2014 will be another important and eventful year for the Human Rights Council. Seen against the long history of human rights at the United Nations, the Council is still a young body, and yet it has achieved a remarkable amount in its relatively short life. Everyone who has contributed to the body’s work since 2006, whether representatives of States, NGOs, independent experts or the UN secretariat, should take considerable pride in these achievements. And yet, with success comes ever-higher expectations, especially on the part of individual people around the world who need our help to build a better, fairer and more secure life.
I am deeply honoured to have been elected by my peers to be the 8th President of the Human Rights Council, the second to hail from the continent of Africa. This African connection is particularly poignant in the context of the sad passing of Nelson Mandela last month. Mandela’s historic struggle against racial discrimination reminds us all of both the power of human rights to bring about change and the positive role the international community can play in that regard. Indeed, international support for the fight against apartheid, particularly from around Africa, was one of the key drivers behind the UN’s move, in the 1960s, to begin addressing violations of human rights ‘in any country’, a step which contributed to the establishment of today’s international protection mechanisms.
As I begin my term, I am keenly aware of this historic legacy and the responsibility incumbent upon me to enable the Council to deliver on its contemporary promise. Fortunately, as I look to fulfil my new responsibilities, I have the good fortune of being able to rely on a new bureau comprised of the distinguished ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Argentina, Italy, and India. I look forward to working with them, alongside the staff of the President’s Office and the Council secretariat over the coming twelve months. It will no doubt be a challenging time, yet I have every confidence in our collective ability, working alongside you, our friends and colleagues in the Council, to continue the body’s impressive work and, I hope, take it to a new level.
Certainly we have much to live up to. Over the past twelve months the Council, under the presidency of H.E. Mr. Remigiusz A. Henczel, has expanded its reach both quantitatively and qualitatively. I would like to reiterate my deep admiration for the work undertaken by Ambassador Henczel, work which has further consolidated the Council’s reputation as one of the most dynamic and important organs of the United Nations. I hope to continue where he has left off.
As we look ahead to the next twelve months, it is clear that there is much to be done. In approaching the work before us, I will look to be guided by the members of the Council, as well as observer states and civil society. This is, after all, your Council, a platform to be used by all those who wish to improve human rights promotion and protection. If I may, however, I would like to use this opportunity to venture some ideas on areas I see as priorities for 2014.
Human rights is one of the three pillars of the United Nations. Yet it does not stand alone but rather in a structure of mutual support and mutual dependence with the other pillars: peace and security, and development. In 2014, I see it as crucial to strengthen the Council’s connectedness with the other pillars of the United Nations.
This is important for many reasons. First, in the context of ongoing negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, it is clear that we cannot help eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development without strengthening the enjoyment of human rights. Similarly, we cannot secure the full enjoyment of human rights without addressing socio-economic inequalities. I therefore hope that in 2014 all of us will work together to ensure that human rights, including the right to development, are fully integrated into the new Sustainable Development Goals.
Strengthening inter-pillar linkages between human rights and security is no less important. As we have seen all too clearly in 2013, the systematic violation of human rights is intrinsically linked with geopolitical instability. If we are serious about improving global security and promoting human rights, it is important that the Council continues recent steps to improve cooperation and coordination with the Security Council and other relevant bodies as well as regional organisations.
And finally, in order to achieve all of this, the Council should strengthen coordination with the General Assembly, especially the Third Committee so as to promote and protect human rights effectively while at the same time respecting the letter and spirit of UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 setting out the particular competences and prerogatives of the Council within the overall UN architecture.
Back here in Geneva, I hope that in 2014 we can also work together to strengthen the Council’s mechanisms even further, in particular by focusing on follow-up and implementation of recommendations. In March, the Council will appoint an Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, taking the number of Special Procedures to fifty for the first time in the history of the UN. As we approach and pass this landmark we should ask ourselves whether the greater scope of the system is being matched by its ability to deliver real on-the-ground improvements in human rights. Similarly, we should continue to support the UPR, one of the great success stories of the Council, to ensure that the second cycle results in the implementation of first cycle recommendations. And finally, in 2014 we should ask ourselves whether the rapid growth in the number and length of Council resolutions is sustainable and represents an optimal use of time and resources, and whether steps might be taken to manage this trend while avoiding protection gaps. I look to all of you for support in helping to address these and other difficult and complex questions.
The Council will also, in 2014, continue to address pressing country and thematic human rights issues. As an African, I hope this will include a further contribution towards resolving the ongoing human rights crisis in the Central African Republic, and a contribution towards protecting the lives, dignity and rights of migrants. I also hope that the Council will continue to place particular emphasis on providing technical assistance and capacity-building support to states, both at home and here in Geneva. In this regard, I am pleased to note the operationalisation of the new Trust Fund to support the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the Council and its mechanisms, an initiative which began life as a proposal of the African Group. And finally, I attach the highest importance to making sure the Council and its mechanisms remain accessible to everyone and that people are placed at the centre of our deliberations – as per the letter and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.
It is clear that 2014 will be a busy year for all of us. I hope that while working together to implement the Council’s crucial mandate, none of us will lose sight of why we are here: to give a voice to the voiceless and to support those who need our help. I look forward to working with all of you towards this purpose in 2014, in a spirit of inclusiveness, dialogue and cooperation.
H.E Mr Baudelaire NDONG ELLA
President of the Human Rights Council and
Permanent Representative of Gabon to the United Nations
and other international organisations.
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