Speakers in Budget Committee Welcome Proposed Restructuring of High Commissioner for Human Rights Office as Cost-Neutral Improvement in Regional Services

GA/AB/4273
16 March 2018
Seventy-second Session, 32nd Meeting (AM)

Speakers in Budget Committee Welcome Proposed Restructuring of High Commissioner for Human Rights Office as Cost-Neutral Improvement in Regional Services

The scheme to restructure the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was a winning proposal that would help the Organization better respond to Member States’ growing demand for assistance in fulfilling their human rights commitments, delegates told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today.

Speakers pointed out that the Secretary‑General’s proposal to redistribute OHCHR’s technical, advisory and human resources across 12 regional offices would improve services to Member States without adding to the Organization’s budget.

“This proposal is about getting the greatest benefit possible from the limited resources devoted to development assistance,” said Canada’s representative, also speaking for Australia and New Zealand, and urging the Committee to approve it by consensus during the current session.  It was time to allow OHCHR’s technical cooperation division to move to where it was needed most, he said, stressing that there were other, more appropriate venues for delegations to raise political considerations regarding other aspects of OHCHR’s mandate.

The European Union’s representative pointed out that the plan was strictly of a managerial and budgetary nature and did not entail any change of OHCHR’s functions, programmes or mandates.  It saw merit in the proposal to strengthen the Office’s field presence — a move sure to increase efficiency and effectiveness — and looked forward to an expedient agreement on the matter.

That sentiment was shared by the speaker for the United States.  “This proposal will bring OHCHR services closer to the point of delivery, in part through the redeployment of 21 posts out of Geneva to regional offices,” she said, adding that the restructuring would enable the Office to better provide technical support to its wide range of stakeholders.

Chile’s delegate, also speaking for Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Mexico and Uruguay, added that redeploying OHCHR resources was “a way to not only optimize their own use, but also to bring the United Nations closer to the ground”, in line with the Secretary‑General’s wider reform proposals for the Organization.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), stressed that the United Nations approach to human rights must be balanced and based on intergovernmentally agreed principles including universality, indivisibility, transparency and non‑discrimination.  In that context, CARICOM supported initiatives to strengthen OHCHR’s ability to conduct its work, and placed particular importance on the creation of a regional office in Bridgetown, Barbados, to benefit 17 Member States in North America and the Caribbean.

Noting that the restructuring proposal was extremely contentious and sensitive, Fifth Committee Chair Michel Tommo Monthe (Cameroon) urged delegations to approach the issue with “cold hands and cold heads”, including during informal consultations.

Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas, Assistant Secretary‑General and Controller of the United Nations, introduced the Secretary‑General’s “update” report on the proposed regional restructuring, while Carlos Ruiz Massieu Aguirre, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, presented the Advisory Committee’s corresponding report.

In other business, Olufemi Elias, Assistant Secretary-General, Registrar of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the construction of a new facility for the Residual Mechanism in Arusha, Tanzania, while Mr. Ruiz Massieu Aguirre presented the Advisory Committee’s corresponding report.

On that item, the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania highlighted the need to ensure funding to complete the outstanding punch list items, warning that continued delays in presenting a revised budget proposal would have a negative impact on the Mechanism’s mandate and potentially bring the entity’s work to a complete stop.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Switzerland and Egypt (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China).

The Fifth Committee will reconvene at a date and time to be announced in the Journal.

Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Restructuring

BETTINA TUCCI BARTSIOTAS, Assistant Secretary‑General and Controller of the United Nations, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report titled “Update on the proposed regional restructuring of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights” (OHCHR) (document A/72/720), which intended to facilitate further consideration of the Secretary‑General’s proposal submitted in document A/71/218.  Several delegations had noted that a consolidated update to the proposal would enhance their understanding of the status of the proposed redistribution of resources, with a view to concluding their discussions.  Further, as the proposal now pertained to the approved programme budget for 2018‑2019, delegates noted it would also be useful to update the financial parameters.  The proposal — to redistribute existing resources from Geneva to regional offices — was modest and resource neutral.  While it had been the subject of considerable and broad discussion for more than two years, it remained the Secretary‑General’s and the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ conviction that bringing OHCHR resources closer to regional and national partners could only improve the Office’s capacity to support Member States in delivering on their human rights commitments.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU AGUIRRE, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introducing its corresponding report (document A/72/7/Add.45), said the Advisory Committee, in its report, had expressed no formal view on the specific content of the “update” report, limiting itself instead to a few observations.  A few matters required further clarification, he said, noting that the “update” report would have resource implications under the 2018‑2019 programme budget.  He added that submission of the update report raised procedural questions, including whether it had been submitted under the Secretary‑General’s own authority, given that the General Assembly had not decided to request another report on the matter.

INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), emphasized that the United Nations approach to human rights must be balanced and based on intergovernmentally agreed principles including universality, indivisibility, transparency and non‑discrimination.  In that context, the Community supported initiatives to strengthen OHCHR’s ability to conduct its work, based on General Assembly resolution 48/41, and placed particular importance on the proposal to increase capacity through the establishment of a regional office in Bridgetown, Barbados, to benefit 17 Member States in North America and the Caribbean.  Given the proposed restructuring, it was critical that the required post and non‑post resources be allocated commensurate with that of the Regional Office’s operational realities and its foreseeable workload.

LEYLA VÁSQUEZ (Chile), speaking also on behalf of Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Mexico and Uruguay, said that redeploying OHCHR resources was “a way to not only optimize their own use, but also to bring the United Nations closer to the ground”, in line with the Secretary‑General’s reform proposals for the Organization.   The countries on whose behalf she was speaking valued the proposed restructuring of OHCHR with a view to strengthening its regional presence with a commitment to technical cooperation and capacity‑building.  Noting that the United Nations human rights pillar accounted for about 3.5 per cent of the regular budget, she said restructuring was aimed at improving the use of those funds.  The Fifth Committee had a fundamental role in determining how the Organization’s resources were used in a way that ensured full compliance of the mandates adopted by Member States, she said, underscoring the eight countries’ willingness to work in good faith towards concluding the topic during the first resumed session.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, said that the bloc was convinced that the Secretary‑General’s proposal would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of OHCHR, noting that it did not entail any change of functions, programmes or mandates of the Office, and was therefore strictly of a managerial and budgetary nature.  The proposal contained no change in terms of the location of existing regional offices and no additional layers of supervision would be introduced as a result of the restructuring.  For those reasons, the European Union saw merit in the proposal to strengthen the field presence of OHCHR and looked forward to an expedient agreement on the issue, based on the emerging consensus that had developed across the Committee.

ALEXANDRA ELENA BAUMANN (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said strengthening the United Nations human rights pillar would also reinforce the other two, namely peace and security and sustainable development.  Strengthening OHCHR’s effectiveness required not only the funds needed to allow the Office to implement its mandate, but also to continue to improve its working methods and adapt its structure to today’s needs.  The proposed restructuring was a critical step towards bringing the work of the United Nations closer to the field and better responding to Member States’ increasing demands.

KENT VACHON (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said the Secretary‑General’s report captured the many improvements made to the proposed decentralization of OHCHR’s technical cooperation resources since it was first presented to the Fifth Committee.  The revisions demonstrated the degree to which OHCHR was responsive to the Advisory Committee’s advice and the concerns of Committee members.  “This proposal is about getting the greatest benefit possible from the limited resources devoted to development assistance,” he said, emphasizing that there were other, more appropriate venues for delegations to raise political considerations regarding other aspects of OHCHR’s mandate.  He went on to say it was time to allow OHCHR’s technical cooperation division to move to where it was needed most, and urged the Committee to approve the proposal by consensus during the current session.

CHERITH NORMAN‑CHALET (United States) said that her delegation viewed the Secretary‑General’s restructuring proposal as an important opportunity for Member States to further support the principles espoused in the Secretary‑General’s wider reform efforts, including enhancing support to the field.  “This proposal will bring OHCHR services closer to the point of delivery, in part through the redeployment of 21 posts out of Geneva to regional offices,” she highlighted, emphasizing that it would enable the Office to more efficiently and effectively provide technical support to its wide range of stakeholders.  Despite all of those proposed improvements to OHCHR organizational performance, it was notable that the proposal remained cost‑neutral.

International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Arusha Branch

OLUFEMI ELIAS, Assistant Secretary‑General, Registrar of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, speaking via videoconference, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on construction of a new facility for the Mechanism’s Arusha branch (document A/72/734), recalling that the project began in January 2012 and works were substantially completed on 1 December 2016.  Since that date, the Mechanism had continued to make full use of the office building, although there had been delays in completing some of the remaining minor corrective works, which were anticipated to be completed by the end of April 2018.  The most significant design‑related deficiency pertained to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system presently installed on the premises, he said, pointing out that the output did not meet the air quality, temperature range and humidity standards required by the Mechanism in the archives building.

The project team had explored workable solutions, which would likely entail replacement of some of the currently installed equipment, he said.  Following negotiations, the architect had agreed to provide the necessary design rectification input at no extra cost.  The currently available project funds would suffice for the supply.  Installation of the equipment required to remediate the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system would be recouped from the architect and the contractor.  Despite the design delays experienced, the project remained within the approved budget of $8.8 million, inclusive of the contingency provision.  To date, the contingency had a projected remaining balance of $417,000, with any unused contingency slated to be returned to Member States upon completion of the project.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU AGUIRRE, presenting the Advisory Committee’s corresponding report (document A/72/785), said it requested the Secretary‑General to provide in his final progress report comprehensive information on all design defects, including those related to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, as well as details on solutions implemented to address those issues, contractual remedies exercised, expenditures incurred under the contingency provision and costs recouped from the architect and/or contractor.  The United Nations should not have to pay any costs due to design defects and delays, he said, emphasizing the importance of proactive and sustained project ownership, management and oversight.  Going forward, the Secretariat should closely monitor progress in addressing outstanding punch list items and design defects and ensure that remaining rectifications were fully completed within the revised timeframes and approved resources.

KARIM SAMIR ISMAIL ALSAYED (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that 65 per cent of the punch list items had already been rectified, representing “notable progress” in addressing that issue.  The Group of 77 looked forward to an update on progress on that matter, and also in learning more about the rectification of outstanding defects.  It would also seek assurances from the Secretary‑General that the new project management team would closely monitor progress and ensure that outstanding rectifications were fully completed without delay within the revised timeframes and approved resources.

MODEST JONATHAN MERO (United Republic of Tanzania), emphasizing the need to ensure funding to complete the outstanding punch list items, recalled that during the main part of its seventy‑second session, the General Assembly had approved a commitment authority of $87.8 million for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, pending resubmission of a revised budget proposal for the biennium 2018‑2019.  Continued delays in presenting a revised budget proposal would have a negative impact on the Mechanism’s mandate and potentially bring the Mechanism’s work to a complete stop, he said.  The United Republic of Tanzania strongly expected the Secretary‑General to submit a revised budget proposal during the Committee’s second resumed session in May, he said, adding:  “Further delay beyond May is not an option for my delegation.”

For information media. Not an official record.