Posts Tagged ‘Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’

More short films on each article of the UDHR

November 27, 2018

Further to my post on the series of short films – one for each article in the 70-year old Universal Declaration of human rights [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/15/each-article-in-the-universal-declaration-on-human-rights-has-its-human-story/], there now more out to watch: see e.ghttps://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights/videos/380180556054710/.

Michelle Bachelet, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives major interview

October 18, 2018

In August 2018, Michelle Bachelet, twice-elected President of Chile was confirmed as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. Minutes after she was approved, UN chief Antonio Guterres told reporters he was “delighted” by the news of her official appointment, describing Ms. Bachelet, a “pioneer”, has been “as formidable a figure in her native Chile, as she has at the United Nations”. Shortly after assuming office in early September, Ms. Bachelet was in New York for the General Assembly’s high-level general debate. She spoke then with UN News on the rights situation around the world, the priorities for her tenure, and how can rights be better protected. It was published on 17 October 2018.

Bearing in mind her own personal experience of being detained and tortured in Chile, the interview started with a question on how she overcame the hardships she suffered under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (file photo) ILO/M. Creuset

Michelle Bachelet: ….there was a period of my life that I really hated what was happening – I had so much rage. But afterwards, I started thinking, “you know what, I do not want this to happen anymore in Chile or in any other country of the world. So, what can I do to contribute, that Chile will be a peaceful, democratic society?” So, I sort of put all my energies on that, and that is why I started working on defence issues to be able to speak to the militaries, because I never thought I was going to be Minister of the Defence or President of the Republic.,,I would say it permitted me to understand that, first of all, lessons learned, and if you really want some objective, and in a possible, constructive way, it can be done.

As the High Commissioner, you have come in a time when human rights are under serious attack globally. What your priorities are going to be?

Michelle Bachelet: …. first of all, of course, my priorities are to do what my mandate tells me to do, to be the voice of the voiceless. But also to engage with governments so they respect human rights, protect people from rights violations, and promote human rights.

….But one of my particular priorities from the Secretary-General is prevention. I am not saying I will succeed on that, maybe not. But I will try to design a system where we can have early warning signs and try to think on early action. …..

Right now, some countries do not want to cooperate with OHCHR or question the worth of the Human Rights Council. How do you plan on bringing everyone together?

Michelle Bachelet: In my opening statement, I spoke about, that consensus could be possible, that we should not lose ourselves in sterile disputes. Of course human rights is a very political thing and you see that here in the General Assembly, in the Security Council, so it is not in the Human Rights Council, by itself.

I mean, countries have their visions, their interests, and sometimes, they are not interested in some issues. But what I have been doing is meeting, not only with the whole council, but with groups of countries in Geneva such as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the African countries, the Arab countries, the Asia-Pacific countries, the West European and Other countries, the Eastern European countries, speaking but also listening. Because, sometimes, you know what you have to do, but the way you do it can be more successful than others. Sometimes you need to speak out. Sometimes you need to strategize in terms of saying, look, it will work better if we do diplomatic prevention, if we start engaging the government. But today the world is complicated, and it is very polarized in some issues………

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What progress do you think has been done in the past 70 years?

Michelle Bachelet: …..Think of 1948: how many countries allowed women to vote, for example; how many respected of freedom of speech. If you think of the different aspects of the human rights, even in more complete things that usually people do not think of as human rights, but they are human rights: on health, on education, on sanitation, on housing. The world today is better than 70 years ago. But having said that, there are a lot of threats, there are a lot of threats for multilateralism, there is a lot of threat and pushback on human rights. …We see a pushback, we see that in some documents, human rights is not mentioned, and when you ask, they say, “it is mainstream.” And if it is mainstreamed, it is fantastic, because everybody’s doing their job. But if it is invisible, mainstream, that is not a good thing. On the other hand we see human rights defenders and civil society having their space shrink. They have been under attack. Journalists have been killed.

So there is a lot of challenges. The only thing I can say is that the struggle for human rights probably will never end, because it is a process where you advance, but there will be always people who want to push back, and that could be governments or that could be armed groups. The task of the UN is to ensure and promote the whole human rights system. And I will do what I have to do about it, but it cannot be only the task of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has to be the task of the whole UN system….

I would like to ask you about protecting those who protect: human rights defenders are often targets of abuse and violence. How can they be better protected?

Michelle Bachelet: Well, the curious thing is that, as we are celebrating the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are celebrating 20 years of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. And in November 2017, a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders was approved unanimously by the General Assembly.  No country voted against it. So, the issue is: on paper things can look very good, but reality is another thing. I think we have the task of making people accountable for the things they have approved. Second, to monitor implementation of those agreements that everybody has made, and engage governments, and in the cases where things are happening, holding them accountable and responsible for the killings, the torture, the detentions of many human rights defenders.

You have been a very important defender of women’s rights. How is that going to continue, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Michelle Bachelet: The thing is that, people tend to see OHCHR as only concerned with civil and political rights, and that is not it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states the rights for migrants, for children, for women; right to health, to education. It is very comprehensive. Even though I am not intending to replace any other agency, I always speak about gender issues, gender empowerment. This morning I was speaking about women who are women’s human rights defenders, who have been attacked, threatened with rape.

I will be always raising the voice for women, trying to support their capacities, and building partnership with UN Women, as we have spoken with Henrietta Fore, the head of UNICEF to see how we can create synergies. …..

One of the most pressing issues for the entire world is climate change. How are human rights linked to the environment?

Michelle Bachelet: ..There are so many concrete consequences that will be effects in people’s lives and their rights. That is why we also believe that working strongly to combat climate change is a very essential task, including of the High Commissioner. I think also that we need to be more part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how we support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ..

And climate change is of huge importance, because I have seen places where there is no more water and people who depend agriculture, mainly women, and now have to think how they get their incomes. With climate change, we have seen, and scientists tell us … about worsening natural disasters and extreme weather, forest fires. And all of these will have a lot of consequences for the life of people. It is very important to work very closely on that, too. I completely agree with the Secretary-General when said that this is one of the major, major challenges that we have.

Full interview at: Human Rights

Without more extra-budgetary funding human rights work in the UN is in trouble

March 1, 2018

In a year that deep cuts were made to UN budgets, resourcing for human rights also activities took a big hit. The UN General Assembly’s approved approximately 50% less funding for some human rights posts than requested. Funds to support the work of treaty bodies were cut, but the need to adequately fund treaty bodies was reaffirmed, establishing a mandate for future resource requests.

Decisions directly affecting human rights activities were caught up in a powerful push – particularly by the US – for deep cuts to the proposed biennium budget. The approved UN regular budget for 2018 -2019 of $5.397 billion, is almost $200 million below what the Secretary General had sought, and 5% less than the budget approved for 2016-2017.

The percentage of the UN budget directed to support the human rights pillar is already tiny. To then carve off funding for posts already agreed as essential, makes no sense,’ she added. ‘The General Assembly ignores the fact that investing in human rights protection is a smart choice. ISHR’s Tess McEvoy said on 4 January 2018. (for more information on the budget cuts see https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga72-human-rights-funding-takes-hit-key-mandate-reaffirmed).

On 27 February 2018 the OHCHR announced that Norway has pledged to increase its funding for the UN Human Rights Office, giving some USD 18m dollars – a year over four years. Generally there is impressive support for human rights from Scandinavia (Denmark is doubling its funding for 2018 USD 10m, and in 2017, Sweden was the second biggest donor with some USD16m).

However, even with a record USD142.8m in voluntary contributions last year, the UN Office still fell short of the funds needed to respond to all requests for assistance. Therefore it has just launched  appeal for extra-budgetary funding for 2018 – with as most ambitious target yet, amounting to USD278.3m.

The OHCHR hopes that the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will encourage all UN Member States to make voluntary contributions. If you want to see how much individual States gave to the UN Human Rights Office in 2017, please see: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/AboutUs/FundingBudget/VoluntaryContributions2017.pdf

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22715&LangID=E

Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English

Bahrain: denationalization, reprisals and travel bans against human rights defenders – will it ever end?

June 23, 2016

Bahrain does everything it can to keep itself in the spotlight of human rights concern. A coalition of NGOs, as well as the UN and (reluctantly) the USA have recently come out with criticism over travel bans, reprisals, denationalization and other violations:

When the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council opened in Geneva on 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s best-known human rights defender, was arrested after dozens of police officers raided his home at around 5am and confiscated his electronic devices. The day before, Bahraini human rights defenders and victims of violations were prevented from flying to Geneva. On 16 June 21 NGOs signed a statement of serious alarm by Bahrain’s restrictions civil society especially preventing them from engaging with the UN.

[Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR – nominee of the MEA 2012), founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, was reportedly arrested under order from the Ministry of Interior’s Cybercrimes Unit. Bahraini officials had imposed a travel ban on Rajab a year ago, and since April 2015 have maintained charges against him for crimes related to freedom of expression online. Despite the submission of several appeals against the ban, authorities remained unresponsive. On 14 June 2016, Rajab was transferred to the public prosecution; and new charges were brought against him of allegedly ‘publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state’. The public prosecution remanded him to seven days in detention pending investigation.]

In a new escalation of its crackdown against civil society, Bahraini authorities have now also banned other human rights defenders from leaving the country. The bans were imposed as the activists were attempting to travel to Geneva to participate in the Human Rights Council.

In light of this escalated attack on civil society in Bahrain, the 21 NGOs call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders in Bahrain, including Nabeel Rajab, and for the removal of the imposed travel bans which unfairly restrict activists’ freedom of movement. We also request that the President of the HRC, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally lift the travel ban imposed on Bahrain’s civil society activists and guarantee Bahraini human rights defenders are free from intimidation and restrictions on their work, including at the UN. We also call on the international community to hold the government of Bahrain to its commitments and obligations to foster a safe environment for the peaceful enjoyment of universal human rights.  The government of Bahrain must immediately stop the ongoing reprisals against human rights defenders who are engaging with international mechanisms including the UN system. [21 signatories to be hound at the bottom of this post.]

On 21 June 2016, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stepped in with an expression of great concern over this intensification of a crackdown on free expression and association, and the right to a nationality: Read the rest of this entry »

NGO Committee of the UN shows its bizarre bias against (human rights) NGOs

June 1, 2016

I have written several times about the worrying trends in the ‘obscure’ “ECOSOC Committee on NGOs”  (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ecosoc/) which is supposed to consider applications by NGOs for ECOSOC accreditation and, as such, is a key gateway for NGOs to gain access to the UN. The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) recently came out with a statement that the “practice of the Committee is wholly unacceptable and must change” (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/ishr-starts-campaign-to-monitor-committee-that-throttles-ngo-access-to-the-un/). As if it was necessary to illustrate the bias of this UN NGO Committee against NGOs here are two recent cases decided on 26 May 2016: Read the rest of this entry »

Former Amnesty staff appointed deputy UN Human Rights Commissioner

December 2, 2015

Kate Gilmore. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

On 1 December 2015 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Kate Gilmore of Australia as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, succeeding Flavia Pansieri of Italy. Ms. Gilmore, is currently Deputy Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and before 2012 she was Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International and National Director of AI Australia.  Ms. Gilmore started her career as a social worker and policy officer for the Australian Government, establishing the country’s first Centre Against Sexual Assault. She was a member of Australia’s first national committee on violence against women.

 

Source: United Nations News Centre – Veteran Australian rights official appointed deputy UN human rights chief

Israel refuses entry to UN special rapporteur Wibisono

June 15, 2015

Unfortunately, Israel joined the countries that think non-cooperation with the UN pays: last week it refused entry to Makarim Wibisono, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, who is working on a report on rights violations in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. “Since taking up his mandate in June 2014… Wibisono has sought Israel’s cooperation with his mandate, including access to the occupied Palestinian territory and meetings with Israeli officials. His requests to access Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in order to carry out his mandate have not received a formal response from the government of Israel,” said Xabier Celaya, from the media unit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry justified its decision by saying that “Israel cooperates with most human rights mechanisms of the UN. Israel does not cooperate with unfair and unbalanced mandates such as the… rapporteur’s mandate, and consequently his entry to Israel is not allowed.

[Israel remains the only country for which a special investigator is permanently assigned. The position of special investigator to the Palestinian territories was first created in 1993 and that Wibisono of Indonesia is the sixth person since then to hold that post.]

Earlier in the month, Wibisono spoke out against Israeli plans to relocate Palestinian Beduin communities in the West Bank “I am alarmed at indications that the rollout of plans, which in their full effect are believed to entail the forced eviction and forcible transfer of thousands of people, contrary to international human rights law and international humanitarian law, now appears imminent,” Wibisono said

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/non-cooperation-from-some-states-with-the-un-human-rights-council-is-persistent/

via Israel refuses entry to UN special investigator Wibisono – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post.

OHCHR expresses concern about fate of human rights defenders in Burundi

May 16, 2015

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the following statement after the failed coup d’etat in Burundi:

“We are very concerned by developments in Burundi over the past two days, and call on all armed forces and non-state actors to refrain from taking actions which may endanger the lives of civilians and to ensure their protection from the effects of conflict. There is a clear risk that the instability may be prolonged, or even made worse, if there are violent reprisals.

We have received reports of numerous attacks on both private and state media with radio and television stations destroyed, endangering the lives of the journalists who were still inside them at the time. We call for a re-opening of all media outlets and the respect of the independence of journalists. There is also an urgent need to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and journalists. To give just one example, one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights defenders, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa [Laureate of the MEA in 2007 – ed], has had to go into hiding after receiving death threats.

Those who incite or engage in acts of mass violence are liable to be prosecuted by competent judicial bodies, as reflected in the recent statement by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

We are also very concerned that political instability and reports of intimidation of civilians could result in an even greater humanitarian crisis. There is a significant increase of refugees fleeing Burundi to neighbouring countries, with reports of rapidly deteriorating sanitary conditions in some locations where large numbers of refugees have gathered, such as Kagunga in Tanzania.”

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/high-commissioner-leaves-burundi-and-the-repression-goes-up/

via OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTE – (1) South East Asia / migrants boats (2) Burundi (3) International Day against Homophobia & Transphobia » Press releases » News – StarAfrica.com – News – StarAfrica.com.

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”.

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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.