Posts Tagged ‘Marc Limon’

New High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk – the man for an impossible job?

September 15, 2022

On 23 June 2022 Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group posted a Blog: “Time to ask again: is being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an impossible job?”

In February 2018, he published a blog on the early departure of the previous High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The blog responded to David Petrasek’s article in OpenGlobaRights, entitled ‘Another one bites the dust’ (8 February 2018).

Limon argues that the High Commissioner position is, in fact, several jobs rolled into one. The mandate of the High Commissioner and his/her Office comprises inter alia:

  • Monitoring and speaking out about human rights violations around the world – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world,’ (OP4f of GA resolution 48/141 of 7 January 1994).
  • Acting as the Secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and [making] recommendations to them,’ (OP4b of GA res. 48/141).
  • Providing capacity building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights,’ (OP4d, GA res. 48/141).
  • Engaging in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhanc[ing] international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights, (OP4g, OP5h, GA res. 48/141).
  • Coordinating human rights mainstreaming across the UN system, (OP4i, GA res. 48/141).
  • Making recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness,’ (OP4j, GA res. 48/141).

It is clear that, when held in the hands of a single human being, these different parts of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate operate in tension and are, perhaps, even mutually incompatible…

Is it possible for one person to wear all these hats at the same time? Can a single person publicly criticise States in one breath, then in the next reach out to them to forge agreement on reform of the UN human rights system or to provide human rights technical assistance?

Petrasek has made no secret of his belief (apparently shared by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres) that Zeid over-prioritised human rights monitoring and public advocacy, to the detriment of almost all other parts of his mandate. Yet for many other civil society representatives in Geneva and for many Western diplomats, this singlemindedness (together with Zeid’s natural eloquence) made the former High Commissioner something of a cult hero and the perfect High Commissioner,

Fast forward four and a half years and Zeid replacement as High Commissioner, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, has also fallen on her sword – yet for precisely the opposite reasons as Zeid.

Bachelet was handpicked by Guterres to mark a clear break from Zeid by pursuing a more holistic and balanced approach to the role and mandate of the High Commissioner. In addition to public advocacy Bachelet tried to emphasise human rights diplomacy, international cooperation, support for the international human rights machinery, a focus on emerging thematic human rights concerns (e.g., climate change, the right to a healthy environment, prevention, digital technology), and the on-the-ground delivery of technical assistance and capacity-building support.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/ and

In truth, the world needs a High Commissioner Zeid and a High Commissioner Bachelet. The question is: is that possible? Maybe other solutions might be considered? Might, perhaps, the High Commissioner focus on public advocacy, and the Deputy High Commissioner on the more cooperation-orientated aspects of the mandate? Maybe different Deputies could be appointed for each of the main ‘baskets’ of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate? Or maybe the parts of the mandate related to the human rights machinery could be ‘spun off’ – for example, into a new position of secretary-general of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and of the Treaty Bodies?

These are difficult and sensitive questions, and yet it is surely important that they be asked and considered now rather than later. Perhaps today, as the Secretary-General ponders the appointment of the next High Commissioner, is an opportune moment to do so?

On September 7, 2022, the UN announced Secretary-General António Guterres’ decision to appoint Volker Türk, an Austrian national, to replace Michelle Bachelet.

Reactions were swift, most of them expressing the need for action, e.g. “The new UN high commissioner for human rights should neither seek nor expect a honeymoon period from UN member states,” said Tirana Hassan, interim executive director of Human Rights Watch on 8 September “What’s needed by the millions of people around the world whose rights are being violated every day is an advocate in their corner who will take on abusive governments large and small without fear and without hesitation.”

Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Executive Director of Human Rights Likeminded Office was invited by the Universal Human Rights Group on 12 September, 2022, to contribute a Blog `’Who is Volker Türk?’:

Opinions have already begun forming about Volker Türk in the short time since the announcement of his appointment last week as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, in the absence of a public competition, there was little opportunity to learn about Türk. He is also not well-known outside of the UN (and had few followers on twitter until last week). Therefore, in the absence of personal familiarity, it may be useful to focus on his biography, body of work and statements. This would lead to a better understanding of why he was selected for this role. [DISCLAIMER; I happen to know him personally from my days in UNHCR. He has always struck me as an honest and dedicated person with a pronounced interest in the human rights side of refugee work.]

Central to Türk’s biography is his long professional relationship with the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. They worked together at UNHCR when Guterres led the agency as High Commissioner for Refugees. When Guterres became UN Secretary-General, Türk joined him in New York, to serve as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office. Guterres promoted him in January, to the rank of Under-Secretary-General for Policy, also in the Executive Office, perhaps setting him up to take the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Having a close confidant as the High Commissioner may be especially important for the Secretary-General at present, considering the significant current political challenges he faces. This is especially the case in the aftermath of the release of the long-awaited report on Xinjiang by the former High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. She spared Türk the need to continue holding this hot potato. However, China won’t let Türk off the hook, and will likely exert pressure on him, as it has done with Bachelet, to carefully weigh his words and the way he manages his Office’s work on China. In the meantime, Chen Xu, the Permanent Representative of China in Geneva, announced that ‘the Office closed the door of cooperation by releasing the so-called assessment.’ This means that this is one political crisis that will not end with Bachelet’s departure.

One key question is whether the new High Commissioner will prioritise engagement over speaking truth to power. Bachelet was criticised of doing just that following her recent statements on China, until she released her report at the 11th hour on the job. .. On the face of it, it may appear that Guterres selected a diplomat, rather than an advocate. Türk is a UN career officer through and through, and as such he is in a better position to offer ‘good offices,’ as the UN does, compared to any former Head of State that could have taken the High Commissioner’s post. Among his predecessors were two presidents, two supreme court judges, one foreign minister and one permanent representative to the UN headquarters. However, every day before walking into his new office, the face that Türk will see first is that of his predecessor Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who also spent most of his career in UNHCR. He was commemorated in a bust at the entrance to Palais Wilson, four years after his death in a bombing at UN headquarters in Iraq.

Türk worked in the UN refugee agency for over 30 years, including in the field. Coming from within the UN system is an asset for navigating organisational politics, fostering collaboration with other parts of the UN, enhancing the contribution of OHCHR to all relevant UN fora, and understanding how to engage with Member States to address the situation of the most vulnerable people. His intimate understanding of the UN system is manifested in two major initiatives he stewarded – the Secretary-General’s flagship report, Our Common Agenda, as well as the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights. This may not be the place to analyse their successes or shortcomings, but it can be said that they were both well-received. Our Common Agenda offered a vision for mobilising the UN to address global challenges. OHCHR needs a manager with this kind of foresight to grasp the organisation’s structure, programmes and needs. The second initiative, the Call to Action for Human Rights, identified areas for action to advance human rights. As High Commissioner, perhaps Türk will be in a better position to support the implementation of the Call to Action.

This work demonstrates deep engagement on human rights. His legal background, holding a doctorate in international law, will support his role as an advocate. He can substantively articulate concerns and uphold norms based in international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. He certainly appears as an advocate on twitter (@volker_turk). His tweets show his compassion, as he mostly addresses human rights concerns, with people at the centre.

Civil society was concerned about the selection process. Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), said: ‘The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation with independent civil society in the selection process meant that the Secretary-General missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner.’ The appointment of the Secretary-General’s confidant may have reaffirmed worries that the High Commissioner would prioritise diplomacy and engagement over advocacy for human rights. However, Türk appears to have the appropriate biography and a heart in the right place to fulfil both of the High Commissioner’s roles as an advocate and a diplomat. Hopefully he will be attentive to civil society and rights-holders, in line with his advice during his time as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR: ‘Listen to what refugees are telling us.’

After being appointed at the last minute as the next UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk is not expected to be at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, held from 12 September to 7 October. When he does, Turk will have to grapple among other challenges with his predecessor’s report on Xinjiang, but for the moment deputy high commissioner Nada Al Nashif is in charge of the UN rights office and will have to answer any questions about China that might come up during the first days of debate..

https://www.universal-rights.org/uncategorized/time-to-ask-again-is-being-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-an-impossible-job/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/08/un-new-rights-chief-should-speak-out-all-victims

AFD: How to link human rights and development

July 13, 2022

The French Development Agency (AFD) organised an international conference to consider new ideas and approaches to linking human rights and development

Report by Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group on July 8, 2022

Against a background of the retreat of human rights worldwide, growing doubts about the ability of the international community to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, growing inequalities, and the ecological and climate crises, on Human Rights Day 2021 (10 December) the French Development Agency (AFD) organised an international conference on ‘Human Rights and Development.’ It brought together 500 actors from the development community, covering both the global North and South, and considered how development actors can play a key role in securing improvements in the enjoyment of human rights while at the same time recharging progress towards the achievement of the SDGs ‘leaving no one behind.’

Key conclusions

Warning of the risk of failure of the 2030 Agenda if development actors do not promote a development model based on human rights, participants unanimously recommended moving away from both a solely economic vision of development and a purely normative approach to human rights. In that regard, they called for more concerted action to enhance development actors’ contribution to the realisation of human rights on the ground, and to develop more robust indicators for measuring the impact of the human rights based approaches (HRBA).

Notwithstanding, several recalled the challenges involved in convincing partners of the value-added of integrating human rights with the development agenda, and recommended undertaking research actions to provide evidence.

Panellists further emphasised that human rights constitute a universal framework that goes beyond the North/South divide and is applicable to all. They noted a strong demand for improvements in the enjoyment of human rights in the global South as evidenced by growing social movements often led by young people. The universal nature of human rights makes it possible to fight against arbitrariness by guaranteeing a minimum essential base for everyone without discrimination. The international corpus of human rights contributes, in this sense, to reducing inequalities, so that everyone can lead a decent and dignified life. This must be reflected in the fiscal resource mobilisation policies of States, but also in their budgetary policies for social investment in health, education and social protection. States and development actors must also address the structural causes of inequality, which include discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, economic status, and minority status, all of which are prohibited under international human rights law. For this reason, development actors are invited to contribute to the collection of reliable data on vulnerable population groups, in order to design projects with a non-discriminatory and inclusive approach.

Speakers also agreed on the need to support civil society and preserve its space. Its role in observing, documenting, and monitoring the implementation of States’ human rights obligations is essential. It is therefore crucial to establish a culture of dialogue between a State/government and civil society when elaborating public policies, and to strengthen the capacity of CSOs to participate effectively. ‘Power should be fluid, distributed throughout society, shared and exercised collectively,’ argued one speaker.

In terms of business and human rights, participants recalled companies’ duty of care to prevent and remedy human rights violations in the course of their activities. At the international level, this duty is based on a voluntary approach which, it was argued, showing signs of strain – few companies actually mobilise vigilance mechanisms in their value chains. Nevertheless, there is a progressive movement towards the adoption of national legislation in countries where multinational companies are headquartered to make it compulsory to draw up and implement vigilance plans that cover the impact of their activities, and those of the actors integrated into their supply or value chains, and covering both human rights and the environment. In this way, the objective is to spread human rights throughout the value chain, starting ‘from the top,’ and to contribute to guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights of those affected by business activities. However, this raises the challenge of the cost and capacity to implement the principles of the duty of care by all actors in the value chain, in particular those in the Global South. Development actors have a role to play in supporting them. A need was also identified to strengthen the dialogue between legislators in the countries where companies are headquartered and those in which they operate in order to build coherent and complementary legislative frameworks.

Beyond companies’ duty of care, the private sector also plays a key role in contributing to development. Speakers called for multinational companies to be held accountable so that, in addition to respecting human rights, they contribute more directly to reducing inequalities and poverty.

Throughout the conference, the discussions have also highlighted the inseparable links between the realisation of human rights and the protection of the environment. These two goals are not mutually exclusive, as the rights of nature guarantee the enjoyment of human rights. It is thus crucial to promote an approach to development that is not based solely on human rights, but include the rights of all living things. This is especially important, it was noted, for young people and future generations.

In this context, the panellists made several recommendations, including the need to develop and disseminate knowledge about human mobility due to climate change. They recommended supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, and called for investment in social protection and parametric insurance mechanisms to mitigate shocks from loss and damage that are already unavoidable. Development actors were also called upon to finance restoration and rehabilitation mechanisms to remedy non-economic damages such as the loss of cultural heritage or biodiversity.

Finally, participants unanimously agreed that indigenous peoples are key actors in sustainable development. They represent 5% of the world’s population but are the custodians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity. They play a vital role on all continents – in the Amazon alone, they directly influence 48% of the land surface. The protection of the environment cannot and must not be done without them. They should be treated as true co-decision-makers in the management of these spaces and resources, in order to fully respect their free, prior and informed consent, as required under international law. Development actors should therefore seek to empower indigenous peoples by supporting the full enjoyment of their rights.


Synthesis: Conference: “Human Rights and Development” | AFD – Agence Française de Développement

The conference proceedings from the meeting were recently released in both French and English

Joint Inspection Unit on human rights: not so innocent as it sounds

April 7, 2015

In a long but excellent post in Universal Rights of 23 March 2015, Subhas Gujadhur and Marc Limon dissect the issue of the Joint Inspection Unit‘s [JIU] report at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (2 – 27 March) under the title: “The JIU report: what’s all the fuss about?”.

The background in short is that for years a number of countries – not by coincidence those that do not like the sometimes rather forthright pronouncements by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights -have tried to get more ‘control’ over its management and resources. They are in fact using the ‘backdoor’ of the UN inspection unit to get there.

This is a very important issue but one that is too much cloaked in UN jargon to make it to mainstream media. In the words of the authors:  “Casual observers of the Human Rights Council may have been forgiven.. for a degree of bafflement at repeated and sometimes quite excitable references to a three letter acronym: JIU.

So let me quote liberally from the post in question:

The report on the ‘review of management and administration’ of the OHCHR [JIU/REP/2014/7] was produced by the JIU in response to a request by the Human Rights Council in March 2013 (resolution 22/2) and the report’s author, Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare, hoped to be able to present is to the Council at is 28th session.

This may all seem innocuous enough. However, resolution 22/2 and the JIU report touch upon fundamental and extremely sensitive questions about the role, prerogatives and independence of OHCHR, and its relationship with the member states of the Council; and are part of a long-running struggle between two groups of states with very different views on what OHCHR is, what it is there to do, and how it’s work should be overseen.

Council resolution 22/2 (adopted by a vote, with developed countries against and developing countries in favour) requested the JIU to ‘undertake a comprehensive follow up review of the management and administration of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in particular with regard to its impact on the recruitment policies and composition of the staff.’ This resolution, like many previous ones with the same title, was pushed by Cuba and others in the belief that the staffing policies of the OHCHR favoured individuals from some regions (notably the West) over others.

In Cuba’s view, OHCHR had continuously failed to improve regional balance among its staff and thus, in order to strengthen accountability; it was asked to report and explain itself to the Council.

However, to others – especially Western states – asking the OHCHR to report to the Council on an administrative issue represented a worrying step towards making this supposedly independent entity answerable – and thus under the political oversight of – states sitting in the UN’s apex human rights intergovernmental body.

Similar differences of opinion have arisen, since the Council’s establishment in 2006, with regard to the financial resources of the OHCHR. Cuba and other developing countries have regularly expressed concern about where the Office’s money comes from (the UN’s regular budget or voluntary contributions from certain states), and how it is used and allocated (e.g. to certain field operations, to certain Special Procedures mandates). These concerns led Cuba and others to circulate a resolution in 2011, calling for greater financial transparency – though this was subsequently replaced by a Presidential Statement merely inviting the High Commissioner to provide more information on funding.

Central to the concerns of Cuba and others on both issues is a suspicion that the high proportion of individuals from Western states working at the Office (including at senior levels) together with Western financial support (especially where that support is ‘earmarked’ for certain purposes), gives the West undue influence over the OHCHR.

For its part, Western states, together with a number of states from other regions, suspect that Cuba and other leading countries of the Like Minded Group are intent on undermining the independence of the Office and bringing it under the political control of the Council (and thereby seeking to stop OHCHR criticism of states’ human rights records).

It should also be noted that the main author of the report is Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare, a former Ambassador of India to the Human Rights Council, who took position in the debates favoring the prerogatives of the Council over the OHCHR.

The report (more detail in the post itself) makes six recommendations:

  1. The GA should initiate an action-oriented review of the governance arrangements of the OHCHR through an open-ended working group/ad hoc committee […] so as to strengthen the capacity of member states to provide strategic guidance and to direct and monitor the work of OHCHR.
  2. The High Commissioner should update the existing action plan with specific measures, targets and timetables to broaden the geographical diversity of the professional workforce.
  3. The High Commissioner should develop a comprehensive strategy and related action plan to adapt specific circumstances and requirements of OHCHR’s human resource management strategy and policies.
  4. The Secretary General should, in the context of the Human Rights Up Front initiative, review the mandates of the different UN entities with human rights functions with a view of streamlining their work and mainstreaming human rights across the UN system.

The controversy even led to uncertainty that Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare would be allowed to present the report with some states (correctly, based on a legal analysis of relevant UN documents) arguing that discussing the management and administration of OHCHR is not part of the Council’s mandate as per GA resolution 60/251. In the end, the President of the Council and the Bureau announced that, as a courtesy, the JIU inspector would be allowed to present his report, but there would be no interactive debate with states.

By the time of the report’s presentation on 13th March, the Secretary-General had provided his comments on its findings and recommendations.[Note by the Secretary-General, A/70/68/Add.1] as follows:

  • The Secretary-General in effect rejected recommendation 1, arguing that ‘existing governance arrangements strike an appropriate balance between independence and accountability.’ The Secretary-General noted GA resolution 48/141 (1993) creating the post of High Commissioner, which decided that the High Commissioner would be appointed by the Secretary-General (i.e. is part of the secretariat). He also rejected the notion (used to support the view that while the High Commissioner is independent, the OHCHR is not and should operate under the political oversight of the Council) that the High Commissioner and OHCHR ‘have separate mandates and perform separate functions.’
  • Regarding recommendation 4, the Secretary-General noted that geographical diversity is a priority for the entire secretariat.
  • The Secretary-General also rejected recommendation 5 which called for the UN secretariat’s human resource management strategy to be ‘adapted to the specific circumstances and requirements of OHCHR’, on the grounds that ‘OHCHR is part of the Secretariat…and its staff members are subject to the same regulations, rules and policies as other departments.’
  • Finally, the Secretary-General welcomed recommendation 6 as a useful opportunity to strengthen the mainstreaming of human rights across the UN system.

There was some debate in which Western states, in line with the analysis of the Secretary-General, rejected key findings and recommendations in the report. For example, Norway noted that ‘existing governance arrangements strike an appropriate balance between independence and accountability,’ and underscored the importance of safeguarding the independence of the High Commissioner.

Countering this view, Pakistan on behalf of Like-Minded Group (LMG) states, expressed support for the JIU conclusions and recommendations, noting that oversight by a relevant intergovernmental body would contribute to ‘enhanced efficiency and effectiveness of the Office activities.’ LMG states therefore called for a clarification ‘of the respective roles of the different intergovernmental bodies with a view to streamlining the governance dynamics of OHCHR’ (i.e. in line with the JIU’s recommendations).

The post by Subhas Gujadhur and Marc Limon provides detailed and interesting background to the issue of imbalance in staffing and funding and rightly states that it “doesn’t take an international lawyer to understand that all these utterances are packed with possible political meanings, some subtle some less so, and have enormous potential implications for the functioning of the UN human rights system”.

——–

In this context, on 23 March a group of leading human rights NGOs (delivered by HRW, and supported by ISHRCivicusFIDHFORUM ASIAOMCT and EIPR), called in a statement to the Human Rights Council to resist Cuban-led attempts to micromanage and fetter the independence of the UN’s top human rights official.

The statement said that among its contradictory recommendations, the report proposes a mechanism to enable States to ‘direct and monitor’ the work of the High Commissioner and highlighted that creation of High Commissioner for Human Rights was one of the landmark achievements of the Vienna Declaration adopted by all States in 1994. For more than 20 years, successive High Commissioners have provided a strong and independent voice, committed to promoting and protecting human rights around the world, the statement said.

Today, that independence is under threat. The draft resolution, inaccurately titled “Composition of staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” seeks to affirm and encourage follow-up to the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), which reviews the “Management and Administration” said John Fisher of HRW delivering the statement.

The independence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office is axiomatic to his effectiveness. The High Commissioner must be free to speak without fear and without favour, unconstrained by the political agenda of any State or group of States,’ said ISHR’s Michael Ineichen. ‘This report must not be permitted to be used as a subterfuge to constrain the High Commissioner and his office at a time when both their monitoring and reporting, and their advice and technical assistance, are needed perhaps more than ever before.’

See the full statement here.

 http://www.universal-rights.org/blogs/128-the-jiu-report-what-s-all-the-fuss-about

Human Rights Council: Reject attempts to limit Office of the High Commissioner | ISHR.