Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the panel discussion on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council, “Are Human Rights under Assault?”, in New York today:
It is a great pleasure to open this panel discussion, 10 years to the day since the General Assembly voted to create the Human Rights Council.
No one, perhaps, captured that achievement better than the then President of the General Assembly, one of the architects of the new Council, who is now Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jan Eliasson.
At that time, I was Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea. At that time, Louise Arbour was Human Rights High Commissioner, so I paid my respects to both individually by having bilateral meetings. It was 10 years ago, but still very vivid in my memory and I really thank his leadership. I know how difficult it was. I appreciate your leadership.
Jan Eliasson described the occasion as “a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human rights”. Ten years on, I commend the Council on making important progress towards putting the human rights pillar back at the centre of the United Nations system. Human rights mechanisms have been strengthened. The Universal Periodic Review has improved the universality of our work and has created a space for dialogue.
There is broad acceptance that abuses are potential precursors to full-blown violence. The Council is reporting on more countries and situations every year. The Council’s work on Burundi, Guinea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria and many other places has helped the international community to respond to human rights emergencies and work towards accountability. I commend these results and urge the Council to continue and expand its work.
Today marks the start of a sixth year of conflict in Syria. For five years, the people of that country have endured horrific and widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and torture.
The Syrian authorities could have responded peacefully to the legitimate demands of the people with genuine dialogue and reform. Regional and international actors could have united to help Syria stabilize rather than use it as a battlefield for regional rivalries and geostrategic competition. Instead, over 250,000 Syrians have been killed. Nearly half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes, seeking refuge within or outside the country. The world has been confronted with an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.
The Syrian conflict has been the scene of the use of chemical weapons, siege and starvation as a tool of war, unlawful detention, torture, and the indiscriminate and criminal shelling and aerial bombardment of civilians. Those responsible for these crimes must be held to account. I repeat my call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. In Syria, as elsewhere, peace without justice is not sustainable.
My Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has this week convened intra-Syrian negotiations in pursuit of the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué as the basis for a Syrian-led political transition. I appeal to Syrian parties, regional and international stakeholders and the Security Council to fulfil their responsibilities and to help make these negotiations successful, to end this human rights and humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people.
One of the most important tasks for the Human Rights Council is to reinforce the links between human rights, peace and security, and development. This interdependency is also at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global blueprint for ending poverty and building a safer, healthier world. The Sustainable Development Goals are deeply rooted in universal human rights, including the right to development. The promise to leave no one behind means Governments and societies must dismantle the structural injustices that hold back so many.
The Goals call for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, good governance and the rule of law, and the empowerment of women and girls. They commit Governments to ensure migration takes place with full respect for human rights — which will be one focus of the Summit convened by the General Assembly on 19 September.
The World Humanitarian Summit that I am convening in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May will be an opportunity for Member States, non-governmental organizations and others to fulfil the promise of Agenda 2030 to the most vulnerable. In the face of a crisis in the protection of civilians caught up in conflict, the Summit will reaffirm the values of the Charter and the importance of international human rights and humanitarian law. And my Human Rights Up Front [initiative] is a formidable new approach based on changing how the United Nations thinks and acts on the prevention and protection responsibilities of the Charter.
As we all know too well, human rights are sadly under attack around the world. Civilians caught up in conflict are treated as collateral damage, or deliberately targeted. Minorities are under assault; refugees are rejected instead of protected. In a growing number of countries, politicians are using divisive rhetoric to whip up fear and hatred. Courageous human rights defenders face oppression, demonization and even death.
Some Governments are attempting to restrict the work of the UN’s own human rights offices. Many fail to uphold human rights while countering terrorism or striving to prevent radicalization. While Member States have the primary responsibility for upholding rights, it is Member States that are all too often in breach of their commitments.
We need the Human Rights Council more than ever to pursue its work with courage and persistence. Together with Agenda 2030, Human Rights Up Front, the World Humanitarian Summit and the full range of human rights instruments and special procedures, we count on the Human Rights Council to respond to these challenges. In its second decade, I urge the Council to increase its impact by engaging all regions and all sectors of society to create a global culture based on respect for human rights and dignity for all.