Annual Report to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

On March 2nd 2012, Ms. Navy Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council.
Ms. Pillay said that 2011 was a critical year for human rights, a year characterized by “challenges to human rights linked to the global economic, climate, energy and food crises, famine in the Horn of Africa, armed conflict, racism and xenophobia, and lingering poverty.ˮ Ms. Pillay also recalled the mobilization of civil society against authoritarian governments in the Arab world.

Next, the High Commissioner addressed the issue of human rights mechanisms. She expressed satisfaction because over the last year several new mechanisms have been established (two new thematic mandates, three new country mandates), while the Committee on Enforced Disappearances held its first session, and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has considered its first State party report. On the other hand, Ms. Pillay insisted on the necessity to strengthen the treaty body system, through intergovernmental processes and the commitment of adequate resources.
The High Commissioner expressed deep concern for the rise in xenophobic and discriminatory practices around the world. Particularly, Ms. Pillay noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still widespread; religious minorities are increasingly targeted in sectarian violence; and indigenous people continue to lose their native lands. Nevertheless, considerable progress was made in 2011 as far as the protection of rights of persons with disabilities is concerned. One of the main achievements in this field was the establishment of the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, supported by a Multi-Donor Trust Fund.
Furthermore, Ms. Pillay affirmed that a human rights-based approach to development is essential to address current economic, social and political challenges. She highlighted also the strong link between human rights (including the right to development), Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.
As far as migration issues are concerned, in 2011 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made a great effort to combat the criminalization of irregular migrants and to raise awareness of the vulnerability to abuses of their human rights. In addition, Ms. Pillay invited governments to find effective alternatives to immigration detention. Thirdly, she welcomed a recent judgement of the European Courts of Human Rights, which ruled that a State violates the International Human Rights Law when it collectively expels migrants intercepted on the high seas.
Ms. Pillay highlighted the work made by the OHCHR in assisting transitions to democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. In the context of state and democracy-building, particular importance has been given to guaranteeing accountability for past violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In addition, the OHCHR supported states in the creation of security policies and counterterrorism measures in accordance with international human rights law.
Ms. Pillay also expressed concern for the violent response from some governments to the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and defense of human rights. Particularly alarming is the rise of executions in Iran and Iraq. On the other hand, some encouraging developments came from countries like Mongolia (who signed the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR), Japan (who has not ordered any executions for more than one year) and China (whose government hosted the first OHCHR seminar on the death penalty in November 2011).
Ms. Pillay stated that the OHCHR is committed to resolving causes of violence around the world, to protect civilians and to ensure accountability for human rights violations. In this context, immediate action should be taken in Sudan and South Sudan, who struggle to contain heavy fighting and inter-communal violence respectively.
Finally, the High Commissioner focused on the OHCHR’s activities in some specific countries. The Government of Nepal decided not to extend the mandate of the OHCHR in Nepal, but the office remains available to support the defense of human rights in that country. She shared that the OHCHR’s mandates have been extended in Cambodia and Guatemala, while Yemen has recently invited the OHCHR to establish an office in their country. Finally, Ms. Pillay hoped that talks with Iranian authorities will eventually lead to the organization of an official visit of the High Commissioner to Iran.

For more information: