UN High Commissioner for Human Rights holds interactive dialogue with Human Rights Council
Friday, 05 March 2010 17:12

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navi Pillay

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navi Pillay presented her Annual Report and 2010-2011 Strategic and Management Plan (SMP) to the UN Human Rights Council on 4 March 2010. Ms Pillay outlined OHCHR’s six thematic focus areas and activities undertaken in 2009, including notably new OHCHR regional offices in Qatar and Brussels, the work of rapid response units in Gaza, Guinea, Honduras and Madagascar, the creation of an OHCHR taskforce to monitor implementation of the Durban Review process, and briefings to the Security Council on counter-terrorism and human rights. The High Commissioner also requested the creation of an OHCHR unit to assist in follow up to UPR recommendations. She expressed concern for reprisals against individuals who are in contact with UN special procedures, commended expert-led developments in relation to UN human rights treaty body reform, and regretted that the Council’s previous resolution on the right to development had not been adopted by consensus.


Ms Pillay then provided updates on a number of country situations, including Iran (violent crackdown on dissent, ‘questionable’ trials and the possibility of her visiting), Sri Lanka (ongoing concerns about treatment of journalists and human rights defenders), Mongolia (welcome moratorium on the death penalty), Egypt (use of lethal force against those trying to enter Israel), Australia (discrimination against Indian students), Italy (discrimination against Roma), United States (progress in closing Guantanamo and the need to investigate allegations of torture), and Haiti (that subsistence levels have not been reached). She concluded by claiming that interactive dialogue with the Council was ‘of great value to me and my colleagues’.


There were two clearly emerging areas of consensus from the pursuing dialogue with States; that the budget of OHCHR needed to be increased to match its increasing workloadSouth Africa sought a breakdown of costs, which Ms Pillay explained was being produced. (although a smaller number of States were insistent that voluntary funding be un-earmarked to avoid State interference),Philippines, Algeria, Bangladesh. and support for a UPR follow-up unit in OHCHR.For example Norway, Peru, Japan, Jordan, Libya, United Kingdom (who will also follow up under Item 6), Armenia. Many States also agreed on room for improvement in the UPR as part of the Council review in 2011.France, South Africa, Czech Republic, New Zealand. A number of States also used the dialogue to express their expectation of OHCHR’s support in the Council review, and presented some preliminary views.Including the format for discussions (Greece) more country mandates (Spain) and less agenda items per session (Hungary). The High Commissioner herself identified early warning as a priority and urged civil society participation in the review. Likewise, Ireland, New Zealand and the International Service for Human Rights requested further elaboration on what active role OHCHR may play in the moving the process of treaty body reform forward, although this was not responded to.



There was however two polarised positions regarding how the High Commissioner had developed the SMP. Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), India, China and others considered that the High Commissioner should have consulted with the Council for ‘inputs’ before finalisation, while Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference) and Nigeria claimed that strategic priorities needed to be in line with the 2008-2011 Strategic Priorities of the Secretary General. This was countered by strong statements from the United Kingdom, Germany, the Republic of Korea and othersSpain (EU), Austria, Greece, Ireland. supporting operational independence and dialogue with the Council as ‘equal partners’ (United Kingdom). Greece in particular stressed that the SMP is a document ‘not to be negotiated with States’. The High Commissioner was also direct in asserting that she reports to the General Assembly and Secretary-General and that ‘this is clear’.


There was also a division of opinion over the independence and conduct of special procedures of the Council. Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) was insistent that special procedures strictly abide by the code of conduct, and Pakistan (OIC) criticised special procedures as acting above sovereign States, while South Africa even proposed the creation of an ‘ethics committee’ to monitor the code of conduct’s application. The High Commissioner, on the other hand, considered that special procedures can themselves monitor its application through its own Coordinating Committee, while France and Belgium considered that States should be held to a similar code of conduct in their cooperation with special procedures.


Cuba assumed its traditional practice of complaining about the geographic composition of OHCHR, followed by China, Azerbaijan and South Africa, yet Ms Pillay explained in detail the efforts being made and statistics to support it.For example, a 47% increase in African staff, 36% Asian, 63% Latin American and 113% Eastern European since 2006. Algeria and Uzbekistan also challenged the basis for establishing national regional offices without the co-operation of all States in the region, to which Ms Pillay responded that the purpose was to work in cooperation and not to ‘impose anything’.


While a number of States shared the High Commissioner’s concern with country situations,Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Italy. and often concerned States refuted these concerns,Egypt in relation to indiscriminate attacks on civilians on its borders, Sri Lanka in relation to the treatment of human rights defenders (alleging that many use the term to disguise political objectives), Iran in relation to post-election protests, Slovakia in relation to treatment of the Roma. Bangladesh proposed that OHCHR focus on thematic priorities to avoid allegations of selectivity. Of particular note in these thematic discussions was the response of a small number of States (Norway, Chile, Spain (EU)) and a large coalition of NGOs commending the High Commissioner for her various efforts to highlight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.This was set against the backdrop of the African Group and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference having requested that the High Commissioner remove all reference to sexual orientation as a grounds of discrimination in their comments on the SMP. Other commonly referenced issues included the need to ensure effective follow-up to the Durban Review ConferenceNigeria (AU), China, Egypt, Russian Federation, Brazil. and to restore a consensual approach to the right to development,Pakistan (OIC), France, Indonesia, Morocco. mainstreaming of human rights across the UN system,Ukraine, Austria. and strengthening regional and international co-operation.Indonesia, Belgium, Hungary.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:16
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