UN High Commissioner highlights states’ “lack of cooperation” in opening statement to Human Rights Council

Geneva, Switzerland. June 6, 2017. Today marked the start of the Human Rights Council’s 35th session, its second session of 2017. The opening panel included an address by Mr. Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay, followed by an update on the global human rights situation by H.E. Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In his address, the High Commissioner shared his concerns about intimidation and reprisals made by state officials against people who engage with the UN on human rights. In addition, the High Commissioner noted that, under the terms of GA resolution 60/251, all states – but especially Human Rights Council member states and those running for membership – bear a particular responsibility to cooperate with the UN’s human rights mechanisms. Regarding members of the Council, resolution 60/251 requires that they “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights [and] fully cooperate with the Council.” Yet, in many cases, members have not been living up to these requirements.

Regarding Latin American states in this situation, the High Commissioner made specific mention of Venezuela, which has ten pending requests for visits by UN Special Procedures. The most recent visit by a thematic mandate-holder to Venezuela was in 1996.

Based on a UN survey of global cooperation and non-cooperation with Special Procedures, the High Commissioner made specific mention of Cuba, which in April – after ten years without visits by mandate-holders – accepted a mission by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons. “It seems unusual for such an active member of the Human Rights Council to maintain such limited engagement with the Special Procedures,” the High Commissioner said.

The High Commissioner also congratulated several states which have devoted considerable efforts to cooperating with mandate-holders and have facilitated more than five country visits in the past five years. The states singled out for their cooperation were Australia, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Italy, Mexico, Tunisia and the United States.

However, not all the visits of Special Procedures to these countries have been free of difficulty. For example, the United States has received six country visits from Special Procedures in the past five years and has agreed to a further two during 2017. Despite this, the US has been reluctant to grant the Special Rapporteur on torture access to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

It is important to note that becoming party to an international human rights treaty is a commitment that states make to their own people. Reporting procedures aim to identify gaps in protection and measures to take to correct them. Yet, according to different reports cited by the High Commissioner, 74 states have been overdue for a decade or longer, meaning states have ratified the related treaty or optional protocol and then failed to meet their obligations.

The treaties with the highest proportion of states parties not complying with reporting obligations are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On another note, the High Commissioner congratulated Guatemala for the extension of its UN OHCHR country office for three more years. In contrast, he lamented that, based on the decision of the Bolivian government, the OHCHR country office in Bolivia will close at the end of the year.

He concluded his opening remarks by saying:

As this Council is aware, where the human rights situation appears critical, and where access is repeatedly denied to my Office, the only option open to us may be to conduct various forms of remote monitoring. So long as refusals to enable access persist, I will be compelled to consider reporting publicly and regularly on their findings.

Other highlights from the HRC 35th session include:

  • A total of five panel discussions, including panels on enhancing capacity-building in public health, unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights, the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women and the annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation.
  • The consideration of the High Commissioner/Secretary-General reports on a few thematic issues, including the relationship between climate change and the full enjoyment of the rights of the child and the operations of the Voluntary Trust Fund for Participation in the Universal Periodic Review.
  • The consideration of regular reports from 18 Special Procedures mandate-holders (4 country-specific and 14 thematic), including those dealing with health, peaceful assembly and association, extreme poverty, migrants, freedom of expression, and racism.
  • At the end of the session, on June 23, Council members will act on around 30 draft resolutions and appoint new mandate-holders for the positions of Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.

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