Following is the speech by High Commissioner Louise Arbour to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Geneva, 13 September 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to offer you updates on some of the activities that we have undertaken since the last session of the Human Rights Council.
But first, let me congratulate you for the progress made this summer in your institution building process.
At this session, you will need to adopt a number of decisions on technical modalities, which are essential both to the effective functioning of the Council itself, as well as to the smooth operation of all its mechanisms and bodies. In particular, I would like to encourage you to take all necessary steps to ensure that activities related to the Universal Periodic Review begin at the earliest date possible. We are acutely aware that the credibility of the United Nations human rights system hinges upon satisfactory implementation of the review, since the UPR has the potential to greatly influence and address human rights situations on the ground.
Through the UPR all UN member States will now be reviewed in the same comprehensive manner on the basis of universal and equal parameters and standards. At the same time, countries under review will be fully involved in what is envisaged as a participatory and inclusive review process. I appreciate that the Council recognized the need to broaden the sources of information for the UPR, including civil society's contributions. This approach is crucial to building the basis for a comprehensive and meaningful review.
OHCHR remains committed to supporting the Council in implementing its institution building package. I would also like to emphasize that, in the fulfillment of the UPR and other Council duties, my Office will extend all possible assistance to those delegations that need support in order to participate in the activities of the Council. Our efforts will continue until the necessary support becomes available through an appropriate trust fund.
The Council has recognized the unique characteristics of the special procedures system and reaffirmed the central importance of the independence of mandate holders. I am pleased that the Council decided to maintain the main activities of special procedures, including country visits by mandate holders, thematic studies, and direct communications with Governments concerning individual cases of human rights violations. The review of mandates, which will unfold over the coming year, presents an important opportunity to identify and close protection gaps in the special procedures system. I strongly encourage the Council to seize this opportunity. I also urge States to increase their cooperation, and to extend invitations, in particular standing invitations, to mandate holders.
Let me now to turn to developments that have taken place since the previous session of the Council.
At the outset, I would like to refer to the work of the preparatory committee for the Durban Review Conference, which I addressed last month. I commend the efforts made by the participants and by the chairperson, Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji, to foster a constructive and collegial atmosphere at this meeting.
In July, I was very pleased to visit Indonesia to open the 14th annual workshop of the Asia Pacific Framework on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. I held very positive discussions with President Yudhoyono and his senior colleagues on both domestic and global issues, as well as with Indonesia 's national human rights institutions and human rights defenders. I had the opportunity to see at first hand the progress Indonesia is making in Aceh, both in terms of transition from the conflict and in the recovery from the terrible consequences of the tsunami. I urged Indonesia and other ASEAN member States to move forward with the adoption of human rights elements in the new ASEAN charter and I supported the establishment of an ASEAN human rights mechanism. In this respect, I have been following with growing concern the suppression of peaceful protests in Myanmar and I urge the authorities to release detainees and political prisoners and ensure respect for fundamental rights.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to address the Non Aligned Movement ministerial meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Iran . It is important to seek greater understanding and consensus on the issues discussed in Teheran, particularly as we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights next year. While in Teheran, I welcomed the opportunity to meet with senior representatives of the Government, as well as local women's right defenders, to discuss steps needed to strengthen respect for human rights. I expressed particular concerns regarding the application of the death penalty to juveniles, and the need to protect the right to peaceful public expression.
I have just returned from Colombia where I signed the agreement through which the comprehensive mandate of my Office there was prolonged for three years. I would like to extend my warmest thanks to the Government for the trust that it places in my Office, and for this opportunity to continue our joint efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights in that country.
You will recall that I reported at the last session on my visit to the Great Lakes region, which focused primarily on the question of impunity. In that respect, I continue to be concerned with the lack of progress in the DRC. None of the perpetrators of the serious crimes committed during the first six months of 2007 have been arrested and brought to justice. Interference by military and political authorities in the administration of justice is prevalent, particularly in high-profile cases. Recent trials raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A number of positive developments have occurred with regard to the establishment of new OHCHR offices in the field.
The office of OHCHR in Bolivia was opened in August following ratification by Congress - and endorsement by presidential decree in July - of the host country agreement which I had signed with the Government last February.
Last month, the first staff member of OHCHR Regional Office for Central America was dispatched to Panama City following the signing of a host country agreement between OHCHR and the Government also last February.
Since its inauguration in November 2006, our office in Togo has been very active, particularly with regard to combating impunity, and has gained the trust of national and international interlocutors and partners. We plan to temporarily strengthen it prior to the scheduled legislative elections next month.
Furthermore, progress has been achieved in the establishment of Regional Offices for West Africa in Dakar , and for Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan . I hope that both Offices will be operational by the end of the year.
We have experienced some difficulties and delays in setting up other new regional offices which we were expecting to open in 2006-2007. In particular, the Government of Egypt informed us in July that it would not be in a position to host the OHCHR Regional Office for Northern Africa . We are now considering alternative locations. We have also encountered a continued delay with the planned deployment of a Senior Human Rights Adviser in Zimbabwe . In the interim, we are exploring other ways of working with relevant partners.
In this context it is important to clarify that Human Rights Advisers are deployed at the request of Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams. They are members of the Resident Coordinators' office. As such, they do not in any way constitute independent, separately accredited OHCHR offices. Their duties are primarily related to supporting the UN country teams in human rights mainstreaming.
This year we have been able to deploy new human rights advisors to Indonesia , Kyrgyzstan , the Maldives , Ecuador , Guyana , Georgia , Somalia and Rwanda . Ten additional human rights advisors are expected to be dispatched in 2008. In these deployments, we try to give priority to countries where the “One UN” initiative is being piloted.
In the coming months, I very much look forward to country visits to both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan . I am also pleased that we have confirmed dates for my visit to Brazil in early December.
Later today and tomorrow my Office will address the Council again by presenting two OHCHR reports and one by the Secretary-General. I also understand that Council members have expressed the desire to address issues related to the relationship between my Office and the Council. With your guidance, Mr. President, I will be happy to explore the appropriate modalities that could accommodate this request within the framework of existing United Nations rules and practices. In the meanwhile, I wish you a very productive session.
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