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Statement by Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council

14 March 2018

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to take the floor today as Chairperson of the Coordination Committee to present the report of the 24th Annual Meeting of Special Procedures, including updated information on special procedures (A/HRC/37/34) and its addendum.

I would like to start by paying tribute to our colleague Asma Jahangir who passed away in February. She was a long-standing and prominent member of our family and we will always remember her as an outstanding expert, as a courageous and tireless advocate for human rights, and as an inspiring colleague. She will be deeply missed.

This report tries to capture what special procedures have done in a year, for example in terms of visits, themes addressed in their reports, contributions to standard setting or communications sent. The addendum contains a wealth of information, including a one-page factsheet showing in numbers all the activities of special procedures. This factsheet also gives information on the composition of the system, including the number of mandates and the gender balance which stands now at 44% of female and 56% of male mandate holders, a slight improvement from the previous year.

The report goes beyond a listing of activities, it also shows that special procedures work as a system, coordinate with each other, undertake joint activities, reach out to multiple stakeholders at the national, regional and international level and aim at feeding other UN processes with their recommendations.

The system is composed of experienced individuals, coming from different countries and backgrounds, who put their expertise together to promote and protect human rights. This combination of expertise is an asset for this Council and the UN in general. Hence the current number of mandates is not an impediment but rather a strength to our functioning.

As illustrated in the report, we have continued to ensure appropriate coordination among us to maximise impact and avoid duplications.

This translates for example in the growing number of joint communications. Looking at the number of communications sent over the years, it shows that this number has not significantly increased despite the creation of new mandates. We have instead engaged in more joint communications addressing the different human rights aspects of a situation.

This coordination applies to country visits as well. In 2017 special procedures have again undertaken joint visits, including with regional mechanisms, thereby facilitating the preparation of these visits by States. Joint statements have also been issued to ensure that various perspectives of a same subject are brought into the discussion and avoid a dispersion of attention.

For the first time, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons and the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children successfully presented a joint report to the General Assembly.

In addition special procedures have come together to have a stronger voice in UN processes. For example last year several mandate holders focused their reports on issues related to the Global Compact on Migration. Others addressed issues related to the SDGs. Some focused their reports on issues related to prevention, early warning, conflict or humanitarian crises. It is hoped that all these contributions will be considered in the context of ongoing discussions in the UN.

We therefore believe that the successful consolidation of special procedures into a system is an important achievement.

Mr. President,

The life of special procedures’ reports does not end with the presentation to the Council. This is actually only the beginning of a process through which the assessment and advice they contain will be further disseminated and shared with larger audiences. Our reports are used by a diversity of stakeholders at the national, regional and international level and in many cases will constitute reference documents and guidance on human rights issues. Mandate holders therefore choose their themes carefully keeping in mind the impact these reports may have. The list of themes addressed in 2017 is included in the addendum helping States and others to have a comprehensive picture on this matter.

The report also illustrates that special procedures are active outside Geneva and New York. Not only through our official visits, but also through the multiple events, consultations and workshops that we organise in various countries, we are contributing to bringing the UN human rights system closer to the people on the ground.

This capacity to reach out at all levels and to bring these perspectives back to the UN is one of the main added values of special procedures.

In this context, throughout the year, we sought closer cooperation with the wider United Nations system as well as with regional mechanisms, in particular to ensure that our work is integrated into the work of the organisation and that our recommendations are followed-up including in the field. Attention was given to enhance human rights mainstreaming in the area of development as well as peace and security, in particular in light of the ongoing reforms initiated by the Secretary General.

The Coordination Committee has highlighted the great potential of the special procedures system in the area of prevention and early warning, including by participating in various reflections and meetings on the role of human rights bodies on the topic and by ensuring that this role is timely recognized by the system.

Special procedures took early action in relation to several country situations including through communications, reports to States, statements or press releases. Aside country situations, special procedures also raised alarm about worrying developments on thematic issues such as climate change or migration.

Mr. President,

For special procedures it is crucial to reiterate our main goal of cooperation with States and other stakeholders to advance human rights globally.

The issue of cooperation by States and how to assess it is one of our longstanding priorities. The Coordination Committee has explored how to move forward in this area. This report is already an improvement, it contains a wealth of information about the status of States' cooperation (number of standing invitations, number of visits, States never visited). It also reflects some positive developments such as the fact that the response rate to communications has increased to reach 68%, that one more State has issued a standing invitation, that more country visits were conducted in 2017 than in the previous years and that two States were visited for the first time on 2017. The geographical coverage of visits undertaken last year also shows that all regions are visited by mandate holders in a balanced manner.

However non-cooperation or selective cooperation by States is still a serious challenge. Some States have even announced publicly that they will boycott some mandates. Such lack of cooperation does not come with consequences for the States concerned which is something that the Council might consider further.

We intend to include more information on the pending requests for visits or negative responses to such requests in the next report keeping in mind the need to give a comprehensive picture of cooperation. The statement made by the High Commissioner last June is a good example in this context.

Mr. President,

The fact that a number of mandate holders have again become the subject of public and personal attacks for carrying out their work is of serious concern. While mandate holders accept criticism, a threshold is reached when criticism is no longer directed at the work of the mandate holder but rather at the person.

Recent incidents are particularly worrying as they may affect the personal security and integrity of mandate holders. Inciting to hatred and violence against a mandate holder is totally unacceptable. So are attempts to silence mandate holders by bringing legal actions against them. I would like to recall that we are covered by UN immunities in relation to our work as mandate holder.

Instances of intimidation and reprisals against those who have engaged with us or with the UN on human rights issues continue to be reported. The last report of the SG on reprisals contain a worrying list of cases. We will continue to respond with determination to such acts and will strengthen our cooperation with the ASG Andrew Gilmour on this issue. We are indeed convinced that it is only through a consolidated and resolute UN response to this phenomenon, addressing all its dimensions and using all the tools at our disposal, that we will put an end to this practice. States have a key role to play in this context and we count on your cooperation.

Mr. President,

As the Council has embarked in yet another process of strengthening I call on you to preserve the special procedures system and in particular to maintain the space given to mandate holders in the Council.
Being responsible for creating special procedures mandates, the Council has also the responsibility to give sufficient attention to their work and findings. In recent years the Council has already reduced the time dedicated to special procedures in its programme of work, affecting the quality of the debate and the possibility for States to enter into a meaningful discussion with us. The possibility to discuss follow-up to recommendations has been particularly limited. We are concerned about potential new limitations that would further reduce our annual and only interaction with the Council and would encourage States not to go in that direction.

We are well aware of the constraints faced by this Council. We however express the hope that sustainable measures will be taken to address these problems in a way that would preserve and strengthen the engagement with mandate holders, in particular the interactive dialogues.

Instead of focusing on numbers, we express the hope that the current process will focus on how to improve the quality of our interactions and ensure that the Council follows up on all the information it receives. The Council could also further explore how to better benefit from the potential of existing mechanisms. For example we welcome the fact that special procedures have been involved in various investigations or thematic work of the Council in recent years.

We are ready to contribute to your reflection on these issues, including for example on how to make our exchanges more interactive. I would like to stress the role that the Coordination Committee plays as an interface between the special procedures system and other stakeholders. As Chair of the Committee one of my priorities is to maintain communication channels open and facilitate dialogue with all concerned. I have met with several delegations on special procedures related matters in recent months and will continue to do so with all interested delegations and other stakeholders.

Mr. President,

To conclude I hope that this report will help to respond to questions that States may have about what special procedures do, on how we cooperate with each other or what is our impact. Clearly we can still do more in this regard, including on documenting the impact of our work. This is an area on which we intend to focus in the coming year.
While there is no interactive dialogue on this report, which I hope will be the case in the future, I look forward to reactions from the floor and I will also be available to discuss these and other issues after the debate.

I would also like to take this opportunity to announce that the next annual meeting of special procedures will take place in Geneva from 4 to 8 June. As usual we look forward to exchanges with Member States, NHRIs and NGOs in this context.

I thank you.