Statement by H.E. Mr. Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council at the opening of the twenty-seventh session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, 21 February 2022


21 February 2022

At the opening of the twenty-seventh session
of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

Monday, 21 February 2022, 1 p.m.
Palais des Nations, Salle XX

Distinguished Members of the Advisory Committee,
Mr. Tistounet, Chief of the Human Rights Council Branch in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I address you for the first time in my capacity as President of the Human Rights Council, at the opening of the twenty-seventh session of the Advisory Committee.

Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate the new members: (i) Ms. Alamro (Saudi Arabia); (ii) Mr. Tzevelekos (Greece); and (iii) Mr. Viljoen (South Africa), who were elected to the Committee at the last session of the Council in September 2021, and who add their expertise and dedication to human rights to the think-tank of the Council. I would also like to congratulate Mr. Lindgren (Brazil) on his re-election for a second term. I have no doubt that you will all make valuable contributions to the work of the Advisory Committee throughout your term.

I am also very pleased to note that, following the last elections, the representation of women in the Advisory Committee has reached an all-time high, with 8 women serving on the 18-person Committee. We are thus very close to the goal of gender parity in your Committee, and I hope that Member States nominating candidates to the Committee later this year will help us in achieving this goal for the 2023 membership.

Distinguished Members,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As is customary, I will provide you with an overview of the Council’s work since you last met in August 2021. Last September, the Council’s traditionally three-week session was concluded after four full weeks and one half day. This trend is foreseen to continue in the future due to increasing mandates and new mechanisms being established. It was an intense session – the Council held interactive dialogues with 19 special procedure mandate holders addressing a wide range of human rights issues and with 7 of its investigative mechanisms. 2,177 statements were delivered by States, Intergovernmental Organizations and UN agencies, while 898 statements were delivered by NGOs. 62 informal consultations were held on a total of 26 draft resolutions, including 16 on thematic, that were before the Council.

The Council also held its interactive dialogue with Mr. Malhotra, the outgoing Chair of your Committee, who presented the Committee’s annual report as well as your reports on current levels of representation of women in UN human rights bodies; new and emerging digital technologies; appropriate means of assessing the situation of racial equality; and on the negative effects of terrorism. I am pleased to note that States and NGOs engaging in the discussion expressed appreciation for the work done by your Committee on these four important topics.

During that September session, the Council also considered a number of thematic issues in the context of 6 panel discussions, which may be of relevance to your work. These include the Council’s annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout its work and that of its mechanisms, which focused on the gender digital divide in times of the COVID-19 pandemic; and a high-level discussion on the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, which focused on good practices, challenges and the way forward.

Distinguished experts,

In her global oral update at the beginning of the session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the triple planetary threats of climate change, pollution and nature loss as the single greatest human rights challenge of our era. The Human Rights Council responded with the adoption of two important resolutions, on environment and on climate change.

In its landmark resolution 48/13, the Council recognized the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right and encouraged States to adopt policies for the enjoyment of this right as appropriate. Complementing its recognition of this right, the Council also established a new mandate of Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change through its resolution 48/14. This new Special Rapporteur who will be appointed at the end of the Council’s upcoming 49th session, will play a key role in advancing global efforts to address the adverse impact of climate change on human rights and promote rights-based climate action. I am pleased to note that in the same resolution, the Council also responded positively to one of your research proposals submitted last August and granted a mandate to your Committee to conduct a study on the impact of new technologies for climate protection on the enjoyment of human rights, in close cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.

Also of direct relevance to your work  is the Council’s annual resolution on the global call for concrete action against racism that was adopted last September. In this resolution, the Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch a public information campaign for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of DDPA and establish a two-year comprehensive communications strategy and outreach programme to raise awareness about and mobilize global public support for racial equality. In the same resolution, the Council granted another new mandate to your Committee to prepare a study in which you examine patterns, policies and processes contributing to incidents of racial discrimination and make proposals to advance racial justice and equality.

I look forward to the work of your Committee on these two very important and timely topics.

In the elaboration of the latter study, you are requested to consult where possible the Office of the High Commissioner and the international independent expert mechanism established by the Council in its resolution 47/21. I am pleased to note that the Chair of the expert mechanism, Justice Mokgoro, will participate in the initial discussions of your Committee on this topic tomorrow. Let me therefore mention another mechanism with which your Committee may also wish to engage in the future – the newly established Permanent Forum of People of African Descent. I am pleased to note that one of the five members elected by the General Assembly in December 2021, Ms. Mona Omar,  was a member of your Committee. I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her election to the Permanent Forum and thank her for her valuable contribution to the Advisory Committee over the past 5 years.

Distinguished experts,

In the report on your last session, you drew the Council’s attention to a number of topics, including the human rights of older persons. You would be pleased to note that resolution 48/3, adopted by the Council last September, focused on the impact of ageism and age discrimination and requested the Office of the High Commissioner for the first time to submit a report on normative standards and obligations under international law in relation to the human rights of older persons at the upcoming 49th session, and to organize a multi-stakeholder meeting to discuss the report.    

Before I continue with what more is coming up at the Council’s 49th session, which starts next Monday, let me take this opportunity to outline some of the issues and key principles that will guide my Presidency.

I committed to enhancing the credibility, functionality and efficiency of the Human Rights Council and making it a stable platform to strengthen the spirit of constructive dialogue – thus deepening the understanding of our commonalities and differences about human rights and ensuring the respect of the views of all relevant stakeholders. I am equally committed to engaging with civil society organizations on the multiple roles that they can play in improving the situation of human rights and achieving a mutually beneficial and collaborative relationship with States and, above all, achieving what matters most to the victims of human rights abuses around the world: real impact on the ground. In this regard, I am also aiming to generate a systemic reflection in the Council in 2022 that would bring about more concerted action by the Council in conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. And the last principle that will guide my presidency this year is strengthened cooperation that would result in integration of the human rights perspective in a cross-cutting manner in national policies.

Distinguished experts,

Allow me now to turn to the upcoming 49th session of the Council. While acknowledging that the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve , the Council has decided to hold its 49th session in a hybrid manner, with delegations having the choice to participate in-person or virtually on Zoom or via pre-recorded video messages. The programme of work for the session is quite heavy, stretching over five full weeks for the first time in Council history. On the first three days of the session, over a 100 dignitaries are expected to address the Council during its annual high-level segment.

The Council will also hold seven panel discussions during the session. These include the Council’s annual debate to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which will have as theme Voices for action against racism. I am confident that this debate will inform the work your Committee will be starting on its new study on the advancement of racial justice and equality. The Council will also hold two other panel discussions and a meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter meeting will focus on enhancing technical cooperation and capacity-building in promoting and protecting the human rights of persons in vulnerable and marginalized situations in recovery efforts during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of interactive dialogues, the Council will hold dialogues with the UN High Commissioner, 25 special procedure mandate holders with thematic and country mandates, its investigative mechanisms, as well as 2 Special Representatives of the Secretary-General  and consider no less than 15 country situations at the session. Towards the end of the session, the Council is expected to appoint a total of 11 special procedures mandate holders, including the new Special Rapporteur on climate change, with whom your Committee will be coordinating in the elaboration of your study new technologies for climate protection.

Distinguished Members,

As we collectively amplify our efforts to give a greater visibility to your work and enable your Committee to fulfil its role as the think-tank of the Council, I look forward to your discussions throughout this session. I also look forward to meeting you later this week, in a more informal setting, together with members of the HRC Bureau, and the regional and political group coordinators. 

The Council relies on your independent expertise and guidance on many issues, including new and emerging ones, which your Committee rightly brings to the Council’s attention in a timely manner. Let me conclude my remarks here by renewing my appreciation for the work of your Committee towards our common goal, which is of positive impact on the life of rights holders on the ground.

It was a pleasure to address you today and I wish you a fruitful session.

Thank you.