Statement by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
77th session of the General Assembly, Third Committee – Item 69
It is my honour to present the Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 48/141.
The report provides an overview of activities by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) between 1 January and 30 June 2022, in line with the thematic priorities reflected in the OHCHR Management Plan 2022-2023.
I also wish to take this opportunity, on behalf of the United Nations Human Rights Office, to extend our warmest welcome to Under-Secretary-General Volker Türk, who will take up his official functions as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights next week in Geneva.
We gather at a time of significant upheaval experienced by people everywhere: Water, energy and food insecurity, devastating natural disasters, financial instability and soaring inflation, raging conflict, unprecedented inequalities and persistent impunity.
These interlocking crises are triggering profound uncertainty for what the future holds. Growing disparity between international standards and the reality on the ground is generating mistrust between peoples and communities.
In this context, Our Common Agenda and the Call to Action for Human Rights of the Secretary-General serve as the blueprint for our joint efforts. Guided by the aspirations of the United Nations Charter, they aim at greater fulfilment of human rights world-wide.
As of 30 June 2022, OHCHR had 103 human rights field presences worldwide. Implementing the Call to Action remained central to OHCHR’s work during the reporting period. With its emphasis on system-wide responsibility for human rights and on ensuring human rights integration at country-level, the initiative has brought the United Nations system together in seven thematic areas, generating genuine commitment across all entities.
Our Office advised governments and relevant stakeholders on integrating human rights in national legal reforms and economic and social policies to help tackle inequalities and address human rights gaps in efforts to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office advocated for universal social protection, universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines as a global public good and for universal health coverage as a vital component of the right to health. We also underlined the importance of debt management and relief and creating necessary fiscal space to maintain essential services for people.
Together with UNEP, UNDP, the United Nations Environment Management Group and other partners, OHCHR advanced the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We also advocated for integrating the right to development into climate action, biodiversity action and South-South Cooperation. Our Office also continued developing guidance for United Nations entities on human rights due diligence and impact of digital technologies.
In the area of sustainable development, OHCHR increased its country-focused advice on integrating human rights and human rights-based approaches into development policies to support realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. From January to June 2022, we collaborated with United Nations field presences on 26 Common Country Analysis, and United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework processes towards greener and more inclusive recoveries.
To promote the human rights-based approach to data, OHCHR supported the signing of memorandums of understanding between national human rights institutions and others in Albania, Jordan, Moldova, Mongolia, and the Philippines with a view to operationalizing United Nations guidance in this area.
Together with other United Nations entities, OHCHR advocated for strengthened protection of the right to adequate food, and the rights to water and sanitation.
On the right to development, our advocacy, collaboration and partnerships focused on international cooperation and solidarity, sustainable finance and investment, access to science, renewable energy and environmentally sound technology, including their women’s rights and gender equality dimensions.
In the area of peace and security, OHCHR pursued its substantive and strategic support to human rights components in United Nations peace operations and special political missions. Through its strategic engagement with Security Council members and with other relevant United Nations entities, the Office sought to strengthen the consideration of human rights in Security Council resolutions, and to support implementation of human rights mandates through training, technical assistance and the implementation of compliance frameworks.
Our activities encompassed implementation of the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP), strengthening OHCHR’s information management and data analysis capacity to enhance early warning, prevention, monitoring and response and ensuring that human rights remain a priority in the mandatory training materials for military and police personnel in United Nations missions.
In Ethiopia, between April and June 2022, OHCHR strengthened the capacity of civil society actors to monitor and report on early warning indicators for the prevention of community-based conflicts that could escalate into human rights abuses and violations. Local early warning networks were established and now are operational in six locations across the country. The Office also worked on integrating human rights in the African Union’s continental early warning system.
As of 30 June, OHCHR had 22 ongoing Peacebuilding Fund-supported projects across all regions. For instance, in Honduras, OHCHR and FAO launched a project to prevent and manage social conflicts related to access to land in peasant and indigenous communities. In Serbia, OHCHR contributed to the United Nations Country Team Action Plan on Social Cohesion and Building Trust, mapping a strategy for the United Nations in Serbia to address regional reconciliation and hate speech.
Advancing protection of the human rights of women remains a priority. OHCHR strengthened the capacity of women’s organizations and key stakeholders on sexual and gender-based violence, strategic litigation on sexual and reproductive rights (for instance in Central America), access to justice and human-rights based investigation of gender-based killings. In Haiti, OHCHR developed a protection analysis on sexual violence against women and girls in marginalized areas of Port-au-Prince related to gang criminality. In Mali, OHCHR launched a Quick Impact Project to support and empower 30 vulnerable women and girls exposed to or survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. In Paraguay, the Office published a guide to address gender stereotyping by the judiciary and strengthened the capacities of judicial personnel. In Sudan, we strengthened the capacity of the Ministry of Social Development to address violence against women and girls.
In the area of humanitarian action, OHCHR also focused on mainstreaming the centrality of protection in the United Nations responses in Afghanistan and in relation to the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and to gang violence in Haiti.
Today we know that greater equality can be an even more powerful engine than growth in reducing extreme poverty – a key goal of the 2030 Agenda.
The Office expanded its work to tackle inequality and discrimination, by delivering technical assistance, and monitoring and reporting on violations.
Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 43/1 and 47/21, OHCHR took action towards transformative change for racial justice and equality. For instance, OHCHR provided technical advice on the elaboration of the National Policy for Afro-Peruvians (2022-2030) in Peru and on the draft Law on the Protection of Equality and Prohibition of Discrimination in Montenegro.
The Office conducted monitoring missions to The Gambia and the Colombia-Panama border on migrants’ rights, and delivered trainings for border officials in Mauritania, Thailand, the Middle East and North Africa as well as workshops on climate change, migration and human rights in the Sahel.
In Brazil, Georgia, Guatemala, Jamaica, Malawi, Moldova, Mozambique and Ukraine, OHCHR advised on the incorporation of international standards on the rights of persons with disabilities into domestic legal systems and their justiciability. The Office also prepared guidance on the rights of older persons within the framework of the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing, and to the private sector on tackling discrimination against LGBTI persons. The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples supported the participation of indigenous representatives in intergovernmental processes, including on climate change.
Accountability is a crucial component of upholding human rights, and in restoring trust in institutions and governance structures.
OHCHR supported States and other stakeholders in designing and implementing inclusive, context-specific and victim-centred transitional justice processes, including in Colombia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Guatemala, The Gambia, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mexico, Peru, the Republic of Korea, South Sudan and Syria. In the DRC, OHCHR supported the establishment of a civil society working group on transitional justice, of the National Joint Committee charged with conducting community-level consultations and the establishment of a provincial Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in the Kasai region.
Our Office monitored, trained and advised State institutions and other national stakeholders to strengthen the administration of justice and the rule of law. For instance, in Burundi and Mali, OHCHR advised on the revision of the Military Justice Code and related policies. In the Republic of Korea, OHCHR trained officials in the documentation and preservation of evidence of crimes against humanity. In Mexico, OHCHR promoted the creation of the Extraordinary Forensic Identification Mechanism (MEIF) to address the backlog in the forensic identification of over 52,000 unidentified human remains.
OHCHR continued advocating for the abolition of the death penalty, including in the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Zambia. OHCHR also promoted a human rights-based approach to countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism and provided technical advice on national policies and legislation.
Participation is a central pillar and principle of human rights, and our Office advocated for more inclusive and safer civil society participation in all United Nations processes.
Transparency and broader civic space and participation are indispensable to help steer efforts towards transformative and greener societies, especially in times of crisis. A vibrant civic space is a lever of a stable, secure society. OHCHR continued documenting challenges facing defenders and journalists worldwide, offline and online. The Office supported human rights defenders and defenders’ networks, including in Southern Africa and in the Pacific, and, together with the Iraqi Network for Social Media, it trained 200 defenders on digital rights and online security. In Mauritius and Uzbekistan, OHCHR trained government officials, NHRIs and youth groups on the right to participate.
As part of the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, OHCHR intensified its advocacy for rights-based online content governance by directly engaging with Member States, technology companies and multilateral financial institutions.
OHCHR also monitored human rights and conducted related advocacy in the context of electoral processes including in Chile, Colombia, the Congo, Ecuador, the Gambia, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Zambia.
Training and education activities continued in cooperation with universities and institutes, including in Liberia, Mexico and Niger. In February 2022, OHCHR co-published with Equitas a guide on good practices in human rights education programming.
Turning now to the international human rights mechanisms – cornerstones of the United Nations human rights system. While all ten treaty bodies have already resumed in-person sessions, COVID-19 related restrictions resulted in a greater backlog. As of 30 June 2022, 426 State reports and 1,868 communications were pending review by the relevant Committees. Drawing on the co-facilitators’ “Report on the process of the consideration of the state of the United Nations human rights treaty body system”, the Chairpersons of the treaty bodies agreed to establish a predictable 8-year calendar of reviews that covers all treaty body reporting procedures and all States Parties.
Through virtual and hybrid modalities, OHCHR supported the Human Rights Council in the holding of two regular sessions and one urgent debate and one special session on the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Ukraine Stemming from the Russian Aggression.
The Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the work of the Human Rights Council facilitated the participation of 11 delegates (4 women, 7 men).
OHCHR assisted governments, National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organizations and United Nations Country Teams in the preparation of reports for the UPR, including in Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Morocco and Tunisia. 25 Member States benefited from the support of the Voluntary Fund for Participation in the UPR.
With support from our Office, 58 special procedures and their Coordination Committee participated in various United Nations processes, resumed all mandated activities in person, concluded 24 country visits and sent 336 communications.
OHCHR also supported Member States in establishing and strengthening national mechanisms for reporting and follow-up including in the Bahamas, the Comoros, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Malaysia, North Macedonia, the Philippines, Serbia and Togo. OHCHR redesigned the National Recommendations Tracking Database, a tool to assist Member States in managing and tracking implementation of recommendations and in preparing reports. The redesigned version will be rolled out in 2022.
With a view to strengthen integration of human rights mechanisms recommendations into efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the Office produced the UPR Practical Guidance for Heads of United Nations Missions, available in all UN languages, and, jointly with UNDP, a new Repository of United Nations Good Practices on how the UPR process supports sustainable development.
Under its 2023 call for applications, the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture awarded, respectively, annual grants for 43 projects to assist 13,012 victims in 33 Member States and for 184 projects to assist 46,600 victims in 92 Member States.
The trust and support of Member States is critical for the Office to undertake its work. Despite limited resources, OHCHR responds to its growing workload as effectively as it can by continually reassessing and evaluating the impact of our work in people’s daily lives. In this regard, by extending its Office Management Plan through 2023, the Office has maintained its overall strategic direction, while placing additional emphasis in areas that are particularly relevant and continuing to implement its mandate and to monitor and report on human rights concerns worldwide.
Global challenges require global solutions. We need to intensify joint efforts to defend the pillars on which the United Nations was established: universal human rights, peaceful settlement of disputes, in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, and international cooperation and solidarity.
Human rights can chart the course and help inform the necessary decisions to address the root causes of inequality and to meet the threats posed by political and economic instability. When implemented in a way that delivers concrete change for people, human rights can bridge the divide between communities, help make peace with nature and point the way to sustainable development.
Let us not waver from our aim: working together to uphold the enduring principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Source: UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights