On 12 October 2023, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) made history at the Human Rights Council. Not only did they present for adoption their first joint initiative at the Council since its establishment, but they also presented the first item 10 resolution (A/HRC/RES/54/33) that seeks the establishment of a regional office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). As a clear demonstration of the commitment and priority attached to this undertaking by CARICOM States, the initiative was endorsed by the CARICOM Ministers of Foreign Affairs. By the terms of the resolution, the Council agreed to the creation of an OHCHR regional office for the Caribbean Community, to be hosted by The Bahamas. The resolution was adopted without a vote on 12 October 2023, with a significant number of co-sponsors.
In 2023, the year of the 50th anniversary of CARICOM, one of the oldest surviving regional integration movements in the world, as well as the 75th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, this achievement comes at a crossroads of significant milestones for CARICOM and for the international community. Against this backdrop, it also brings to the fore the value of international cooperation and capacity-building support in the field of human rights for SIDS, like those of CARICOM, that are facing unique challenges to the full enjoyment of human rights, not least of which is the existential threat of climate change.
The Bahamas, the first and only CARICOM State to have served on the Human Rights Council (during the period 2019 – 2021) and one of only a few SIDS to have ever been elected, served as penholder for the resolution on behalf of CARICOM. In introducing the text prior to its adoption, H.E. Patricia Hermanns, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of The Bahamas to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, noted that CARICOM considered that the 54th Session of the Council and agenda item 10, ‘together represent an important moment and appropriate space to seek predictable and sustainable funding for the provision of much needed capacity-building support’.
UN General Assembly resolution 48/141, which established the post of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reaffirmed the necessity for a ‘continued adaptation of the United Nations human rights machinery to current and future needs in the promotion and protection of human rights.’ The Caribbean has not previously had a dedicated regional office of the High Commissioner and there were no regular budget funds for the activities of the OHCHR in the Caribbean. It therefore essentially represented a ‘blind spot’ for OHCHR and meant that the Office was not adequately equipped to deliver much-needed technical and capacity-building support for the region. This recent, historic achievement by the States of the Caribbean Community in seeking assistance, in accordance with their needs and priorities, through an item 10 resolution will, subject to the requisite funds being approved by the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly, contribute to ensuring that the States of CARICOM are not left behind, highlight the importance of continued promotion of universality of participation in the work of the Human Rights Council and provide a concrete demonstration of the significant value of the Council’s agenda item 10.
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