Plan of action submitted by the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights
“… the system for protecting human rights at the international level is today under considerable strain. Change is needed if the United Nations is to sustain long-term, high-level engagement on human rights issues, across the range of the Organization’s work … human rights must be incorporated into decision-making and discussion throughout the work of the Organization ... [OHCHR] remains woefully ill-equipped to respond to the broad range of human rights challenges facing the international community. Member States’ proclaimed commitment to human rights must be matched by resources to strengthen the Office’s ability to discharge its vital mandate.” (see A/59/2005, paras. 141, 144 and 145)
1. The centrality of human rights to the broader mission of the United Nations is beyond doubt. The report of the Secretary-General entitled “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all” (A/59/2005) reaffirms the importance of human rights as one of the three principal goals of the United Nations, alongside development and security, and reminds us that the protection of human rights is essential to building a more secure and prosperous world. And yet, while the United Nations human rights programme has made historic progress over the past 60 years, its political body is today in difficulty, its monitoring role weak and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) chronically underresourced and ill equipped. In an organization pledged to promote and protect human rights, this is a call to action. In a world plagued by daily assaults on dignity and freedom, it is a call to conscience.
2. The present plan of action builds on the progress achieved in the field of human rights over the past six decades, and charts a course to strengthen OHCHR so that it will be better positioned to respond to today’s human rights imperatives. It begins with the recognition that, globally, the implementation of human rights lags far behind their articulation. Our objective must be to help bridge the gap between the lofty rhetoric of human rights in the halls of the United Nations and the sobering realities on the ground. The plan of action calls for strengthening the profile and capacities of OHCHR, adopting new approaches, improving its planning and management and significantly expanding its resources.
3. The High Commissioner’s human rights mandate, universally agreed by Member States, is comprehensive, including the responsibility to promote and protect all human rights for all. The High Commissioner is tasked with supporting the work of the human rights mechanisms and is assigned principal responsibility for human rights issues across the United Nations system. To meet these obligations, OHCHR employs some 580 staff, of whom 310 are deployed at its headquarters and the rest in some 17 country offices and seven regional and subregional offices. The total budget of the Office in 2004 was $86.4 million, of which $52.6 million came from voluntary contributions and the remaining $33.8 from the United Nations regular budget.
Mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is mandated by General Assembly resolution 48/141 to be the United Nations official with “principal responsibility” for United Nations human rights activities, with the mandate:
To promote and protect all human rights for all
To make recommendations to the competent bodies of the United Nations system for improving promotion and protection of all human rights
To promote and protect the right to development
To provide technical assistance for human rights
To coordinate United Nations human rights education and public information programmes
To play an active role in removing obstacles to the realization of human rights
To play an active role in preventing the continuation of human rights violations
To engage in dialogue with Governments with a view to securing respect for all human rights
To enhance international cooperation
To coordinate human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the United Nations system
To rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations human rights machinery
4. OHCHR works closely with the other parts of the United Nations human rights programme, in a multifaceted system with a mix of complementary roles and capacities. But this system suffers from significant shortcomings and disadvantages. OHCHR lacks adequate resources and operational capacities, has an insufficient presence outside of Geneva and faces ever-increasing, uncoordinated (and usually unfunded) demands from the Commission on Human Rights, the General Assembly and other United Nations organs and offices. For its part, the Commission has been accused of selectivity, double standards, politicization and obstructive regional divisions. Enforcement mechanisms are weak, further undercutting the credibility and effectiveness of the system. The treaty system has grown unwieldy. While the present plan of action focuses on OHCHR, the overall goal must be to strengthen all aspects of the United Nations human rights programme, the various components of which are interdependent. Credibility or resource deficiencies arising in one part of the programme inevitably affect the whole.
United Nations human rights programme
The main elements of the United Nations human rights programme include:
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Commission on Human Rights
Special procedures of the Commission
Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Human rights treaty bodies
Programme of technical cooperation in the field of human rights
Support funds (victims of torture, indigenous populations, slavery, racism)
5. The present plan of action outlines the goals we want to achieve, the main strategies we will pursue to achieve them, the various tools we will employ and the changes and resources we will need for its implementation. Its success, in large measure, will depend upon a shared sense of purpose and commitment among Member States and other partners, without which our human rights goals will remain mere aspirations. While the proposals contained in the plan of action are measured, they are not modest. And given the human rights challenges that they are designed to address, that is as it must be.