​Priorities and opportunities for the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

by the URG team Blog

As the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, begins his term in office, H.E. Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, Catarina de Albuquerque, H.E. Ambassador Triyono Wibowo, Ted Piccone, H.E. Ambassador Carsten Staur, Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, Harriet Berg, Phil Lynch, H.E. Ambassador Mehmet Ferden ÇarikçI, Professor John Knox, H.E. Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco, Roland Chauville, Dr. Rosa Freedman, H.E. Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi and Dr. Nazila Ghanea reflect on some of the priority issues in his ‘inbox’ as well as on opportunities for progress.


H.E. Ambassador Alexandre Fasel
Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva

“Switzerland will continue to lend all its support to the OHCHR, which plays a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights for all worldwide. Indeed, it is of the essence that the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, is provided with adequate support from Member States, so that he can carry out his mandate in an independent and efficient manner. In doing so, Switzerland will devote particular attention to the challenges and constraints that the OHCHR faces today and the strengthening of the United Nations’ Human Rights Pillar as a whole.”


Catarina de Albuquerque
UN Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation

Catarina“In my six years as UN Special Rapporteur I have seen, first-hand, the power of human rights to strengthen policy at the international level and to change the way UN agencies and other actors work. I therefore hope that the new High Commissioner will invest in human rights mainstreaming – moving us all out of our comfort zone, making the case for human rights in key negotiations such as on the SDGs, driving the establishment of partnerships, and creating concrete tools to secure the practical implementation of specific rights on the ground. By doing so we can move human rights to the center of development!”


H.E. Ambassador Triyono Wibowo
Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the UN in Geneva

“Further strengthening cooperative and constructive approaches with Member States is the key for the High Commissioner to fulfill his mandate. There is no doubt that the High Commissioner will bring new energy and enthusiasm in order to bring his Office to a whole new level. It is our hope that the excellent work of the Office will be further strengthened to preserve global values and meet human rights challenges, in particular poverty, intolerance, and extremism.”


Ted Piccone
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

“The UN human rights system has a wide range of tools that help monitor and hold states accountable against their obligations to protect and promote human rights. Among them, the UN’s independent experts (Special Procedures) serve a uniquely flexible and activist role in connecting international norms to local realities. Prince Zeid should make supporting their work a key policy priority for his tenure, directing staff and resources to defend and strengthen the mechanism, and encouraging the international community to expand the resources available for this crucial mechanism as well as for the human rights pillar more broadly.”


H.E. Ambassador Carsten Staur
Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN in Geneva

“Denmark looks forward to continuing our strong support to the OHCHR under the leadership of Prince Zeid. One priority area where we look forward to working with the new High Commissioner is sexual and reproductive health and rights. This issue affects the lives of billions of people worldwide and is central to the post-2015 development agenda. We also look forward to cooperating to eliminate torture. Together with Chile, Ghana, Indonesia and Morocco, Denmark is leading an initiative (the CTI) to secure universal ratification and implementation of the CAT within the next ten years. OHCHR will be an important partner in achieving this ambitious, but highly overdue, objective.”

Professor Sir Nigel Rodley
Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee

“As head of the secretariat that services the UN human rights programme, it is important for the new High Commissioner to focus on strengthening the machinery of protection, namely, the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures. These are the bodies that can hold states to account for their failure to respect human rights and bring some vindication to those whose rights have been violated. Both systems could benefit from some rationalization, which would then yield resources for more effective activities. This will require sustained engagement with member states, though this should not be at the expense of his lead role of speaking out against the worst human rights violations.”


Harriet Berg
Minister-Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Norway

“The rising global prominence of human rights and the reaction this can engender in some quarters place ever-higher demands and expectations on the international human rights system. While that system has been significantly strengthened over the last decade, the international community still faces a significant ‘implementation gap’ between international-level norms and commitments and local-level implementation and reality. A key challenge for the new High Commissioner will be to find ways to address this gap by securing a higher level of regular budget funding for the human rights pillar, improving systematisation within and synergies between the human rights mechanisms, and strengthening cooperation between the UN’s three pillars.”


Phil Lynch
Director, International Service for Human Rights

“The new High Commissioner should make the protection of human rights defenders a key priority. From the outset, he should develop a close relationship with civil society and make strong public statements to affirm the universality of human rights and the legitimacy of work to defend them. With civil society actors worldwide facing worsening restrictions and attacks, he should push states to develop specific laws and policies to protect defenders at risk, including those who work to promote women’s rights and LGBT rights. As the UN’s top human rights official, he also has a particular responsibility to ensure that the UN human rights system is accessible and to protect those who engage with it, unequivocally condemning intimidation and reprisals and pursuing accountability and redress where they occur.”


H.E. Ambassador Mehmet Ferden Çarikçi
Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN in Geneva

“The assembly room used by the Human Rights Council for its formal sessions is called the ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ hall. Indeed, a key goal of the UN, and the Council, is to bring civilizations together as friends and partners in the common cause of promoting human progress. One particular area where this noble objective is very much needed is inter-religious dialogue and the promotion of religious tolerance. In 2011, the Council took steps to strengthen such dialogue and understanding with the adoption of landmark resolution 16/18 and the establishment of the Istanbul Process. I hope that the new High Commissioner will work with states to promote the full implementation of the action plan set down in resolution 16/18 and thereby effectively combat religious prejudice, stereotyping, incitement and hatred. As he does so, he will find, in Turkey, a willing and determined partner.”


Professor John Knox
UN Independent Expert on human rights and the environment

“I hope the new High Commissioner will give attention to environmental threats to human rights. In recent years, the UN has become much more aware of the inter-relationship between human rights and the environment. It is now beyond debate that a healthy environment is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to life and health, and that the exercise of human rights, including rights to information and participation, is critical to environmental protection. But much more needs to be done to bring human rights to bear on environmental challenges. Climate change, in particular, will require fresh thinking about how human rights principles apply to problems that ignore national borders.”


H.E. Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco
Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN in Geneva

“The approach that diverse actors have towards human rights is deeply influenced by external phenomena, such as crises and longstanding implementation challenges. Their increasing recurrence generates a polarized dynamic that should be overcome with a pragmatic approach, by advancing cooperation and finding common ground.

In this context, the overarching objective of the Human Rights Council should be to foster an environment that is conducive to synergies between all stakeholders. I believe that Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the right person to lead the OHCHR in addressing the challenges that lie ahead for the human rights protection system.”


Dr. Rosa Freedman
University of Birmingham

“It is important for the new High Commissioner to help maintain the international system’s focus on the realization of core human rights, as set down in the two covenants, and avoid the system becoming a ‘catch-all’ receptacle for all manner of other issues. At the same time, it is clear that human rights principles can help strengthen UN policy in others areas (e.g. development, security, environmental protection), and thus effective mainstreaming of human rights across all relevant UN institutions and processes should be a priority”.


H.E. Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi
Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN in Geneva

“The provision of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights should be an inclusive exercise that engages and involves all national stakeholders, including government agencies and civil societies, at each stage of the process. Continued discussion and progress in this area is important in order to share experience and information, with the goal of better supporting states as they implement their human rights obligations and commitments. With this in mind, Thailand looks forward to working closely with the new High Commissioner to promote technical cooperation and capacity-building for the benefit of all states and stakeholders.”


Roland Chauville
Executive Director, UPR Info

“UPR Info congratulates Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on his appointment as High Commissioner. As we reach the halfway point of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, there is a significant opportunity for the new High Commissioner to strengthen his Office’s work on follow-up and implementation. The UN should adopt a holistic approach to the implementation of recommendations and concluding observations from the UPR, Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies. We wish him all the best as he begins his mandate and look forward to cooperating with him.”


Dr. Nazila Ghanea
University of Oxford

“To many, the summer of 2014 was a summer of strife, displacement and bloodshed. Some of the worst episodes were fuelled by religious and sectarian hatred, including humanitarian emergencies, incitement, the risk of genocide, and the bulldozing of entombed corpses. In order to prevent such crises in the future, states must make more progress in fulfilling their international human rights obligations, thereby promoting pluralism, respect for diversity, tolerance and peaceful co-existence. An important part of this should be securing respect for freedom of religion and belief and the implementation of resolution 16/18 on religious intolerance. The new UN High Commissioner brings scholarly and professional experience in dealing with matters of human rights and religion, and his insights and determination regarding threats that result from religious militancy will be invaluable if the world is to see a happier and more tolerant 2015.”


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