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human rights update

Madeleine Brecher and Fran Butensky, ICJW representatives to the United Nations in New York, report on a briefing with the High Commissioner For Human Rights at the United Nations in New York.

On Thursday, May 9, 2013, Ms. Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, met with NGOs at UN Headquarters in New York. The briefing focused on the latest developments on human rights, including the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council and the forthcoming 23rd session. 
 The High Commissioner explained her present agenda and ways she plans to implement her goals. Ms. Pillay explained that the treaty body system framework needs to be sustainable and it is important that there is civil society support for ensuring that the mandate is followed.  Furthermore, the High Commissioner stressed that the financial situation of the office is crucial.
Some agenda issues for the Office of the High Commissioner: 
1.        At the UN, the finances for Human Rights are greatly under-sourced. Human Rights is one of the three Pillars of the UN, yet it is only 3% of the budget. 
2.       The High Commissioner explained that the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) supports human rights peacekeeping missions and functions in New York and abroad.  There are many new mandates, new experts and no new money. She stressed that there are currently 600 staff in the field and they need training for 100,000 peacekeepers. 
3.      Ms. Pillay stated that a big celebration is being planned in the fall for the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration, drafted in 1993 at the Vienna Human Rights Conference. They are planning several events many of which will be in New York, Geneva, and Vienna of course. They hope to look back to the past and forward to the future and will depend upon help from civil society. They will use webcasting to connect Vienna, Geneva and New York to the Vienna Celebration. 
4.       The 23rd session of the Human Rights Council was held end of May in Geneva and there was to be an inquiry on Syria re: women’s rights panels, implementing the CSW agreed conclusions and the 2015 outcomes.
5.       The High Commissioner explained that there were sufficient facts to investigate Syria. Ms. Pillay stressed that it falls under her office’s mandate to follow these concerns closely and make recommendations. 
6.       At the upcoming meeting in Geneva, there will also be a fact-finding focus on Israeli settlements. 
7.       She feels that the Security Council should routinely address Human Rights. 
8.       The OHCHR has an office in Ramallah where reports on conditions in the settlements are filed. 
Questions and Answers: 
  • Aging Committee representatives made an appeal to the High Commissioner that they would not be left out going forward and encourage member states to support this endeavor. 

  • Bruce Knotts raised LBGT issues to the High Commissioner and asked if she could expand on the office’s role in this regard. Ms. Pillay stated that with regard to LGBT, many states are taking up the issue. There has been progress in working toward a resolution for a Special Rapporteur and states are truly committed to going to the Netherlands to address the issue. Violations have been attributed to some states and there is a call for accountability for victims. 

  • At the September high- level panel meetings with the Secretary General, the president of Austria and Navi Pillay, they will focus on the failures and achievements of the Vienna Conference and what will happen for the next 10 years (Vienna + 20)
  • Restrictions against NGOs in the UN system is a human rights violation.
  • Protection against human rights violations in crisis situations will be the focus of the Secretary General’s report. It promises to be a radical report.
  • Violations on racism ensure that racism is on the agenda in Vienna.
  • They will address the rights of African descendants and allegations about groups of white supremacists