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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me thank all the members of the Human Rights Council for electing me as the next President of the Council. Thank you all for your trust and confidence. It is a unique privilege and a great honor for me, as well as for my country Germany. And it is a big responsibility, of which I am fully aware, to serve this Council in fulfilling its obligation to help to promote and protect our universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent and mutually reinforcing human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Looking beyond Geneva, we cannot afford to forget for one moment that our work is important to so many people, in particular the many victims of human rights violations and abuses, the many oppressed, the many poor and the many suffering from conflict, crisis and terror. In this regard, I would like to echo the words of the High Commissioner who has expressed our common conviction that “there is no justification ever, for the degrading, the debasing or the exploitation of other human beings – on whatever basis: nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or caste.”
Avant de passer à mon tour d’horizon sur 2015, je voudrais exprimer, en tant que Coordinateur sortant du groupe des États d'Europe occidentale et autres États, et aussi à titre personnel, ma haute appréciation et ma gratitude au Président sortant, S.E. l’Ambassadeur Ndong Ella. Je suis certain qu’au nom de toutes et de tous ceux réunis ici et présents aujourd’hui je peux dire ceci: Nos vous devons beaucoup.
Vous avez fait preuve d’un engagement personnel et d’une diligence tout à fait remarquables dans l’exercice de la présidence du Conseil en 2014. Je vous suis reconnaissant, comme d’ailleurs à toutes les personnes qui nous ont précédé, pour le précieux travail accompli pour assurer la crédibilité et l’efficacité du Conseil. Il y a des défis à relever au cours de chaque mandat, mais (je crois pouvoir le dire à juste titre) l’année 2014 a été particulièrement exigeante si je ne m’arrête qu’au nombre des titulaires de mandats des procédures spéciales nommés et au nombre des sessions extraordinaires demandées.
Cher Baudelaire, la tâche que vous aviez n’était guère facile - et ce que je veux vous dire c’est que j’ai le plus grand respect pour la manière dont vous l’avez accomplie.
I would also like to thank the High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and his Office, whose tireless engagement, independent expertise and facilitation are of vital importance not only for the Human Rights Council, but for the entire Third Pillar of the United Nations.
Let me also express my gratitude to UNOG Director General Michael Møller and Conference Services for all their invaluable work.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2015, we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Nazi-Germany had started this war by aggression and had committed unprecedented crimes. I say this, because the sense of responsibility, the sense of “never again”, which we derive from our past, is one of the strongest motivations for me personally and for my country to promote and protect human rights, bilaterally, embedded in an unified Europe, and particularly within the framework of the United Nations.
The United Nation’s Third Pillar, the Human Rights Pillar, anchored in the UN Charter of 1945, is key to a more peaceful and prosperous world. In the words of former Secretary General Kofi Annan: we will not enjoy security without development; we will not enjoy development without security; and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.
Against this background, it is maybe not so surprising that my fellow Germans regard the protection of human rights worldwide as the most important task of German Foreign policy. This sentiment was recently reflected in a survey performed by the (renowned) “Körber Foundation”. The upcoming Presidency of the Human Rights Council is one way of meeting this challenge and underlining our commitment.
The UN family can be proud of this Council and its achievements over the past almost 10 years. The Universal Periodic Review, the Special Procedures and other mechanisms have had a profound positive impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in specific cases – together with the work of the Treaty Bodies.
Of course, Technical Assistance is an essential part of this success story and will remain of utmost importance.
However, almost all of the members and observers of the Council see also room for further improvement when it comes to strengthening the United Nation’s Third Pillar in general and our own effectiveness and efficiency in particular. This is in any case my conclusion from the conversations I had in the past weeks with so many of you present in this room today, from all different regions and groups.
All these conversations were informed, not starting from scratch, but building on solid bricks, on the very valuable reflections and recommendations which have been made throughout the years since this Council was created in 2006. In 2014 alone, there were a series of cross-regional statements aiming at further contributing to this discussion, including those led by Turkey and Norway, Botswana, Urugay, Honduras and many others.
Against this background and looking at the role of the Human Rights Council in 2015 let me now take the opportunity to outline some questions that we could informally reflect upon during the upcoming year.
For instance, how can we, the Human Rights Council, contribute to strengthening the Third Pillar in general, in New York, in Geneva and in the field? Allow me to refer to just two points today, and of course there are more. First: I think it is vital to join forces with the High Commissioner on Human Rights - mindful and in full respect of our different mandates – and strive for adequate funding. Second: with regard to the New York – Geneva relationship, and Geneva’s special role as the human rights hub, we should aim to create synergies and make optimal use of scarce time and resources.
Within the Third Pillar, the Human Rights Council is at the core, and therefore it is relevant to ask: how can we further improve our efficiency? I think we should start by recognizing that key recommendations from the Review in 2011 including on methods of work and rules of procedure, have been implemented. However, what we could term “the inflation of our agenda” is ongoing and the exponential growth of resolutions and other initiatives is sobering. It is very important to stress that this in itself is part of the success story of the Council. If anything, the Council is somehow a victim of its own success. In any case, a reflection on how to increase our efficiency, given the scarcity of time and resources, for the years to come could help us all. Catchwords in this regard are “less is more”, multi-annualization of initiatives, clustering and merging of initiatives, sunset clauses etc.
But the efficiency, or the functionality of the Council does not stop there. It is absolutely vital that we keep to the spirit of 2006, that we focus on our core competencies and unique features including working in close cooperation with Civil Society. Civil Society is at the core of human rights, at the core of our work. Accordingly, I am deeply convinced that it was, is and will continue to be in our common interest to promote a culture of non-reprisals, free from fear of intimidation, when it comes to civil society, human rights defenders and individuals who seek to cooperate and work with the Council, its mechanisms and procedures.
Since within the Third Pillar, the Human Rights Council is at the core, it is also most relevant to ask: how can we further improve our effectiveness? How can we, for example, encourage States to implement recommendations from the UPR and special procedures? To what extent are we contributing to the prevention of human rights violations and to prompt responses to human rights emergencies? Obviously, the answers to these questions depend, inter alia, on our ability to assess or: better assess impact.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If you have the impression that I am asking - hopefully - relevant questions but not providing equally relevant answers, let me assure you that this is not by accident. I am deeply committed to the spirit of Geneva and to the spirit in this Council which is about dialogue and cooperation.
Accordingly, I would like to propose that during the course of 2015 we have informal discussions on some of the questions relating to the role of the HRC, its efficiency and effectiveness. For one of these discussions, I would like to invite to an informal retreat in Berlin from May 21-23.
Mister President, Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by reiterating that I have the greatest respect for what has been achieved since the Council’s inception and that I have the greatest respect for the work of my predecessors. Together with the Vice-Presidents, I will do everything I can to build on previous achievements and to further strengthen the Council’s role and mandate in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide.
We will listen carefully to all of your views and opinions, trying to build bridges where necessary, and I trust that you will support us in these endeavors.
And let me add: it is not the size of a country, its regional or political adherence that matters. What matters is our joint commitment to human rights and our joint commitment to all individuals, and in particular the victims of human rights abuses and violations.
Again, thank you for your vote of confidence. I will take it as a mandate to perform my duties, in close cooperation with the Bureau and the HRC Secretariat, according to the fundamental principles of transparency, justice, objectivity and impartiality as well as procedural clarity.
I am convinced that we do not have the privilege of pessimism 70 years after the United Nations were born. Therefore, I would like to assure you that I am very much looking forward to the challenge of serving this Council in the coming year.