News 2008

 

Human Rights Council discusses annual report of High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

- Excerpt -

Human Rights Council

07. March 2008

 

High Commissioner Says She Will Not Seek a Second Term in Office

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council which was followed by an interactive dialogue. Ms. Arbour announced that this would be her last annual report, as she had informed the Secretary-General that she would not seek a second term when her mandate expired at the end of June 2008.

With regard to the Universal Periodic Review process, Ms. Arbour said the Council must turn its attention to supporting the participation of least developed countries to the review, and to the implementation of its recommendations, which would also require financial commitments. With this in mind, the High Commissioner urged donor countries to give special consideration to the two Universal Periodic Review trust funds mandated by the General Assembly. As to other institution-building matters, the creation of the Advisory Committee was commended.

Poverty and global inequalities remained thematic priorities for OHCHR and its advocacy of a human rights-approach to poverty reduction strategies had continued, Ms. Arbour said. OHCHR's efforts to place gender and women's rights at the core of the work of the Office as a whole, with priority given to the issue of access to justice for women, and their economic, social and cultural rights, was also highlighted.

The High Commissioner welcomed the renewal of agreements for OHCHR offices in Nepal, Colombia and Mexico and thanked the Government of Senegal with which OHCHR reached an agreement in November 2007, for the establishment of a Regional Office for West Africa. In 2007, the High Commissioner undertook meetings in and conducted visits to twenty countries. The High Commissioner indicated that in January she visited Sweden and Slovenia. Discussions there were wide-ranging with a focus on migration, and counterterrorism and human rights. Shortly after those visits, she went to Mexico where she signed a new agreement with the Government of President Calderón for the continuation of OHCHR presence and activities. In Georgia last week the High Commissioner was able to observe first hand the significant progress that the country had made in ensuring respect for human rights.

Ms. Arbour said the situation in West Darfur was extremely preoccupying as the conflict had flared up anew since the beginning of February. With regard to Kenya, the OHCHR welcomed the power sharing deal brokered by Kofi Annan and encouraged the parties to the agreement to firmly pursue accountability and justice in order to fortify sustainable peace in Kenya. Since last December, Ms. Arbour said she had also been concerned by further acts of violence in Sri Lanka. The efforts made by the Government of Nepal to address the issue of statelessness were also welcomed. In a positive step to advance democratization and combat impunity, the Government of Togo was to be commended for its initiative to hold broad-based, national consultations on questions of reconciliation and justice in order to develop appropriate, nationally-owned response mechanisms.

In conclusion, the High Commissioner said that comments by representatives of Member States which impeached the integrity of the High Commissioner and or of members of her Office through allegations of bias, hypocrisy, insubordination and dereliction of duties, were in her opinion outside the acceptable range of interactive dialogue.

Speaking as concerned countries were Mexico, Sudan, Georgia, Colombia, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Kenya.

Speakers who took the floor praised the High Commissioner for her efforts and the work of the Office and expressed regret that she would not seek a second term. The relationship between OHCHR and the Council was an issue which was raised repeatedly. Some speakers said that while consultations should take place between the bodies, the independence of OHCHR had to be respected. They said that for the High Commissioner to be truly effective, she had to have financial independence and autonomy of action. The Human Right Council had no role in the budgetary process and there was no mandate for the Council to review the Strategic Management Plan of the High Commissioner. Others said that there were some deficiencies in terms of a lack of coordination with States and budget planning. The Office was part of the Secretariat of the United Nations and as such was accountable to the Human Rights Council and Member States. There were repeated calls to put the issue of the Strategic Management Plan on the agenda of the Council's June session.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Indonesia, Cuba, India, Israel, China, Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Slovenia on behalf of the European Union, Sweden, Brazil, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Algeria, France, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of the meeting, Brazil, Japan and Uruguay spoke in explanations of the vote after the vote on the resolution on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which was adopted yesterday afternoon (see press release HRC/08/13 of 6 March).

The Council today is meeting non-stop from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When the Council started its midday meeting at noon, it continued the interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner's report.

Documents

The Council has before it the annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights (A/HRC/7/38 and Add.1-2), which outlines the efforts undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to implement its mandate. It elaborates on the support given to the continued work of the Human Rights Council and the effective functioning of its mechanisms, both its reform initiatives and its ongoing substantive work. In this context, attention is equally paid to the challenge of the Universal Periodic Review and the support given to that process by OHCHR. The report elaborates on the strategic themes identified in the Strategic Management Plan and their implementation. It also provides an overview of the continued efforts to strengthen country engagement and activities for the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One focus of the report is the continued commitment to the fight against racism and, in particular, the Durban Review process. Finally, the report highlights the support for human rights instruments and the potential role of the universal periodic review in the promotion of their universal application.

An addendum to the report contains a report on the activities of OHCHR's Guatemala Office (currently available in Spanish only).

A second addendum looks at the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda, which records a distinct improvement in the human rights and security situation in conflict-affected north and northeast Uganda during the reporting period. The continued constructive engagement by the Government and its institutions at national and local levels with OHCHR towards strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights is also recognized. In northern Uganda, although more than 1 million persons remain in camps for internally displaced persons, an estimated 560,000 have returned to their places of origin. In support of these population movements and to build local capacity for a peaceful return process, OHCHR considerably stepped up its training and capacity-building activities in northern Uganda in favour of civilian law enforcement and judicial officials. In conclusion, the High Commissioner for Human Rights makes a number of recommendations to the Government of Uganda. These include: ensuring that principles of justice, accountability and the rule of law, in accordance with relevant international norms, are integrated into any peace agreement, and that national consultative processes around accountability and reconciliation continue to allow for the genuine and meaningful participation of the victims of the conflict. The High Commissioner also advocates that the rights of internally displaced persons for a free and informed choice in determining if, when and where they wish to move, including their right to return home in safety and in dignity, guide any planning and assistance during the transition from a humanitarian emergency to early recovery.

Presentation by High Commissioner for Human Rights

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed profound sadness at the killings yesterday in Israel and Iraq. There could be no justification for the murder of innocent civilians. Before going into the substance of her speech, the High Commissioner announced that this would be her last annual report, as she had informed the Secretary-General that she would not seek a second term when her mandate expired at the end of June 2008. The annual report, she said, together with her Office's Strategic Management Plan for the biennium 2008-2009, and two reports—one of them forthcoming—on the implementation of the 2006-2007 Strategic Management Plan, presented a comprehensive overview of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) activities in accordance with its approved Strategic Framework and budget. Against this background and perspective, OHCHR planned to take full advantage of the year-long campaign to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that it launched last December.

With regard to the Universal Periodic Review process, the Human Rights Council must turn its attention to supporting the participation of least developed countries to the review, and to the implementation of its recommendations, which would also require financial commitments. With this in mind, the High Commissioner urged donor countries to give special consideration to the two Universal Periodic Review trust funds mandated by the General Assembly. As to other institution-building matters, the creation of the Advisory Committee was commended. Throughout the period under review, through its technical cooperation, advisory and advocacy activities, OHCHR had contributed to international efforts to support national protection systems to help end impunity. Among other things, OHCHR had supported fact-finding or investigative missions, as well as treaty bodies and Special Procedures mandate-holders. Poverty and global inequalities remained thematic priorities for OHCHR and its advocacy of a human rights-approach to poverty reduction strategies had continued. OHCHR's efforts to place gender and women's rights at the core of the work of the Office as a whole, with priority given to the issue of access to justice for women, and their economic, social and cultural rights, were also highlighted.

The High Commissioner welcomed the renewal of agreements for OHCHR offices in Nepal, Colombia and Mexico and thanked the Government of Senegal with which OHCHR reached an agreement in November 2007, for the establishment of a Regional Office for West Africa. In 2007, the High Commissioner undertook meetings in and conducted visits to twenty countries. During these meetings and visits, the High Commissioner stressed the need for accountability with a view to putting an end to impunity for all forms of human rights violations, including violence against women. The High Commissioner indicated that in January she visited Sweden and Slovenia. Discussions there were wide-ranging with a focus on migration, and counterterrorism and human rights. Shortly after those visits, she went to Mexico where she signed a new agreement with the Government of President Calderón for the continuation of OHCHR presence and activities. In Georgia last week the High Commissioner was able to observe first hand the significant progress that the country had made in ensuring respect for human rights.

The situation in West Darfur was extremely preoccupying as the conflict has flared up anew since the beginning of February, the High Commissioner declared. Scores of civilians had reportedly been killed in the course of bombardments. The recent fighting has led to thousands of new internally displaced persons and refugees. Indiscriminate attacks must cease and those responsible for the illegal attacks on civilians and civilian property must be brought to justice. With regard to Kenya, OHCHR followed closely the crisis that unfolded after the elections late last year. OHCHR welcomed the power sharing deal brokered by Kofi Annan and encouraged the parties to the agreement to firmly pursue accountability and justice in order to fortify sustainable peace in Kenya.

Since last December, Ms. Arbour said she had also been concerned by further acts of violence in Sri Lanka. The efforts made by the government of Nepal to address the issue of statelessness were also welcomed. In a positive step to advance democratization and combat impunity, the Government of Togo was to be commended for its initiative to hold broad-based, national consultations on questions of reconciliation and justice in order to develop appropriate, nationally-owned response mechanisms. There was also a need to emphasize once again the need for respecting human rights, as well as for greater transparency and accountability, when countering terrorism. There was a need to enhance the impact of the treaty bodies as crucial vehicles for the protection of human rights at the country level. Together with the Universal Periodic Review system, the treaty bodies should operate in a rational and coherent fashion.

In conclusion, Ms. Arbour said that in the context of the relationship between members of the Human Rights Council and representatives of the United Nations Secretariat, comments by representatives of Member States which impeached the integrity of the High Commissioner and or of members of her Office through allegations of bias, hypocrisy, insubordination and dereliction of duties, were in her opinion outside the acceptable range of interactive dialogue. Expressed in this forum, such statements demeaned the Human Rights Council and betrayed the good faith efforts of all those working at the United Nations on very difficult and divisive issues.

Statements by Concerned Countries (excerpt)

MARIA NZOMO (Kenya), speaking as a concerned country, said Kenya looked forward to seeing the results of the fact-finding mission. The Kenyan authorities had invited the mission and given it their full support. The Kenyan Government had already put in place effective mechanisms to put an end to violations and to bring relief to people affected by this violence. Kenya appreciated the support expressed by the international community during one of the most dramatic challenges in its history.

Interactive Debate on the Report of the High Commissioner

BIRGITTA SIEFKER-EBERLE (Germany) expressed Germany's thanks to the High Commissioner for her excellent report and for her good cooperation with the German Government. The briefings received by the Office of the High Commissioner gave evidence to the good way of how the Office worked. There was no need for micro management of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner's work in the area of economic, social and cultural rights as well as the Office's field presence were commendable. Germany expressed appreciation to the High Commissioner's role in preparation of the Universal Periodic Review process and said it would support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in all efforts towards implementing the institution building package. As noted by the High Commissioner in her report, racism was one of the major human rights challenges and Germany recognized, as had the High Commissioner, that no country was free from racism. The German Government was strongly engaged in the Durban Declaration conference (*) efforts. The High Commissioner was asked how the international community could best unify its efforts in the fight against racism and for her views on the outcome of the Durban Review process. Lastly, Germany expressed its condolences to Israel for the tragedy in Jerusalem yesterday.

(*) Not to be confused with: The Durban declaration was a statement signed by over 5,000 physicians and scientists at the 2000 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, affirming that HIV is the cause of AIDS. The declaration was drafted in response to statements by South Africa president Thabo Mbeki, who questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. At the Durban conference, 5,000 scientists from all over the world, including eleven Nobel prize winners, signed a statement calling the evidence that HIV causes AIDS "clear-cut, exhaustive and unambiguous."[1]

 

 

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