Plan of action submitted by the United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights
III. The response
A. Goals and strategies: overview
33. Our collective task is to find the means to turn international human rights commitments into reality, so that individual people and communities see a real difference in their lives. The challenges are many, and continue to defeat the best efforts of a whole range of national and international actors. To do its part to tackle them, OHCHR will pursue two overarching goals — protection and empowerment.
34. We will undertake a concerted effort to focus on the protection of human rights, defined as ensuring respect for human rights in concrete ways for individuals. Human rights protection is not a specific tool or approach but rather refers to a desired outcome — where rights are acknowledged, respected and fulfilled by those under a duty to do so, and as a result of which dignity and freedom is enhanced. Human rights protection results when, through specific actions, individuals who otherwise would be at risk or subject to deprivation of their rights, are able to fully exercise them. It is based on international law, and necessarily focuses on both immediate responses where people are threatened, and on longer-term work to build and strengthen laws and institutions that protect rights — within States and at the global level. Protection understood in terms of concrete outcomes for individuals ensures that the work carried out by OHCHR is targeted at achieving real impact.
35. The High Commissioner’s mandate includes the responsibility to protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights, and to coordinate human rights protection activities in the United Nations system.
36. Empowerment is a broad concept, but I use it in two distinct senses. Experience from many countries teaches us that human rights are most readily respected, protected and fulfilled when people are empowered to assert and claim their rights. Our work, therefore, should empower rights holders.
37. In addition, successful strategies to protect human rights depend on a favourable government response to claims that are advanced. Empowerment is also about equipping those with a responsibility to implement human rights with the means to do so.
38. Taken together, both senses of empowerment remind us that the pursuit of the full enjoyment of human rights is best achieved through local initiative and response. The role of international actors is to support and encourage national reform initiatives.
39. These two goals of protection and empowerment will be pursued through three key strategies: engagement with countries to address the implementation challenge; exercising leadership to proactively identify problems and propose solutions; and building partnerships inside and outside the United Nations. Each of these strategies is introduced in paragraphs 40-44 below, and then more fully elaborated, with concrete programmes, in paragraphs 45-114 below.
3. Engaging countries
40. It is mainly through action at the national level that international human rights obligations can be translated into reality. Responsibilities falling on OHCHR and other actors are secondary to the primary role of the State. Implementation, therefore, requires first and foremost working with Governments. To do this, OHCHR will actively engage in dialogue with them, a task specifically spelled out in the High Commissioner’s mandate. The purpose of this dialogue and engagement will be to analyse the obstacles standing in the way of implementation and work towards overcoming them. This engagement will draw on the resources of the whole United Nations human rights programme.
4. Exercising leadership
41. In addition to being assigned the principal responsibility for human rights issues in the United Nations system, the High Commissioner is called on to be active in meeting human rights challenges and preventing human rights violations. Both imply that the High Commissioner should exercise leadership on human rights issues, taking the initiative where necessary, drawing attention to human rights problems, and developing responses and mobilizing Governments, civil society and all concerned in support. The authoritative pronouncements and recommendations of United Nations human rights bodies will form a significant basis for the High Commissioner’s own action.
42. Exercising greater leadership within the United Nations system, backed up by increased capacity in key areas, will also assist OHCHR in fulfilling its coordination function and promoting system-wide coherence.
5. Building partnerships
43. OHCHR is only one actor, and the challenges, as noted, are considerable. To address the implementation challenge we must, in addition to working closely with Governments, build on and establish other partnerships both inside and outside the United Nations system. Increasingly, OHCHR has cooperated in a more active way with United Nations human rights bodies in a joint effort to find ways of working more effectively. The efforts of OHCHR, the treaty bodies, the Commission on Human Rights and special procedures will be more effective if all are strengthened and working more closely together.
44. In addition, OHCHR needs to continue to build on existing partnerships with United Nations agencies and programmes. A greater engagement with countries will allow us to provide more effective input to coordination structures and better advice and support to United Nations country teams. OHCHR will also need to build and strengthen partnerships with civil society.
B. Dialogue and engagement with countries
45. In order to identify and work to close implementation gaps, OHCHR must engage in a much more concerted manner with Governments and others involved in national efforts to protect human rights.
46. To draw on the combined expertise, advice and recommendations of the United Nations human rights system to address these gaps will require an increase in country-focused staff and expertise, an increase in operational deployment at the country and regional levels, and better integration among all relevant parts of OHCHR. At present, we have insufficient capacity at headquarters and in the field to pursue a sufficient programme of country engagement.
47. Country engagement will differ from case to case. OHCHR has a range of tools at its disposal, including the good offices of the High Commissioner, technical cooperation projects and policy advice, cooperation with Governments through the process of reporting to treaty bodies and follow-up to their recommendations, follow-up to recommendations and reports of special procedures, regional and country presence, monitoring and public reporting. It can use these and other tools not only in direct engagements with the Government but also in cooperation with other actors, including national human rights institutions, the United Nations country team and/or other development actors and civil society. The choice of activities and priority audiences for engagement will depend on a strategic assessment of what is needed in each case, in close consultation with the Government.
48. It is worth stressing that the range of tools and approaches, including the treaty bodies and special procedures, all form part of one broad United Nations human rights programme, with advice, assistance, dialogue, supervision and accountability components, all of which should be mutually reinforcing.
49. OHCHR will approach this task in an impartial manner, in line with the High Commissioner’s mandate to engage in dialogue with all countries in regard to all human rights. Every country could improve its human rights record, whether for its policies at home or abroad, and it is in this spirit that the High Commissioner proposes to step up country engagement, including through her personal involvement.
50. The main focus of OHCHR activities will be to work towards the implementation of rights at the country level. All of the Office’s functions will be better used to support dialogue and engagement with countries. This will be a team effort, requiring collaboration among the different branches of the Office. A crucial part of this team effort will be expert geographic and country desks at headquarters. Currently, less than 40 staff are assigned on this basis, and an emphasis on country engagement requires a considerable investment of new resources.
1. Operational deployment in countries and regions
51. Expanded in-country and regional presence will give OHCHR its greatest potential impact, building institutional credibility and trust and creating stronger relationships with Government and civil society. Being present in different regions and countries, with staff having the requisite expertise, local knowledge and languages, is the preferred means to undertake any number of United Nations activities. This is equally true for human rights work.
52. Identifying knowledge and capacity gaps requires close analysis of the situation in a country, and closing commitment gaps requires working with the Government and other actors at the national level. Serious security gaps, especially in conflict situations, will often require deployment of human rights officers. Experience in both peace operations and human rights missions has shown the protective impact of a monitoring presence. Finally, a stronger presence in countries and regions will enhance the usefulness of the treaty bodies since OHCHR can better encourage and assist greater engagement in the reporting process and facilitate in-country follow-through on recommendations of the treaty bodies and special procedures. While OHCHR currently maintains a presence, including an office, in some 24 countries (including seven small regional and subregional offices), most of these are not substantial teams. OHCHR staff need to be more present on the ground and in a sustained manner.
53. There are different ways to build OHCHR field presences, each discussed below. The clear intention of OHCHR is to increase its field presences in order to increase support for them and to focus their activities on the objectives set out in the present plan of action. The precise configuration needs further consideration. This is now under way, and will include a review of all current OHCHR field presences.
In-country OHCHR presence
54. Most often, the best means of engaging countries is through an OHCHR presence in the country. This could range from medium-sized or large stand-alone missions and integrated human rights components of peace operations to smaller technical cooperation projects and advisers working within country teams. We have seen some of the clearest effective results in our stand-alone missions.
55. Country offices work most effectively when they are large enough and have sufficiently qualified staff to implement complex human rights strategies. Establishment of in-country presences will take place, of course, with the consent of the Government. Decisions should also take into account the seriousness of the human rights situation, the potential for our presence to influence the situation, our ability to operate with a broad mandate and the openness of Governments and other actors to work with us to improve the human rights situation. Each presence will have a different combination of activities tailored to the evolving situation and drawing on the full range of tools to address implementation gaps.
Regional and subregional offices
56. If properly resourced and supported, regional and subregional OHCHR offices can also effectively support country engagement strategies. These offices can pursue high-level dialogues with Governments and regional intergovernmental organizations and build links with regional civil society networks. They can also usefully support human rights advisers attached to United Nations country teams in the area, undertake needs assessment missions for potential technical cooperation projects and provide early warning of developing protection gaps in a region. By being present in and knowledgeable of the region, they can better tailor approaches to local needs.
57. At present, fewer than 20 OHCHR staff are deployed in regional and subregional offices. Expanding this presence will support increased in-country presences and will greatly improve our engagement with countries where we have no direct presence.
Human rights components in United Nations peace operations
58. In situations where the United Nations deploys peace operations, OHCHR has been primarily working in designing, assisting in establishing and recruiting staff for the human rights components of peace operations. We have also provided guidance and made our expertise available, although not as systematically as required. We intend to find ways to make such involvement more effective.
59. Effective operational capacity will depend on putting in place an adequate administrative structure that would provide the personnel, financing, logistical and security support necessary for the timely, safe and efficient deployment of staff and the effective functioning of field presences. OHCHR needs to strengthen capacity in this area.
2. Rapid response, fact-finding and investigation
60. Objective and impartial monitoring and fact-finding is needed to assess complaints that State practice is falling short of human rights obligations. The treaty bodies and special procedures play an important role, but OHCHR is also assigned responsibilities to monitor and report on human rights developments, in particular when it deploys a large in-country presence. Reports from OHCHR may provide useful information for Member States and United Nations bodies and ensure that human rights concerns are properly taken into account in their decisions.
61. The above-mentioned report of the Secretary-General points to the value of deploying human rights officers to crisis situations, and OHCHR stands ready to do so. This requires organizing OHCHR in a manner to support rapid deployment and ensuring administrative back-up in specific areas, including financing and personnel. Roster systems, training and security issues need to be addressed, but with additional resources OHCHR could significantly increase its capacity in this area.
62. OHCHR is also increasingly required to provide support and legal expertise in situations of crisis or post-conflict for commissions of inquiry or fact-finding missions investigating serious and widespread human rights abuses. On average, in the past several years OHCHR has supported two or three such commissions or investigations per year and the trend is towards an increase. Such assignments must be carried out diligently and thoroughly and may also include a need for expert skills such as forensic investigations. Support for such work is crucial, and developing OHCHR capacity in this area is a priority.
3. Capacity-building for human rights
63. The technical cooperation programme of OHCHR has been active for many years, and our experience has demonstrated the value and importance of this work. Such engagement is an effective means for overcoming knowledge, capacity and commitment gaps. Technical cooperation projects should not be seen or used in isolation but as part of an overall country engagement strategy. As the Secretary-General noted in his above-mentioned report, “technical assistance and long-term institution-building are of little or no value where the basic principle of protection is being actively violated” (see A/59/2005, para. 143). Meaningful technical cooperation requires an ongoing assessment of the situation to measure its impact.
64. Experience has shown us that our assistance projects are most effective when we are present in the country with sufficient staff and where the project forms part of a strategy of long-term engagement agreed upon by the Government, involving a full programme of OHCHR work. Working with a range of national actors, including in civil society, helps to ensure the sustainability and accountability of our projects.
65. A welcome development is the increasing involvement of various organizations, including United Nations actors, in providing assistance for human rights reform. It also highlights the need, however, for better coordination to ensure coherence among the various assistance efforts, failing which we risk making the situation worse. In working closely with United Nations agencies and donors, OHCHR can act as a catalyst for needed reforms, including by sharing our independent needs assessments.
66. Since the OHCHR budget in this area is modest, prioritization is essential. In regard to areas of substantive focus, the close link between OHCHR and the treaty bodies and special procedures brings added value in diagnosing and addressing implementation gaps. Although prioritization will ensure effective use of existing resources, it is clear that that the current level is still seriously inadequate.
4. Thematic expertise
67. Developing and strengthening our substantive human rights expertise is key to supporting effective country engagement, as well as to action at the global level. OHCHR has developed important expertise on a wide range of human rights issues and methods in the context of its operational activities and work with human rights mechanisms. In order to meet growing needs and demands and to realize our strategies, we will both consolidate and strengthen existing expertise and develop capacities in additional areas, where required, to better meet current human rights challenges.
68. Areas of focus include:
Human rights law, policy and institutions (interpretation and application of international norms; justiciability of economic and social rights; national human rights commissions; national human rights planning; civil society);
Human rights methodologies (monitoring; investigations; education; training; needs assessments; programming);
Anti-discrimination and special groups (such as discrimination on grounds of race or religion or minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities and women)
Rule of law and democracy (justice sector; transitional justice; impunity; remedies)
Human rights-based approaches to various issues (peace and security, including anti-terrorism initiatives; development; humanitarian work).
69. Strengthened expertise in these areas will be brought to bear to overcome implementation gaps and will provide the basis for OHCHR to work on technical cooperation, advocacy, training, policy development, analysis and advice to partners. It will facilitate the development of methodology for human rights work and the identification of good practices. Such expertise will also draw on and contribute to the work of the special procedures and treaty bodies.
70. Priority areas will be reviewed periodically to ensure that OHCHR is equipped to address emerging human rights challenges. The policy and planning unit being established, as described below, will assist us in priority-setting.
5. Research and policy analysis
71. OHCHR and many others involved in human rights activities have invested the majority of their research efforts in cataloguing and describing human rights problems rather than in proposing human rights solutions, and too little attention has been given to identifying trends that will in future impact on human rights. Substantial existing research capacity in OHCHR is devoted to preparing studies and reports for United Nations human rights bodies, many of which by their nature are of little practical value or in any case are not always put to good use.
72. The research capacity of the Office will be strengthened and it will increasingly rely on its own initiative to identify priority human rights issues for analysis. The aim will be to bring forward practical suggestions for addressing the knowledge gap and other human rights problems. One way to do so is through releasing existing research capacity. The discussion on a new Human Rights Council or a reformed Commission on Human Rights provides an excellent opportunity to rationalize the studies, reports and notes that OHCHR is asked to produce. The High Commissioner will undertake an inventory, with suggestions, in this regard.
73. In stepping up work in this area, we will rely on close collaboration with the many and diverse academic and research institutions worldwide, including in the United Nations system, and will seek to build collaborative processes with Governments, civil society groups and all concerned actors to address the knowledge gap.
74. Closely linked to a more active research programme is policy development. Putting forth suggestions to address human rights problems requires a careful consideration of the legal and policy issues involved. Consistency of approach and rigour in analysis will be essential for credibility, and to this end OHCHR requires a central policy approval function to ensure consistency and quality in positions advanced, which will be allocated to a new Policy and Planning Unit.
75. In today’s world, numerous social, economic and political issues are decided through international processes but have profound consequences for human rights locally. Though engagement with countries is key, OHCHR must also be active at the global level, shaping and contributing to the international debate on issues relevant to the protection of human rights. OHCHR must be especially active in the United Nations system and meet the challenge of fully integrating human rights issues into the core of the United Nations agendas for development and security. For this reason also, OHCHR must build its thematic expertise, and step up work on specific human rights issues.
1. Human rights, development and the Millennium Development Goals
76. The United Nations Millennium Declaration opens with an affirmation that freedom and equality are fundamental values essential to international relations in the twenty-first century. It pledges Member States to respect, protect and promote all human rights for all people, to defend the vulnerable and to strengthen the rule of law. In affirming the right to development, the Declaration recognizes that States have both an individual and a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the national and the global levels. The Millennium Development Goals require rich countries to assist poor countries in meeting mutually agreed targets for poverty reduction, and all States pledged themselves to respect human rights in pursuing these targets. Properly understood, the Millennium Development Goals are themselves human rights aspirations.
77. In order to help turn these pledges into reality, OHCHR will considerably enhance its work in this area by establishing a unit dedicated to working on the Goals. We will seek to engage in global discussions to ensure that due attention is paid to human rights, both in the process and in the outcomes of the implementation of the Goals. We will focus on promoting rights-sensitive poverty reduction strategies and the application of rights-based approaches to development, and advancing the right to development. In so doing, we will emphasize the free, active and meaningful participation of rights holders, the accountability of duty bearers, non-discrimination at all levels and the political and economic empowerment of those that development seeks to lift out of poverty. In addition, we will use the human rights framework to buttress and solidify pledges made by the richer countries.
2. Protecting economic, social and cultural rights
78. Despite repeated pledges as to the indivisibility of human rights and the need for the United Nations to pay due attention to all human rights, economic, social and cultural rights are still questioned by some, including regarding their justiciability — as seen in the discussions to create a procedure for hearing individual complaints of violations of the rights spelled out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These rights still enjoy a lesser status in law in most countries. Some believe that the principle of progressive realization of these rights creates special difficulties regarding accountability. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and many of the special procedures have addressed the legal issues involved and, over the past few years, have added much to our understanding of the scope and content of economic, social and cultural rights. Much work remains to be done, however, including in convincing often sceptical publics and Governments that human rights truly are interdependent and indivisible.
3. Human rights, peacebuilding and peacekeeping
79. In his above-mentioned report, the Secretary-General drew attention to the role of OHCHR in conflict prevention efforts and in deploying human rights officers to crisis situations, and called on the High Commissioner to play a more active role in the deliberations of the Security Council and the proposed Peacebuilding Commission.
80. In regard to human rights crises, as noted above, OHCHR stands ready to deploy human rights officers through its own stand-alone offices and to conduct fact-finding and investigation missions. Also, we will continue to work with the humanitarian community to integrate human rights into their work and programmes. Where United Nations peace operations are deployed, greater effort is needed to ensure that all their components, especially civilian police and military, contribute through their action to the advancement of human rights.
81. Concerning conflict prevention, much of the existing United Nations human rights information could be used more extensively in United Nations preventive diplomacy. Information alone will be insufficient, however. The task is to ensure that it is analysed and brought to the attention of those with a responsibility to act. One clear implication of greater OHCHR country engagement is that the Office will be much better equipped to anticipate looming human rights crises and to highlight the human rights implications of unfolding crises.
82. OHCHR needs to increase its capacity to contribute expert legal and policy input on human rights matters to conflict resolution efforts. Increasingly, OHCHR is called upon to assist countries emerging from conflict and periods of widespread abuse, including through procedures to uncover the truth about what happened, to investigate and verify massive human rights violations, to vet public officials and to reform and rehabilitate the justice system. To these ends, OHCHR will increase efforts with a host of partners, pursuing complementary action within peace missions, United Nations country teams and United Nations Headquarters-based policy and coordination bodies. Addressing impunity and the crimes of the past figure prominently, but there are many other human rights issues that need to be considered in order to build a sustainable peace. In addition, an expanded OHCHR field presence may itself help to create conflict resolution opportunities since engagements with belligerents on human rights issues create space for discussion of political issues.
83. In these areas, there is a clear need for OHCHR to expand its capacity, including especially in its New York Office, so as to ensure that it provides an effective input into both country and thematic issues.
4. Strengthening the rule of law
84. The rule of law has long been a principal focus of OHCHR. Based on international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law standards, a set of justice sector tools and manuals has been developed by OHCHR and used in many countries. We must increase efforts to assist countries in adopting laws and building the institutions necessary to give effect to international standards.
85. The work of OHCHR in this area draws on its expertise concerning international human rights law, based on its experience and close and unique relationship to the bodies established by treaty to oversee the application of that law, and to the special procedures. This international legal expertise is diffusely spread throughout OHCHR, however, and the time has come to consolidate it and provide it with greater resources. Doing so would allow the coordination of in-house legal expertise and ensure the provision of expert advice, within and outside the United Nations, on the compliance of national law and practice with international human rights obligations — an expertise that is likely to be in greater demand with an enhanced country engagement. The establishment of a central function along these lines would also allow OHCHR to be more proactive in defending international human rights standards when their scope and applicability is challenged, and suggesting future directions for and advice on their development.
5. A global human rights report
86. OHCHR will research and publish on an annual basis a thematic Global Human Rights Report. This will be an important policy and advocacy tool, through which we will be able to identify, analyse and build support for priority human rights issues, point to both positive and negative trends affecting human rights and highlight successful policies. It will be a vehicle for promoting human rights, spearheading new thinking and approaches and bringing to light diverse efforts to achieve human rights. Such a report will provide an authoritative source of information regarding human rights trends in selected thematic areas.
87. Experience in other United Nations agencies shows that global reports are useful but also require a significant investment of resources. Collaboration with others, including academic and research centres worldwide, will enhance the value of such a report.
6. Outreach and communication
88. OHCHR will not be successful in pursuing its goals and strategies unless it is able to communicate them effectively. As OHCHR concentrates on implementation — when the emphasis is on improving people’s enjoyment of human rights — there is a need for a much more vigorous communications strategy. Such a strategy will be essential to improve overall knowledge of human rights and to create support for the work of the United Nations and OHCHR in this area. It will also allow OHCHR to engage more effectively in building public support for human rights principles. This will require a more proactive engagement with the media, and more accessible and targeted dissemination through printed and web-based media.
D. Working with United Nations human rights bodies
89. The High Commissioner is explicitly required to propose ways of overcoming obstacles to the effective enjoyment of human rights and to suggest ways of improving and making coherent the functioning of the United Nations human rights machinery. In order to fulfil these tasks, she needs to take a more proactive and engaged role with the United Nations human rights bodies. Strengthening these bodies and working more closely together with them will ensure a more effective overall effort to address implementation gaps.
1. Commission on Human Rights
90. The Secretary-General has proposed the replacement of the Commission on Human Rights by an upgraded Human Rights Council. As this is under active discussion, the High Commissioner wishes to use this opportunity to set out a few points.
91. It is essential that a new body find effective means to carry out its supervisory responsibilities, which will necessarily entail some system for measuring States’ human rights obligations against their actual practice. The present system for country scrutiny in the Commission is, all agree, unsatisfactory. At the same time, there must be some system in place for considering the actual human rights situation in countries.
92. For this reason, I strongly support the proposal that country scrutiny be exercised through a system of peer review, whether in a new Human Rights Council or a reformed Commission on Human Rights. This system should be built on the principle of universal scrutiny, whereby all States submit to a review of law and practice concerning their human rights obligations. For such a system to be credible and gain the confidence of all, it will be essential that a fair and transparent method be developed to compile information upon which to base the peer review. As the Secretary-General has emphasized, a new Human Rights Council should also continue the practice of the Commission regarding access for non-governmental organizations and preserve the independent role of the special procedures.
93. It is difficult for OHCHR to speculate in detail how the creation of a Human Rights Council would impact on our work since so many of the details concerning the scope, power and composition of the body are still under discussion. Certainly, a standing body that would be able to meet regularly throughout the year, although a welcome development, would also place new demands on OHCHR and we would need the capacity to respond. The precise details of the peer review will need to be worked out, and in particular it will be important to distinguish a system of peer review by other States from reporting to expert treaty bodies.
94. With respect to either a new Human Rights Council or the Commission on Human Rights, OHCHR intends to step up its efforts to play a more active role, in a spirit of partnership, in identifying means of strengthening efforts to protect human rights.
2. Treaty bodies
95. The United Nations human rights treaty system is one of the Organization’s great achievements. The treaty bodies were set up to monitor progress in implementation and provide authoritative guidance on the meaning of treaty provisions and the measures needed to protect rights at the national level. Their work has had a direct impact, leading to changes in national law and policy and bringing redress for individual victims. All States are parties to at least one of the seven treaties, and more than 75 per cent of States are parties to four or more, including the two covenants. The reporting process should be seen as a means for States to assess achievements and identify implementation gaps. Ideally, this process informs national debates on human rights issues and creates new constituencies in support of human rights. This is, indeed, its raison d’ętre.
96. The problems with the current system are well documented and there is a large degree of consensus on the basic defects. States find it onerous to report separately to different treaty bodies, often on very similar or overlapping issues (though agreement on an expanded core document would reduce this burden). Reports are delayed or, when submitted, are often inadequate and there is insufficient time to consider them. The concluding observations adopted by the treaty bodies often lack the precision needed to guide reform efforts and are too often given insufficient attention by States.
97. Analytical and organizational support is crucial. Since 1996, significant new resources, raised outside the regular budget, have been devoted to staffing the branch dealing with the treaty bodies. At the same time, compared with other international monitoring procedures, the human rights treaties operate on a shoestring.
98. A considerably enhanced programme of country engagement will assist in ensuring that the treaty body review process is better supported and is more relevant to processes of human rights reform at the national level. Geographic desks and staff deployed in the field can work with Governments and other stakeholders to engage in the reporting process and follow up the recommendations made by treaty bodies and decisions on individual complaints.
99. Enhanced country engagement, however, will not address all the other problems identified. Inefficiencies in the system will worsen if, as is hoped, universal ratification is achieved. Since the Secretary-General’s call in 2002 for harmonized reporting requirements and the possibility of submitting a single report, treaty bodies have begun drafting harmonized guidelines on reporting. These should be finalized and implemented so that the treaty bodies can begin to function as a unified system. In the long term, however, it seems clear that some means must be found to consolidate the work of the seven treaty bodies and to create a unified standing treaty body. This is a matter for States parties, but the High Commissioner intends to submit options of treaty body reform for consideration at an intergovernmental meeting to be held in 2006.
100. A unified treaty body system would only be possible if all committees were able to function in partnership, which presupposes that they are supported in their various mandates by the same office, ensuring a holistic approach as well as jurisprudential coherence. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the treaty body monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, is the only human rights treaty not supported by OHCHR. The Committee is supported by the Division for the Advancement of Women. It would seem an opportune moment to consider transferring responsibility for supporting the Committee to OHCHR.
3. Special procedures
101. The various rapporteurs, working groups and experts appointed by the Commission on Human Rights are an essential element of the efforts undertaken by the United Nations to protect human rights. Their strength includes their independence, concerted focus on an issue or situation, ability to engage directly through country visits, ongoing accessibility to victims and advocacy role in identifying implementation gaps.
102. At the same time, increasing politicization in the Commission affects the special procedures. Acrimonious debates often precede the establishment or renewal of mandates, undermining the credibility of the procedure. Coordinating the work of the rapporteurs becomes more difficult as the number of mandates rises — quite rapidly in recent years. The mandate holders and their working methods are increasingly criticized by Member States, often for contradictory reasons.
103. The more than 100 reports submitted by the special procedures to the Commission at its sixtieth session, in 2004, included reports on human rights developments in 39 countries, prepared on the basis of visits conducted by mandate holders assisted by OHCHR staff. The same year, more than 1,300 communications were sent to 142 Governments, addressing 4,448 individual cases. There is very little follow-up, however, to these reports and communications, and the rapporteurs themselves (who serve in a volunteer, part-time capacity) are not in a position to follow up, especially concerning individual cases.
104. Strengthened geographic desks and a focus on country engagement should allow OHCHR to give greater support to the special procedures, including when they seek follow-up concerning their recommendations or individual cases. One important aspect of support will be to ensure that country visits are adequately prepared. Since 2000, significant new resources, raised outside the regular budget, have been devoted to giving increased support to the special procedures, but it is still inadequate.
105. This will not address, however, some of the underlying problems, in particular related to coordination, overlapping mandates and the increase in the number of procedures (currently more than 40) without a corresponding increase in the capacity of OHCHR to support them or the capacity of the Commission to consider their recommendations in a meaningful way. The Commission has requested OHCHR to hold two specific meetings in 2005 to consider reform and rationalization proposals. The High Commissioner believes this offers an excellent opportunity to address some of these problems.
E. Working with United Nations agencies and civil society
106. The community of those interested in human rights is growing rapidly, including activists, scholars, a diverse range of civil society representatives, professional associations and members of parliament. At the international level, there is growing interest in human rights principles in development agencies, international think tanks and, through mainstreaming, in all areas of the United Nations system. OHCHR must increase its outreach activities and partnerships at both the national and international levels. The overall goal must be to build global reform alliances that combine learning, activism and practice to overcome implementation gaps.
1. Working with United Nations partners
107. OHCHR is committed to implementing the reforms launched in 2002 to build strong human rights protection systems at the national level. The action 2 programme aims at building the capacity of United Nations country teams to support Member States in developing such systems. It focuses on strengthening the rule of law through institutional capacity-building and assistance in reforming national legislation; enhancing the realization of the rights of vulnerable and marginalized groups; ratification of human rights treaties and cooperation with treaty bodies and special procedures mechanisms; and developing a culture of human rights, including through human rights education. It also aims to integrate human rights into United Nations development and humanitarian activities.
108. As part of the action 2 programme, OHCHR is called on to support country teams with advice and training. Experience to date has shown that OHCHR advice and support to country teams is most effective when OHCHR is present in the country and can enter into direct cooperation. OHCHR believes, therefore, that its strategy to enhance country engagement and step up field and subregional presences will better equip OHCHR to offer support to United Nations country teams. At the same time, strong commitment from the United Nations country teams leadership and support from the team are crucial for the success of action 2.
109. As action 2 moves into the implementation phase, human rights advisers to country teams will assume a greater role, backed by substantive guidance and support provided by OHCHR. In addition, OHCHR will further strengthen its capacity to provide training and develop learning packages in cooperation with our agency partners, bearing in mind the need for follow-up support.
2. Engaging civil society
110. A strong civil society able to operate freely and that is adequately knowledgeable and skilled with regard to human rights is a key element for securing sustainable human rights protection at the national level. OHCHR has been actively engaged with civil society for many years. It needs to strengthen this engagement and ensure it is comprehensive, proactive and strategic in order to best utilize and empower civil society in efforts to implement human rights. This would be fully in line with the recommendations made in the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society relations (see A/58/817) that civil society be more meaningfully engaged in the work of the United Nations.
111. The Organization’s own human rights efforts must be seen in the context of a much larger civil society movement. OHCHR can benefit from the support, analysis and expertise of civil society and in turn may provide support, education and advice on approaches to United Nations bodies. Importantly, we can work to create conditions for the empowerment of civil society.
112. We will step up our efforts to provide direct protection for civil society groups in peril and those facing threats on account of their peaceful and lawful defence of human rights, both through strategic use of field presence and through interventions at the international level. This should include focused attention on strengthening legal protection for civil society actors at the national level. The good offices function of the High Commissioner can also provide important support for these groups. In addition, the United Nations has a unique bridge-building ability to bring together civil society and Governments, creating opportunities for building trust.
113. We will create a specific senior civil society support function to ensure leadership on this issue in OHCHR.
114. OHCHR must also draw on the considerable and increasing academic interest in human rights issues, as well as practical policy work being done by NGOs and governmental institutes. Indeed, both empirical and conceptual research that is being undertaken can greatly assist in addressing implementation gaps, and we must draw on this outside expertise.