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Statement made at 5th Workshop on Regional Arrangements, 4 October 2016

4 October 2016, 10:00, Room XIX

High Commissioner,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me address you this morning as we open the 2016 Workshop on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. I am very pleased to see all of you. The theme for this year’s workshop -- “Enhancing cooperation between United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, human rights defenders and civil society organizations” -- is an extremely important one, and I thank you for coming to share your views, experience and knowledge.

As we work to achieve our common goal of promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, it is vital that the Human Rights Council and regional human rights mechanisms are mutually reinforcing.

The Council places great importance on the role played by regional arrangements in promoting and protecting human rights and reinforcing universal human rights standards. Human Rights Council decision 32/115, which was adopted last June, mandated the Council’s Advisory Committee to prepare a report on regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights. This report will focus on progress made in the establishment of regional and sub-regional arrangements and their achievements in all regions of the world, and identify ways to increase the role that regional arrangements play in promoting and protecting human rights. The Council looks forward to receiving the report during its 39th session in September 2018.

Without a doubt, regional and sub-regional mechanisms are closer to the realities on the ground, and they know the sensitivities of their region. They are in a unique position to help to shape internationally-agreed human rights standards to reflect regional needs and particularities, as well as to secure State compliance through regional pressure.

Strong cooperation between the mechanisms of the Council and regional mechanisms is therefore of critical importance. For this reason, I am happy see the special mandate-holders of the Council and the regional mechanisms undertaking joint activities and sharing reports, and I appreciate the contributions of regional mechanisms to the Council’s UPR process. As the UPR enters into its third cycle, I encourage all regional mechanisms to contribute to this important process in order to complement the assessments and reports of other human rights bodies and mechanisms.

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the important recommendations of the 4th International Workshop on Regional Arrangements, held in October 2014, was that national human rights institutions and civil society should be considered as reliable partners in assessing and reporting on the human rights situation in their respective countries.    

Civil society plays a prominent and important role within the Human Rights Council, which makes the Council unique among other UN intergovernmental organizations.

The Council provides space to civil society and human rights defenders to allow their voices to be heard as well as to interact with Members states and other stakeholders. And through their side events, statements and advocacy, civil society provides us with first-hand information from the ground, interjects passion and perspective into our discussions and draws our attention to important and often urgent situations.

Civil society and human rights defenders also contribute to the UPR process and work with the Council’s Special Procedures. And I cannot overstate the importance of civil society in implementation, follow-up and capacity-building efforts in their home countries.

But for us to truly enjoy the full value of their work, it is extremely important that civil society and human rights defenders are provided with adequate space and protection to safely participate in UN and regional human rights mechanisms.

Acts of intimidation and reprisals are something that I have taken very seriously throughout my Presidency. I regularly remind States that acts of intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups that participate in the work of the Council or its mechanisms are completely unacceptable, and I call on them to take all necessary measures to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts. And when allegations are brought to my attention, I address them with the concerned State and closely follow developments in each case.

These are just a few good practices of the Council with relation to cooperation with civil society. But the Council’s cooperation with civil society and human rights defenders is indeed not perfect. I hope that through your reflections and discussions over these two days, you will identify and share your challenges, lessons learned and best practices with the view to enhance cooperation among civil society organizations, human rights defenders, regional human rights mechanisms and the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council.

The Council is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Throughout the year, numerous events and discussions have been held to celebrate this important milestone. One point that has come up time and again in these discussions is the desire to see the Council increase its focus on implementation and make greater positive impact on the ground – essentially, to turn its words into actions.

Regional human rights mechanisms as well as civil society and human rights defenders are essential pieces in efforts to implement Council decisions and recommendations. Therefore, as the Council moves into its second decade and directs more focus towards implementation, we must work to ensure effective cooperation and positive interaction between the Human Rights Council, regional human rights mechanisms and civil society and human rights defenders.

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The status and development of regional arrangements for human rights vary from one region to another. While there are certain regions that have human rights commissions and courts, there are other regions that have no cooperative mechanisms. The cooperation between the international mechanisms and regional ones are still an area of intense discussion. However, the possible areas of cooperation are plenty and should be further defined. I am hopeful that this workshop can contribute to furthering discussion regarding the importance of regional mechanisms in the field of human rights.

I wish you a successful workshop and I look forward to hearing your recommendations for enhancing interaction between UN and regional human rights mechanisms, civil society and human rights defenders.

Thank you very much.