5 February 2018, Geneva
It has been almost seventy years since the nations of the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the preamble of which reminds all of us that the ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’ But as we enter into the 70th anniversary year of the Declaration, respect for human rights around the world is in retrograde – acts of violence and discrimination occur on a daily basis, and we are witnessing more and more human rights violations and abuses in all corners of the globe. Consequently, peace, security, and development are also under threat.
In this interconnected age, armed with the knowledge we have gained and lessons we have learned, the international community is better positioned than ever before to come together to reverse these worrying trends. But as I assume the Presidency of the 12th cycle of the Human Rights Council, I ask: can the international community mend the fractures that are separating us and pulling us further and further apart, in order to respond to the challenges we face?
I have complete faith that it can – through collaboration and cooperation with strong international organisations. One of the most effective spaces to address human rights challenges and reverse the retrograde is in the Human Rights Council – the heart of the UN human rights system.
After eleven years of work, the Human Rights Council has become a well-established institution, with various robust mechanisms in place to not only respond to but also prevent human rights violations and crises. With its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), system of Special Procedures and wide participation of stakeholders, including national human rights institutions and civil society, the Council has made important achievements in promoting universal human rights protection.
But like any institution, there is certainly room for improvement.
The Council’s agenda is not only full, but is in fact overflowing with work – a reflection of the state of human rights around the world today. As a result, we lack sufficient time to engage in genuine dialogue, substantive interactions and follow-up discussions, and the Council is therefore unable to reach its full potential. The world situation demands that the Council functions at its best; and the people we aim to serve deserve more from us.
Over recent years, Human Rights Council stakeholders have engaged in a number of discussions and debates about how to make the work of the Council more efficient, and thus more effective in carrying out its mandate. A stockpile of ideas has been accumulated. Now, it is time that we transform ideas into actions.
I take up the Presidency committed to building upon the efforts of my predecessors and to working with delegations to identify concrete measures that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Council’s work. I call on the members of the Council to come together and commit themselves to taking decisive action.
I strongly believe that by remaining true to the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue, we can identify and agree upon workable solutions to meet the challenges that we face – be it the challenge of better protecting human rights or challenges associated with the Council’s overloaded programme of work. Through dialogue, States can build trust and share experiences; and through cooperation they can stand stronger than standing alone. By improving the efficiency of the Council’s work, we could have more time to engage in quality dialogue and to create a better atmosphere for cooperation.
My thoughts around the need for increased cooperation also include strengthening cooperation and collaboration between the Human Rights Council and the UN bodies in New York. The Council would also benefit greatly from building stronger partnerships with regional organisations in order to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in the regional context. I am certain that by joining forces, we can and will achieve far more.
Additionally, strengthening our collaboration and dialogue with civil society would also greatly contribute to the Council’s work, as they provide us with first-hand information about the human rights situation on the ground and play an important role in implementation efforts. In this regard, it is our duty to encourage and ensure their safe participation in, and engagement with, the Human Rights Council.
We are all born free and equal in dignity and rights. Experience has taught us that societies that respect human rights are more resilient and stable. When human rights are strong, societies are strong and thus, sovereignty is strong. So during this 70th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us learn from the past and work together to create resilient, stable societies, where full respect for the promotion and protection of human rights is transformed from an aspiration to a reality.
H.E. Ambassador Vojislav Šuc is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Slovenia and the 12th President of the Human Rights Council