25 January 2011

Secretary-General Urges Human Rights Council to Avoid Narrow Considerations, Selectivity; Supports Independence while Condemning ‘Inflammatory Rhetoric’

25 January 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Urges Human Rights Council to Avoid Narrow Considerations,


Selectivity; Supports Independence while Condemning ‘Inflammatory Rhetoric’


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, 25 January:

Good afternoon, I am honoured to address you today.  I understand you had to rearrange your schedule to make this possible.  I am very grateful for your flexibility.

Human rights lie at the core of all we do.  The General Assembly established this Council nearly five years ago to put human rights on a par with development and peace.  Some worried this Council would become biased, others saw it as a great hope for solving every human rights challenge that confronts our world.

Two years ago, I came here and issued a challenge.  I called on the Council to promote human rights without favour, without selectivity, without any undue influence.  Today, I say these touchstones should guide your discussions in the upcoming five-year review.

You should examine the Council’s work not from the perspective of Governments or experts, but through the eyes of people who need this Council’s protection.  You should ask whether this Council responds to mass rapes and sexual assaults committed with impunity, children conscripted in war, human rights defenders who speak the truth only to suffer yet more oppression.

You should preserve space for non-governmental organizations.  And you should carry out the review carefully and efficiently.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office are your great allies in this effort.

Over the past five years, the Universal Periodic Review has made important progress.  It scrutinizes all countries, small and large, poor and rich, weak and powerful.  The delegations are high level.  The discussions are candid.  The debate is difficult.  Just as it should be.

The Universal Periodic Review is breaking new ground, now we must make sure it never becomes simply a rote exercise.  That requires you, the members of the Council and all the Member States, to follow through on its recommendations.  Facing human rights problems is the first step; acting to fix them moves us forward on the path of progress.

As we walk this road we must shine light on abuses everywhere.  The Council’s system of special procedures makes this possible.  These experts travel the world, record what they see and report to you.  They are your eyes and ears.  They must be able to see clearly and hear well, free from hindrance.

I welcome the fact that this Council has convened more special sessions in five years than the Human Rights Commission held during its entire history.  You did this with flexibility and creativity.  Victims shared their stories.  Fact-finding missions probed complex cases.  Council members responded to breaking developments.  But more must be done to fully rise above national and regional interests.  If this Council is to deliver on the promise of its founding, you must go beyond narrow considerations.

Let us be frank.  This body has come under criticism from various quarters.  For this Human Rights Council to fulfil its mandate, it must be seen as impartial and fair.  It cannot be seen as a place ruled by bias or special interests.  It cannot be a place that targets some countries, yet ignores others.  It cannot be a place where some members overlook the human rights violations of others so as to avoid scrutiny themselves.

That is why the Human Rights Commission was discredited.  That is why this body was created in its place.  To redress the shortcomings of the Human Rights Commission.  To function impartially, objectively and constructively.

Let me make two additional points in this regard:

First, the Special Rapporteurs and independent experts who represent the Human Rights Council are appointed by the Council, not by the Secretary-General.  The Council decides whether they continue in their jobs.  In this, there is a delicate balance.  We cannot, and should not, limit their independence.  Yet we cannot condone irresponsible behaviour that undermines the Human Rights Council and the United Nations.

Recently, a Special Rapporteur suggested there was an “apparent cover-up” in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  I want to tell you clearly and directly: I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric.  It is preposterous — an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic terrorist attack.  It is the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to uphold, at all times, the highest standards of the United Nations and the Council.

Second, we cannot be selective in promoting human rights.  We must address the full spectrum of rights with equal force — civil, cultural, economic, social and political.  Put simply, our watchword should be “all people, all countries, all rights”.

That is why you are here.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into more languages than any other document in the world.  This is more than an historic record — this is the collective voice of the world’s people insisting that the Declaration applies everywhere, that no matter what language you speak, or where you live, you should be sheltered by its principles.

And yet, though we have translated the Declaration into more than 300 languages, we have yet to fully translate its principles into action.  This is our shared responsibility, the express mission of the Human Rights Council: to ensure that every single person can enjoy their human rights in full.  All rights for all people.

This week’s commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day is a powerful call to reject all forms of intolerance, including anti-Semitism and other expressions of religious intolerance.  In this we must be especially mindful of growing intolerance against our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We must also continue working to protect civilians caught in conflict.  That means accountability.  It means supporting the International Criminal Court and the other tribunals and special courts that are advancing justice, punishing perpetrators and serving as a warning to all those who might commit atrocities.

We must especially address rape and gender-based violence.

As we prepare to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the right to development, we must work to make this right a reality for all, in line with the Millennium Declaration.  We must reject persecution of people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, who may be arrested, detained or executed for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.  They may not have popular or political support, but they deserve our support in safeguarding their fundamental human rights.

I understand that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues.  But cultural practice cannot justify any violation of human rights.  Women’s treatment as second-class citizens has been justified, at times, as a “cultural practice”.  So have institutional racism and other forms of inhuman punishment.  But that is merely an excuse.  When our fellow humans are persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we must speak out.

That is what I am doing here, that is my consistent position.  Human rights are human rights everywhere, for everyone.

The General Assembly founded this Council to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction, in a fair and equal manner.  The Assembly charged you, the members of this Council, with upholding the highest standards of human rights.

Now you must act in a fair and equal manner, and uphold the highest human right standards, in your own countries and around the world.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.