of Action requires every one of us to commit to a different way of operating.

I am convinced that the discussions launched today will help us to stay on the right track, and sharpen our focus on the key priorities from a human rights perspective. To make this happen, we have organized a meeting designed to maximize dialogue and participation.  It will be intense and hard work, but hopefully it will generate a renewed energy and commitment to build a new world in which women do not die in childbirth of preventable causes; a world in which all women have the right to choose the number and spacing of their children; a world in which gender based violence is a distant memory – in short, a world in which human rights for all are guaranteed and the ICPD Programme of Action is implemented.

I want to conclude by expressing my sincere gratitude to UNFPA for its leadership, and for taking the initiative to hold this conference, and the wider commitment to the human rights dimension of the ICPD agenda which is evident in your work all over the world. I also want to wholeheartedly thank our hosts, the Dutch Government, for bringing us together and for their unfailing support for the realization of human rights.