Human Rights Council Holds Annual High-Level Panel Discussion on Human Right Mainstreaming

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held its annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming on the theme of the contribution of universal participation to the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of 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.

Least developed countries and small developing island States represented 40 per cent of the United Nations Member States, said Abdulla Shahid, President of the seventy-sixth session of the General Assembly. Including them in the work of the Council ensured that their priorities and concerns were acknowledged and reflected, he added, as the Trust Fund had enabled 172 government officials from the 72 eligible least developed countries and small developing islands States to attend the regular sessions of the Council.

As they were marking the Fund’s tenth anniversary, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was an opportunity to take stock of its first decade of achievements, and assess ways to advance that work in the future. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the Trust Fund had been able to support the participation of 19 delegates in 2021, including 15 at the September session – the largest cohort since it was established.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, said that many island nations were on the front line of climate change, without the infrastructure to meet the challenges posed by this disaster and called for new measures to improve investment in climate change. Among the measures that the World Health Organization had undertaken to build capacity in this sphere was a programme to build a climate resilient sustainable health system.

Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that small island developing States and least developed countries faced particular human rights challenges. This was especially true when it came to the rights of women and girls as many of them had not returned to school after initial COVID-19 measures. Capacity building was also vital.

Before giving the floor to the panellists, Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, introduced a video “Celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of the least developed countries and small island developing States Trust Fund”, prepared by the Trust Fund secretariat at the Office of the High Commissioner, which featured testimonials of eight former beneficiaries, delegates and Fellows of the Fund.

Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said that she had been promoting the idea that special categories such as least developed countries, small island developing States or landlocked developing countries must be created and supported through special and differentiated means. Mounting inflation in commodities and disruption of global supply chains would increase price levels in small island developing States by 7.5 per cent this year, five times the rate that was forecasted for the rest of the world, affecting their imports of essential goods like medicines and food.

Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the Union was keen to promote universal participation of all parliaments in the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, detailing that a solidarity fund had been created to support those with limited means and expand services in Spanish in order to promote greater interaction with the parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Director of the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, emphasised that the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund had been of vital importance. Highlighting the importance for these States to have a seat at the table, she said there was no better example of this than in relation to climate change as it contributed to poverty and inequality.

Emeline Siale Ilolahia, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, explained that the Association was a platform of civil society in 24 countries and territories in the Pacific region and that it was necessary to shift the engagement focus from Geneva and New York to bring it closer to home to the Pacific. The pandemic had shown that human rights and dignity of the people should be at the centre of any response.

During the discussion, speakers said that respect for diversity was vital, as it allowed different stakeholders to take on ownership of issues. Just as human rights themselves were universal, the premier multilateral forum responsible for ensuring the respect for human rights should also ensure full participation in its work and inclusivity therein. Digital technology should be used to increase participation and to build inclusivity. More technical assistance needed to be provided to ensure the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States. The latter had great value to contribute to the Human Rights Council, but faced obstacles to their participation, and thus the Voluntary Trust Fund was applauded and appreciated. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of donors had fallen considerably. Access and opportunity should be in particular provided and ensured to such groups as women and girls from least developed countries and small island developing States.

Speaking were Angola on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries; Bahamas on behalf of a group of countries; South Africa; Germany; Namibia; Portugal; Finland on behalf of the Nordic Baltic Countries; Maldives on behalf of a group of small island developing States; Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Cộte d’Ivoire on behalf of the African Group of Geneva; United Kingdom on behalf of the Human Rights Organization Contact Group; Vanuatu on behalf of a group of countries; Nepal; Burkina Faso; Benin; United Nations Development Programme; European Union; Mauritius; Djibouti; Marshall Islands; and Singapore.

Also speaking were ARC, Iuventum e.V, UPR Info, and UN Women.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will resume its high-level segment at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 1 March.

Opening Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

FEDERICO VILLEGAS, President of the Human Rights Council, introduced the annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, held pursuant to Council resolution 16/21, to promote the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system. The theme of this year’s panel was the contribution of universal participation to the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of 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. The President proceeded to introduce key-note speakers who were delivering opening statements and the panellists.

Statements by Key-note Speakers

ABDULLA SHAHID, President of the seventy-sixth session of the General Assembly, said it was crucial to continue in the direction of more inclusivity. Least developed countries and small developing islands States comprised 40 per cent of United Nations Member States. Including them in the work of the Council ensured that their priorities and concerns were acknowledged and reflected in the work. It ensured that the Council was better positioned to identify and address the human rights concerns of all communities. The Trust Fund was celebrated as a success story in technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights. It had enabled 172 government officials from the 72 eligible least developed countries and small developing island States to attend the regular sessions of the Council. It had helped make strides in gender equality, with 104 beneficiaries being women. Many former beneficiaries of the Trust Fund were now human rights experts and had been posted in multilateral missions, including in New York and Geneva. Others had been included as part of their delegations participating the Universal Periodic Review. As the world grappled with the consequences of a devastating pandemic, it was important that the Fund retained sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this important discussion drew attention to the specific needs of least developed countries and small island developing States. Resolution 19/26, which established the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the participation by least developed countries and small island developing States in the work of the Council, had arisen from that initiative. The Fund’s tenth anniversary was an opportunity to take stock of its first decade of achievements and assess ways to advance that work in the future. The Fund had enabled 172 officials from least developed countries and small island developing States to attend regular sessions of the Council, 95 per cent of them for the first time. The Fund was a Gender Champion as 60 per cent of its beneficiaries to date had been women. Beneficiaries of the Fund had enriched this Council’s debates and they had returned home with renewed human rights expertise – creating, in several cases, new momentum for action.

Emphasising her commitment to multilingualism, Ms. Bachelet explained that as a non-native English speaker, she fully understood the injustice and challenges of operating exclusively in one language. Following on the COVID-19 pandemic, she stated that despite COVID restrictions, the least developed countries and small island developing States Trust Fund had been able to support the participation of 19 delegates in 2021, including 15 at the September session – the largest cohort since it was established. The High Commissioner saluted all its former delegates and thanked the 31 donors that supported the work of the Fund, which constituted an excellent example of tangible and concrete capacity-building.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director General of the World Health Organization, reiterated that multilateral cooperation was vital for achieving both public health and environmental health around the world. He noted that many island nations were on the front line of climate change, without the infrastructure to meet the challenges posed by this disaster. He called for new measures to improve investment in climate change. He outlined some of the measures the World Health Organization had undertaken to build capacity in this sphere. Last year the World Health Organization and a number of partners had launched a programme to build a climate resilient sustainable health system. The World Health Organization was committed to continue helping States meet the challenges posed by today’s issues.

LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO, Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that small island developing States and least developing countries faced particular challenges to meeting human rights. This was especially true when it came to the rights of women and girls. COVID-19 had caused particular problems in this regard as many girls had not returned to school after initial Covid measures. Around the world, girls faced many challenges and did not enjoy these rights, and this was all the more the case in developing States. As such, measures that would allow teachers to incorporate gender equality were important. A number of issues underpinned the Organisation’s ongoing work.

Respect for multilingualism meant members must be able to participate actively in negotiations by using their own language. This underpinned the principle of inclusiveness and access to all. Capacity building was also vital, as small island developing States and least developing countries needed this type of support to participate fully in the work of the United Nations. Finally, the importance of technology had been made more acute by the pandemic. Least developed countries faced inherent barriers due to the need for technology, as hybrid meetings were becoming all the more frequent. These States should be helped to overcome these barriers to participation.

A video was played to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund. The video was prepared by the Trust Fund secretariat, Office of the High Commissioner

Statements by the Panellists

REBECA GRYNSPAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development had always been at the forefront of the United Nations efforts to recognise the diversity of human development. They were promoting the idea that special categories must be created – such as least developed countries. Small island developing States or landlocked developing countries were supported through special and differentiated means. The pandemic had shown that countries that were least developed, or whose development was more susceptible to external factors, were more fragile to the shocks that afflicted all countries. Least developed countries had vaccinated less than 5 per cent of their populations. Access to vaccines and financial resources had been a differential factor in countries abilities to face the crisis. Rising poverty levels were measured in the tens of millions. Mounting inflation in commodities and disruption of global supply chains would increase price levels in small island developing States by 7.5 per cent this year, five times the rate that was forecasted for the rest of the world, affecting their imports of essential goods like medicines and food.

MARTIN CHUNGONG, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that the Inter-Parliamentary Union was keen to promote universal participation of all parliaments in the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had created a solidarity fund to support those with limited means as well as made a determined effort to expand services in Spanish in order to promote greater interaction with the parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean. Human rights were part of the Union’s priorities as well as an integral part of its strategy. “We believe that strong democracy goes hand in hand with properly managed human rights”, Mr. Chungong said. Detailing his approach to the promotion of human rights, he explained that he had been integrating a human rights perspective across all Inter-Parliamentary Union activities as well as strengthening the contribution of parliaments to the promotion and respect of human rights, especially through the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had organized activities for member parliaments of the Commonwealth and the Francophonie – in collaboration with the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. It was planning to organize similar outreach activities for Spanish, Arabic and Russian-speaking parliaments.

HEIDI SCHRODERUS-FOX, Director of the United Nations Office of the High Representative for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, regretted that the countries she represented found the corridors of power locked to them. As such, the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States in the work of the Council had been vitally important, and she thanked the Maldives and Mauritius for helping to establish the Fund. She also congratulated the Office of the High Commissioner for the Office’s ongoing support to these countries in their ongoing development. The office of the High Representative advocated for least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. The office also worked to mobilise international support, and service political negotiations by Member States. In order to do this, it was important for these States to have a seat at the table themselves. There was no better example of this than in relation to climate change. The countries she represented were most impacted by climate change, despite having contributed the least to emissions over the years. Climate change contributed to poverty and inequality, and weakened social cohesion. It was more important than ever for these countries to have their voices heard in COP22. Long and complicated travel, along with quarantine restrictions meant they were not able to participate at the heads of state level. Their participation in future fora was vital for a fair and balanced outcome.

EMELINE SIALE ILOLAHIA, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, explained that it was an umbrella platform of national civil society organizations in 24 countries and territories in the Pacific region. She explained why it was necessary to shift the engagement focus from Geneva and New York and bring it closer to home to the Pacific region. Civil society in the Pacific region was familiar with the Universal Periodic Review because it was structured as a parallel process for civil society to engage in the review process from the national level to the global. She shared several recommendations by the Pacific region civil society organizations. Recommendations included: to enhance the institutional and human capacity of least developed countries and small island developing States; and to operationalise the Trust Fund to be more accessible to civil society through capacity building, research and evidence based reporting and meaningful consultations. The pandemic had taught all that human rights and the dignity of people of the Pacific region should be at the centre of any response and protecting human rights should be a global responsibilities of all.

Discussion

Speakers said that respect for diversity was vital, as it allowed different stakeholders to take on the ownership of issues, and it was important to consider the universal and multicultural nature of all United Nations entities. Just as human rights themselves were universal, the premier multilateral forum responsible for ensuring the respect for human rights should also ensure full participation in its work and inclusivity therein. The triple threat of climate change, pollution and diversity loss were the most significant issue of this historical period. Digital technology should be used to increase participation and to build inclusivity and a multilateral system that was responsive to the needs of all. However, much more needed to be considered: there was a call for the Human Rights Council to give attention to the parlous situation with respect to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and by looking at the degree in which beneficiary countries incorporated the human rights framework into their own statutory system, to ensure that it translated into human rights benefits in the national settings.

In times of crisis, multilateralism was key, and the Human Rights Council played a critical role, speakers said. When peace and security were at stake, climate change endangered lives, and new and emerging technologies changed the world – human rights must be the compass across the United Nations. The Council benefited from personal engagement. The dedication of civil society organizations was commended. Multilateralism faded when universalism and cooperation were neglected – collected action was key, including in mainstreaming human rights and ensuring the rights of all people to the pursuit of freedom, peace and justice. More technical assistance needed to be provided to ensure the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States. The latter had great value to contribute to the Human Rights Council, but faced obstacles to their participation, and thus the Voluntary Trust Fund was applauded and appreciated. It had immensely contributed to their participation in the work of the Council, allowing to better protect and promote human rights issues in the respective countries, as well as across the globe. It had made a considerable difference, contributing to raising capacity building and awareness of the work of the Council. Ways and means to further expand its impact would be considered at this session, and this should be encouraged.

The achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals and of the Voluntary Trust Fund needed to be reviewed. Some practical outcomes remained to be realised. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of donors had fallen considerably. Concrete action and follow-up were required in order to remedy this. The Voluntary Trust Fund’s establishment was an important step, but the United Nations needed more such good systems. Civil society was happy for the upcoming recovery from the pandemic and was looking forward to improving relations with Governments and international bodies in the future. The new modalities set in place during the pandemic allowed for greater participation not only of non-governmental organizations but also for civil society as a whole in the United Nations system and the work of its bodies. All parts of society should be empowered in order to influence their lives in a positive manner. Access and opportunity should be provided in particular and ensured to such groups as women and girls from least developed countries and small island developing States. The capacity of the Trust Fund should be strengthened in order to make it sustainable.

Concluding Remarks

REBECA GRYNSPAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said that principles of diversity had been underscored throughout the debate, including gender diversity, and economic and geographic diversity. This would allow all to progress towards multilateralism. They had to work more to take a common approach in mainstreaming human rights and cooperation. She congratulated the Trust Fund for their work over the past 10 years, including its team and management, and thanked it for the fruitful discussion.

EMELINE SIALE ILOLAHIA, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-governmental Organizations , said civil society in the Pacific were familiar with the Universal Periodic Review as it was structured in a parallel process for civil society to participate. Institutions and human capacity in least developed countries and small island developing countries needed to be strengthened. In the Pacific region, there were still very few countries that had established human rights institutions. The Trust Fund had to be made more accessible to civil society, through various means. Protecting the civil society organizations should be the priorities of all.

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