8 The Great Enterprise Enters the Modern Era (1987–2005)
John P. Pace
- Human rights
Expanding the outreach—prevention in addition to protection (1987)
Starting in the 1990s, a new era emerged in the evolution of the Great Enterprise as a consequence of the expansion in the number of conventions and of special procedures. These implied a closer need for monitoring in substance and with it, the outreach that was a necessary corollary. This era was marked by the creation of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights in 1987, the adoption of the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights in 1988, the decision in 1990 to convene the World Conference on Human Rights, and the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 1993. It was also beginning of the ‘mainstreaming’ of human rights across the programmes and activities of the UN system, including the introduction of human rights to the work of the Security Council in 1994, and the outreach to business with the Global Compact in 1999. This chapter describes this evolution.
With the completion of the International Bill of Human Rights (1946–1977), and the emergence of international human rights law and of special procedures, two systems developed: the conventional system, made up of the international human rights ‘core’ conventions with procedures for monitoring their implementation (see Chapter 7); and the extra-conventional system, made up of several ad hoc mandates designated by the Commission and continued by the Council, essentially of a fact-finding nature. (See Chapter 6)
The two decades that followed were to continue to build on these developments. During this time the membership of the Commission increased twice. In 1979 the Commission was enlarged from thirty-two to forty-three members, and in 1992 to fifty-three members. Moreover, as of 1992, the Commission was empowered—for the first time in its existence—to hold special sessions to address issues deemed urgent by a majority of the members of the Commission.1
The 1980s were remarkable in many ways. At the international level, both major powers saw big changes: in the United States the Reagan administration succeeded the Carter years, and the USSR as of 1982 entered the post-Brezhnev period resulting in the changes that were to see its dissolution in 1991 and the emergence of the Russian Federation. (The (p. 712) Russian Federation with the support of the eleven member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.)
These developments and related shifts at the international level contributed to a climate in the Commission in the 1980s that was significantly different to that during the preceding decades.
At the UN internal level, during the same decade, the Division of Human Rights saw three changes at the top. Theo van Boven, who had played a vital role as Director of the Division of Human Rights since 1977, left in 1982, and was succeeded by Kurt Herndl, who was followed by Jan Martenson in 1987. Each was to make a significant contribution to the evolution of the work of the Commission. With Martenson came the introduction of a focus on human rights awareness building, education and training and the initiative to hold a World Conference on Human Rights, which was to mark the priorities for the decades that followed.
The 1982 session of the Commission was a milestone in the evolution of the work of the United Nations in human rights. It was marked by the poignant atmosphere at the end of the morning session on 10 February 1982, when van Boven announced that that session was to be his last in his capacity as Director of the Division of Human Rights, citing
major policy differences with the leadership of the Organization in New York … he had always felt that one’s primary duty was towards the peoples in whose name the United Nations Charter was written and he had maintained that whenever necessary one must speak out on matters of principle, regardless of whom it pleased or displeased within or outside the organisation.2
During this session, in addition to the country situations already on its agenda, (such as South Africa, Palestine, Chile, El Salvador and Bolivia, among others) the situation in Poland, where a state of emergency had been declared a few weeks earlier,3 was a major issue. The situation of human rights in a European state (a member of the Commission) came under scrutiny for the first time in the Commission amid lively exchanges and procedural moves. It produced a decision to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary-General to ‘undertake a thorough study of the human rights situation in Poland, based on such information as he may deem relevant, including comments and materials the government of Poland may wish to provide’.4 (See Chapter 6.A, 1982—Poland)
At the same session, the Commission addressed the situation of the Baha’I Community in Iran, on the initiative of the Sub-Commission. The Commission asked the Secretary-General ‘to establish direct contacts with the Government of Iran on the human rights situation prevailing in that country and to continue his efforts to endeavour to ensure that the Bahai’s [were] guaranteed full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms’.5 (See Chapter 6.A, 1982—Iran)
With Ivan Garvalov (Bulgaria) in the Chair, the work of the Commission during this session proved an unforgettable experience for the participants as well as for the Secretariat. (p. 713) The monumental debate on the situation in Poland consolidated the important principle that addressing situations of human rights in individual countries did not constitute interference in the internal affairs of States.6
That session also marked the first serious effort at addressing the problem of people flows when it created the mandate on Massive Exoduses and Human Rights and appointed Sadruddin Aga Khan, a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as Special Rapporteur. The phenomenon was to continue to grow in the decades that followed, as was the inability of the human rights system to address and redress it.7 (See Chapter 6.B, 1981—Mass exoduses)
Advisory services and technical cooperation (1982–1987)
The 1980s was a decade that saw the beginning of the technical cooperation programme. By the end of the decade, the erstwhile Advisory Services Programme, originally established in the mid-1950s to serve a different purpose—albeit sharing a similar objective—was ‘reinvented’ in order to serve as the new programme for technical cooperation, and a voluntary fund established, thus making it possible for extra-budgetary resources to be made available for human rights activities.8 This new approach was particularly significant as it added ‘preventive’ measures to the measures of ‘protection’, namely, the treaty system and the special procedures.
It was to support domestic infrastructures in handling the implementation and reporting processes resulting from ratification of the human rights treaties. This was to be accomplished by the injection of additional financial resources, through voluntary contributions to the Fund—a historic move that would add a new dimension, providing an opening for expansion in the work of the Commission.
The emergence of the conventional system and the increase in the special procedures contributed to the introduction of technical cooperation in the years that followed. As seen in Chapter 7, Part B: Challenges, treaty reporting by States showed up the need for training and awareness of the substantive and institutional requirements. The lateness and absence of reports by States reached ‘alarming’ proportions in a short time.9 On the side of the special procedures, the impetus was provided in 1982 by the Special Envoy on the situation of human rights in Bolivia (Hector Gros Espiell). Gros-Espiell completed his report to the Commission by making the point that
the international community should not only draw attention to violations of human rights that have occurred and determine the consequences under the applicable law, but should also take practical steps to discharge its responsibility to strengthen and increase (p. 714) observance of human rights through co-operation and aid with a view to establishing and developing the necessary basic conditions, thereby contributing to the attainment of the desired goal, namely the gradual improvement of the human rights situation in countries where it present[ed] grave problems … In many cases, the international isolation of a Government as a result of its human rights violations paradoxically [led] to an undesirable economic situation in which the impoverishment, suffering and hardships of the people of the country in question [became] more acute. Thus, international reaction to the violation of human rights in a State sometimes indirectly provoke[d] further violations of the economic and social rights of the masses. …10
The provision of advisory services of experts in the field of human rights was already envisaged under the Advisory Services programme. Interest in the programme had waned and by the early 1980s, ‘only a few Governments had availed themselves of these expert services. The Secretary-General [informed] the Commission that, depending on the availability of funds, this component of the advisory services programme [was] still in existence and that he would welcome the interest of Member States in this regard’.11 Funding for the human rights programme, including Advisory Services, came from the regular budget of the Organization and was not always adequate or available. (See Chapter 3, 1955—Advisory services)
The Commission’s discussions on providing various forms of assistance to Uganda, Bolivia and Equatorial Guinea12 led to ‘the idea of establishing a trust fund on advisory services in the field of human rights [which] merit[ed] further consideration’. The Commission asked ‘for relevant information on the possible role of an eventual trust fund on advisory on advisory services in the field of human rights and, if it were established, the manner in which it could function’.13
In so doing, the Commission emphasized the support that the programme should provide to the implementation of the international human rights treaties. It pointed out that ‘the programme of advisory services in the field of human rights should increasingly be focused on the provision of practical assistance in the implementation of international conventions on human rights to those States which indicate[d] a need for such assistance’, and encouraged the award of human rights fellowships, and the organization of training courses under the advisory services programme for ‘persons directly involved in the implementation of international conventions on human rights’.14
Reporting in 1987, the Secretary-General, shared the view that
an eventual trust fund on advisory services in the field of human rights would be of importance for the programme. Its primary role could be to seek extra-budgetary resources with (p. 715) a view to supporting or supplementing the substantive work programmes of the advisory services of the Centre for Human Rights. It could provide urgently needed additional resources for the implementation of specific decisions of the Commission concerning assistance to countries. It will be recalled that in the past several countries [had] presented specific projects in the field of human rights, including the organization of training courses for the teaching of human rights or the drafting of legislation or of reports required under the various conventions on human rights.15
The two trends, that of ad hoc technical support to specific countries and the need to strengthen capacity among States parties in meeting the treaty obligations, thus generated the establishment of a voluntary fund for advisory services and technical cooperation. This also complemented the decisions of the Commission which, since 1979, had urged the development of public information activities.16
The Commission established the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation for Advisory Services and Technical Assistance in the field of Human Rights in 1987 ‘to provide additional financial support for practical activities focused on the implementation of international conventions and other international instruments on human rights promulgated by the United Nations, its specialized agencies or regional organizations’.17
The establishment of the voluntary fund was to strengthen the advisory services programme, the volume and content of which had increased considerably with the emergence of the system of conventions and that of the special procedures, by providing additional financial support, ‘ … with a view to creating and developing the necessary infrastructure to meet international human rights standards’.18
Through to the early 1990s, the Commission addressed separately but in parallel the advisory services delivered under the regular programme and those under the Voluntary Fund,
reaffirming that within the common context of the programme of advisory services and technical cooperation, a clear distinction should be made between the technical cooperation projects financed under the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation … and activities under the regular budget of the United Nations, while at the same time coordination between these activities should be ensured.19
In time, the distinction became less pronounced, advisory services becoming identified as a component of technical cooperation.
(p. 716) Technical cooperation projects increased rapidly. In 1996, the Commission welcomed ‘the increasing number of requests for advisory services and technical cooperation … as an expression of the growing commitment of States to promote and protect human rights’. The Commission asked the Board of Trustees
to exercise its full mandate as advisory body to promote and solicit contributions to the Voluntary Fund and to continue to assist the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/the Centre for Human Rights in monitoring, reviewing and improving constantly the process of selecting and implementing technical cooperation projects, the conduct of comprehensive needs assessments and the evaluation of ongoing and completed projects against the objectives that [had] been set and criteria of cost-effectiveness.20
In 1997, the Commission encouraged
the cooperation between the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights and the United Nations Development Programme, with a view to integrating the promotion of all human rights, the rule of law and democracy into the country programmes of the United Nations Development Programme and working together in the execution of projects.21
The Commission asked for more resources for technical cooperation—the regular budget had been decreased to half—and better support for the fund.22
Reporting on the technical cooperation programme,
during 1997, a total of 43 technical cooperation projects were carried out, of which 25 were at the national level, nine at the regional level and nine at the global level… as for financial resources, the total expenditure for technical cooperation in 1997 was US$ 6.6 million out of which US$ 1 million was financed through the regular budget of the United Nations and US$ 5.6 million was financed through the United Nations Voluntary Fund … as of December 1997, total programming resources amounted to US$ 6.5 million, while US$ 18.4 million was required to finance a total of 67 on-going and planned projects.23
The report also described the methodology followed at the time by the Voluntary Fund, the support for national institutions and field presences, among other aspects of the Fund’s operations.24
The Commission in 1998, among other aspects, ‘declare[d] that advisory services and technical cooperation … constitute[d] one of the most efficient and effective means of promoting and protecting all human rights’… and in so doing, also reaffirmed
that the provision of advisory services and technical cooperation [did] not exempt any country from the monitoring activities of the human rights programme, and … in this regard … in order to help produce lasting results, monitoring and preventive activities may (p. 717) need to be accompanied by promotional activities through advisory services and technical cooperation.25
In his report to the General Assembly in 1998, the Secretary-General pointed out that
the number of States seeking assistance in fortifying and consolidating the rule of law [was] one indicator of the growing global realisation of its importance. In 1998 there was a continuation of the trend of dramatic program growth which … characterized this decade, as indicated by yet another consecutive increase in the number of activities implemented under the program, which [grew] from two in 1984, 237 in 1989, 130 in 1994, 215 in 1995, 400 in 1996, and 483 in 1997 … the programme … carried out rule of law support activities in more than 50 countries and territories … these national activities were complemented by more than 20 Global and regional projects under the program … program resources, on the other hand, [had] not kept pace with this demand such that neither the allocation under the regular budget, nor voluntary contributions [had] proved sufficient to satisfy assistance requirements during the reporting period.26
In 1999, the Commission urged the High Commissioner
to improve … coordination with United Nations development agencies, within their respective mandates, and to provide advice relating to their activities through advocacy and dissemination of information regarding the critical role that social and economic development and poverty eradication play in any strategy to promote and realize all human rights.27
The report of the High Commissioner on the technical cooperation programme in 2000 gave details of functioning of the Voluntary Fund and the status of projects, including policy orientation, coordination within the UN system, the substantive areas covered, and the procedures followed. The High Commissioner undertook ‘an analysis of technical assistance provided by United Nations entities in areas related to human rights in order to formulate proposals for the improvement of both the complementarity of action and responses to the needs of Member States’, leading to a number of conclusions and a recommendation for the convening of workshops by the High Commissioner at the regional level to ‘elaborate on policies and practical measures to ensure a consistent approach to human rights, development of an appropriate methodology of work and cooperation … more efficient use of available resources and thus, effective responses to actual needs on the ground’.28 As of November 1999 the total income of the Fund stood at $19.2 million.29
On succeeding the Commission, the Human Rights Council
[r]eaffirm[ed] the resolutions of the Commission on Human Rights that provided the foundation for advisory services and technical cooperation… [and] … acknowledge[ed] (p. 718) one of the responsibilities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and his/her Office in providing advisory services and technical and financial assistance, at the request of the State concerned, with a view to supporting actions and programmes in the field of human rights
and decided to hold ‘an annual thematic discussion to promote the sharing of experiences and best practices and technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights’.30
The panel discussions focused on the following themes:
– 2013: ‘Promoting technical cooperation for the strengthening of the judiciary system and administration of justice in order to ensure human rights and rule of law. The Council recognized that technical cooperation … [was] a useful tool to promote the implementation of all international human rights obligations and accepted universal periodic review recommendations’;31
– 2014: ‘enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights’;32
– 2015: ‘Technical cooperation to support inclusive and participatory development and poverty eradication at the national level’. The Council put forward a number of ‘elements, to be taken into account, as appropriate, in devising … policies and strategies, with due consideration given to the national context’;33
– 2016: ‘Technical cooperation and capacity-building to promote and protect the rights of all migrants, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities’.;34
– 2017: ‘A decade of technical cooperation and capacity building in the Human Rights Council: challenges and the way forward’;35
– 2018: ‘Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing human rights technical cooperation and capacity-building to contribute to the effective and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The Council asked for a report ‘on how United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms … can, through effective, coherent and coordinated technical assistance and capacity-building in the promotion and protection of human rights support States in the realization of the 2030 Agenda’. That year the Council invited the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation ‘to present the … comprehensive report on the Board’s work to the Human Rights Council … on an annual basis at the March session of the Council, and encourage[d] the chairs of the boards of trustees of other funds administered by the Office of the High Commissioner to support activities in the area of technical assistance and capacity-building to make a presentation at the same session’;36
(p. 719) – 2019: ‘Technical cooperation and capacity building and in the field of human rights of older persons’ and asked for a report to ‘to serve as a basis for the for the panel discussion, on the activities undertaken by the Office … to support States’ efforts to promote and protect the human rights of older persons and their autonomy and independence’.37
In 2011 the Council ‘[i]nvite[d] the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees … to present a comprehensive report on the Board’s work to the Human Rights Council on an annual basis’.38 (See Chapter 3, 1978—Voluntary funds—The voluntary fund for technical cooperation (1987) —The Board of Trustees)
Technical support for special procedures (1982)
Following the recommendation of the Special Envoy on Bolivia, the Commission asked for the provision of ‘advisory services and other forms of appropriate assistance requested by the Government of Bolivia to help the government to continue to take appropriate measures guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms’.39
At the same session, the Commission adopted a similar position in regard to Uganda, asking the Secretary-General ‘rapidly to establish contact with the Government of Uganda in order to provide within the framework of the program of advisory services, all appropriate assistance to help with the Government of Uganda to take measures will continue guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms’. The measures included the restoration of a law library for the High Court and the Ministry of Justice, assistance for the revision of Ugandan law to bring it in line with ‘recognized norms of human rights and fundamental freedoms’ as well as the printing of consolidated volumes of the revised laws, the training of prison officers and police officials ‘particularly investigative and scientific experts’.40
A similar decision was made in regard to Equatorial Guinea, asking the Secretary-General ‘with expert assistance if necessary, to discuss with the Government of Equatorial Guinea the role that the United Nations could play in the implementation of the plan of action’ that had been prepared in follow up to recommendation made by the expert appointed by the Commission.41
In 1982, two constitutional experts were engaged under the programme of Advisory Services to assist with the drafting of a new constitution to Equatorial Guinea ‘in compliance with the request of the President of Equatorial Guinea’.42
One year earlier, the Commission had asked for the provision of ‘advisory services and other forms of appropriate assistance to help the Government of the Central African Republic to continue to guarantee the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in that country’. This was within the framework of the overall rehabilitation and development assistance to that country.43
(p. 720) In 1994, in the context of the peace negotiations then going on in Lusaka between the parties in the conflict in Angola, the Commission encouraged the Government of Angola ‘to make use of advisory services and programme of technical assistance’.44
As the investigative activity under the Special Procedures expanded, the Commission resorted to the provision of assistance under the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation and/or advisory services. States moved from being the subject of investigation of human rights violations to being recipients of technical assistance to strengthen infrastructures against the re-emergence of negative human rights situations. The case of Equatorial Guinea cited provided an example of this trend, shifting from the investigation to assistance, and sometimes back to investigation or monitoring. (See Chapter 6.A, 1979—Equatorial Guinea)
Technical support for the treaties (1985)
The 1985 report on Advisory Services reviewed suggestions made by various human rights bodies for long-term programme of advisory services.45
The report proposed several measures to strengthen support for treaty reporting recommended by a meeting in August 1984 of the Chairman of the Commission and the Chairmen of the three treaty bodies then in existence ‘for the provision of advisory services and technical cooperation in the future’.46
(a) A manual providing practical advice on the preparation and submission of reports …
(b) … a proportion of the human rights fellowships awarded each year [to] be allocated to government officials who need[ed] to develop their skills in the operation of the reporting procedures, particularly those who [were] called upon to prepare and present such reports …
(c) A programme of regional training courses for persons engaged in the preparation or presentation of reports … The members of supervisory organs could usefully be drawn upon as lecturers at such training courses;
(d) More seminars under the programme of advisory services in the field of human rights … devoted to the discussion of issues affecting the implementation of international conventions in the field of human rights and their reporting procedures …
(e) The development of a system of regional advisers on international human rights standards … to visit countries, advise on legislation, discuss problems encountered by Governments and make available to Governments the collective international experience in the implementation of international standards;
(f) The dispatch of experts, from the membership of the organs or from the Centre for Human Rights, on short missions to advise Governments, at their request …
(g) Under the programme of advisory services in the field of human rights, the Secretary-General could develop within the Centre for Human Rights, a facility specializing in the provision of advice and assistance to Governments in the implementation of (p. 721) international Conventions in the field of human rights. This facility … to be gradually extended to the development, where necessary, of the kind of draft legislation required by the international instruments in question for sample legislation on selected human rights problems.47
In 1985, the Commission endorsed these recommendations and encouraged further action by the Secretary-General ‘to continue and, as appropriate, to enhance his efforts under the programme of advisory services in the field of human rights to provide practical assistance to States in the implementation of international conventions on human rights, particularly the International Covenants on Human Rights’.48
Following this decision, the Advisory Services programme dedicated priority to the training of personnel involved with treaty reporting. Pilot training courses were organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Centre for Human Rights, ‘focusing on the training of persons whose tasks are related to the implementation of international conventions on human rights’. The first of these was held in Barbados in June 1985 for the Caribbean area. The training programmes were financed from UNITAR resources, and an evaluation was made ‘in the hope of making the series a permanent one’.49
These were the first activities of what was to become the technical cooperation programme. In the following year, regional training courses were held in Bangkok, on teaching of human rights; another in San José, Costa Rica, on the preparation and presentation of national reports under the human rights conventions; followed by further emphasis on the preparation of a medium-term plan for advisory services and technical assistance.50
The Commission reiterated this policy when in 1987, it stated that ‘the program of advisory services in the field of human rights should increasingly be focused on the provision of practical assistance in the implementation of international conventions on human rights’. It also asked its special procedures ‘to inform Governments … of the possibility of availing themselves of the services provided for under the programme of advisory services and to include in their recommendations … proposals for specific projects’.51 This happened on the same day the Commission decided on the setting up of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation.52
The year following the establishment of the Voluntary Fund, the General Assembly launched the World Public Information Campaign for Human Rights. It marked the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The (p. 722) Campaign was designed to develop and strengthen ‘in a global and practically oriented fashion … complementary activities of concerned bodies of the United Nations system, Member States and non-governmental organizations’.53 (See Chapter 3, 1979—Public information activities)
The launch of the Campaign was an important milestone in the evolution of the Great Enterprise. Its activities continued to develop in the following years, and they became an integral component of the human rights programme, embodying a new dimension in the work of the United Nations in human rights.
In the immediate context, the Campaign made it possible to address three major needs. First, there was the need for wider public information on human rights beyond the sessional documentation prepared for meetings of UN bodies. Second, it provided the authority for the preparation of substantive materials to be used for purposes of training and education. Third, the Campaign made it possible to prepare ‘carefully designed programmes’ and materials to be used in the delivery of human rights education and training conducted under the technical cooperation programme, then in its infancy.54
More generally, and consistent with the various proposals which had been discussed in the years immediately preceding the World Public Information Campaign, the Assembly underlined the need for
information on human rights to be carefully designed in clear and accessible form, to be tailored to regional and national requirements and circumstances with specific target audiences in mind and to be effectively disseminated in national and local languages and in sufficient volume to have the desired impact, and for effective use also to be made of the mass media, in particular radio and television and audio-visual technologies, in order to reach wider audiences, with priority to be given to children, young people and the disadvantaged, including those in isolated areas.55
In launching the Campaign, the Assembly called for the mainstreaming of human rights activities among the various departments and the other components of the United Nations system, in particular the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as regards education for human rights, and the harmonization of such activities with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the dissemination of information on international humanitarian law.
The Campaign provided the framework for the human rights publications programme that was developed over the years that followed, in response to educational and promotional demands. (See Chapter 3, 1979—Public information activities)
The Campaign catalysed the emergence of human rights education in several countries at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, as well as in specialized educational institutions such as those dedicated to training of law enforcement and administration of justice personnel, social workers, etc. Universities launched human rights studies courses and established human rights centres, institutes dedicated to human rights. (p. 723) Human rights non-governmental organizations took on human rights education and awareness building.
The adoption of the Universal Declaration on 10 December 1948 was designated Human Rights Day on the UN calendar, and special events were organized annually to mark the occasion. The UN Postal Administration, which issued UN stamps and other philatelic material since the inception of the Organization, regularly issued commemorative stamps.
In 2007, the Council asked its Advisory Committee ‘to prepare a draft declaration on human rights education and training’.56
The Teheran Conference (1968)
With the adoption of the International Covenants in 1966, the focus shifted to enhancing awareness of their existence, ratification and their entry into force. The twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provided a suitable context.
In 1963, the General Assembly designated 1968, as the International Year for Human Rights and asked the Commission to: ‘(i) prepare a programme of measures and activities representing a lasting contribution to the cause of human rights; (ii) prepare suggestions for a list of goals in the field of human rights to be achieved by the United Nations by the end of 1968 … ’.57
Two years later, the Assembly decided to convene an International Conference58 which took place in Teheran from 22 April to 13 May 1968. The Proclamation of Teheran marked the first international pronouncement on human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration.59
The Teheran Conference took place early in the evolution of the work of the United Nations in human rights. The Covenants had been opened for signature and ratification two years earlier. The Commission on Human Rights had opened the way in 1967 with the establishment of its first ad hoc investigatory procedure (on southern Africa). The Israeli occupation of Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian territories in the same year drew focus, for the first time in the history of the Commission, on international humanitarian law, in particular the implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War of 12 August 1949) in those territories. In 1968, the Assembly, following a request of the Teheran Conference, established a Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the occupied Territories. The Special Committee was still in existence in 2019.60
(p. 724) The outcome of the Conference contributed to the expansion of the agenda of the Commission in the years that followed. (See Chapter 2)
The Vienna Conference (1993)
The momentum that had built up in the 1970s and 1980s led to a decision by the General Assembly in 1989 that ‘in view of the progress made and the new challenges that lie ahead, it would be appropriate to conduct a review of what has been accomplished through the human rights programme and what remain[ed] to be done’.61
After seeking ‘the views of Governments, specialized agencies, non-governmental organisations and United Nations bodies … on the desirability of convening a world conference’, the Commission determined “that it would be desirable to convene a world conference on human rights for the purpose of dealing at the highest level with the crucial questions facing the United Nations in connection with the promotion and protection of human rights’.62
Later that year, the Assembly unanimously decided to convene a World Conference on Human Rights. The World Conference was to take place in 1993 and had the following objectives:
(a) to review and assess the progress … made in the field of human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to identify obstacles to further progress in this area, and ways in which they can be overcome;
(b) to examine the relation between development and the enjoyment by everyone of economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights, recognizing the importance of creating the conditions whereby everyone may enjoy these rights as set out in the International Covenants on Human Rights:
(c) to examine ways and means to improve the implementation of existing human rights standards and instruments;
(d) to evaluate the effectiveness of the methods and mechanisms used by the United Nations in the field of human rights;
(e) to formulate concrete recommendations for improving the effectiveness of United Nations activities and mechanisms in the field of human rights through programmes aimed at promoting, encouraging and monitoring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
(f) to make recommendations for ensuring that necessary financial and other resources for United Nations activities in promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.63
The Assembly established a Preparatory Committee to make proposals for ‘the agenda, date, duration, venue and participation in the Conference, preparatory meetings and activities at the international, regional and national levels … and on desirable studies and other documentation’.64
The Preparatory Committee was to include governments, specialized and other international and regional organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the (p. 725) Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, the chairmen of the other human rights bodies, special rapporteurs and chairmen ‘or other designated members of human rights expert bodies’.65
Noteworthy is the inclusion in the rules of procedure of the Conference, of national human rights institutions (for the first time in their history), as a distinct group of participants, alongside inter-governmental bodies, NGOs, regional organizations and recognized liberation movements.66 (See Chapter 3, 1979—National Institutions)
The costs of the Conference were to be covered from the regular budget ‘without any implications for the … [the Human Rights regular budget]’. The Assembly invited voluntary contributions ‘to meet inter alia, the cost of participation of representatives of least developed countries in the preparatory meetings and the Conference itself’.67
Preparing the World Conference
The preparation of the World Conference formally commenced in September 1991 with the convening of the Preparatory Committee.
Calendar of preparatory and regional meetings
Preparatory Committee, 1st session
30 March–10 April
Preparatory Committee 2nd session
8 Decisions, including Provisional Rules of Procedure for the World Conference, yet to determine number of Vice-Presidents (later set at 29), and participation of NGOs attending Regional Meetings, to attend the Conference, included at PC3
Preparatory Committee 3rd session
3 Decisions, including Provisional Rules of Procedure for the World Conference
Tunis—Regional Preparatory Meeting for Africa
San José, Costa Rica—Regional Preparatory Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean
Declaration of San José
Strasbourg—Council of Europe—Inter-Regional Meeting
‘Human Rights at the Dawn of the 21st Century’ (A/CONF.157/PC/66 and Add.1)
‘The Council of Europe and Human Rights (Add. 2))
29 March–2 April
Bangkok—Regional Preparatory Meeting for Asia
19 April–7 May
Preparatory Committee, 4th session
Including PC.4/5 Ad referendum Paragraphs for draft final outcome
Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
The Preparatory Committee
The Preparatory Committee started its work in September 1991. It called for preparatory meetings and activities ‘at the international, regional and national levels’ and the preparation of studies and documentation for the Conference.68
As regards venue, the Committee proposed that the Conference ‘be convened in Berlin for a period of two weeks in 1993’.69 Germany eventually withdrew its invitation and Austria and Italy expressed their interest in hosting the Conference. Austria became the venue when Italy pulled out.
The Preparatory Committee addressed the difficulties encountered by least developed countries to send representatives and asked for adequate extra-budgetary contributions for this purpose, as had been envisaged, a request that it reiterated at its following sessions.70
It also recommended that regional meetings be convened for each region ‘that so desires within the institutional framework or with the assistance of the regional commissions’.71
(p. 727) Analytical studies were prepared addressing the objectives of the Conference.72 In addition, the Committee asked for
reports of meetings which [had] been organised under the auspices of the United Nations human rights programme pursuant to General Assembly resolution 45/155; … A reference guide to all United Nations studies and reports on human rights or related aspects; … An update of United Nations Action in the Field of Human Rights; (5) An update of A Compilation of International Instruments and Status of International Instruments including also texts of regional instruments on human rights.73
The fourth and last session of the Preparatory Committee took place 14–18 September 1992.74 It adopted the provisional rules of procedure for the Conference, approved by the Assembly later that year, along with the provisional agenda.75 The General Committee of the Conference was established, including twenty-nine Vice-Presidents76 as well as a Credentials Committee, a Main Committee, and a Drafting Committee.77
The Regional Meetings
Preparatory meetings were held by the regions of Africa (Tunis, 2–6 November 1992), Latin America and the Caribbean (San José, Costa Rica, 18–22 January 1993) and Asia (Bangkok, 29 March–2 April 1993). The two other groups, the Eastern Europe group and that of Western Europe and other States, held no official inter-governmental regional preparatory meetings.
The Regional Meeting for Africa took place in Tunis 2–6 November 1992. The meeting adopted a Final Declaration on 6 November 1992. The Declaration stated “the (p. 728) universal nature of human rights [was] beyond question; their protection and promotion [was] the duty of all States, regardless of their political, economic or cultural systems’.78
Africa, which [had] chosen the path of democracy, economic reform and the promotion of human rights, in an unfavourable international economic environment, and which [found] itself particularly exposed to internal tensions deriving from the failure to meet the basic needs of populations and from the rise of extremism, [would] nevertheless remain committed to its choices and its responsibilities.79
It asked the ‘African States and the international community to allocate more resources [to the administration of justice]’ as ‘the proper administration of justice and an independent judiciary [were] crucial to the full realisation of human rights’, but ‘substantial investment’ in the area of administration of justice was required if this objective was to be attained.80
San José (1993)
The Latin-American and Caribbean countries, met in San José, Costa Rica, 18–22 January 1993. In the San José Declaration, the meeting … affirmed
that the obstacles to the observance of human rights which must be eliminated include[d]: lack of democracy and freedom, international coercive measures that affect[ed] human rights, lack of education, poor socio-economic conditions resulting partly from the transfer of resources to the servicing of foreign debt and from the disparity in the terms of international trade, corruption, impunity, a shortage of resources for the institutionalization and administration of justice, various forms of intolerance, widespread violence, terrorism and drug trafficking at all stages, the illegal arms trade, the militarization of societies and the uncontrolled production and supply of arms, the failure to ratify international human rights treaties, the lack of genuinely independent systems of justice and the lack of respect for the resolutions adopted by organs of the United Nations system and the inter-American system pertaining to the enjoyment of these rights.81
The San José meeting highlighted the need for action at the World Conference to strengthen the rule of law. The San José Declaration on Human Rights, adopted on 22 January 1993,
attach[ed] great importance to international technical and financial cooperation, and to other types of advisory services that the United Nations [could] provide to Member States, for the improvement of the administration of justice, police and prison systems, the promotion and teaching of human rights and all efforts that might help strengthen the institutions which uphold the rule of law. In this regard, we consider that one of the most substantial contributions the World Conference could make to the cause of human rights would be the establishment of a United Nations programme of technical and financial assistance … to cooperate … with national projects designed to strengthen the institutions that uphold the rule of law.82
The meeting for Asia took place in Bangkok 29 March–2 April 1993. The Regional Meeting adopted a final declaration83 which stressed
the universality, objectivity and non-selectivity of all human rights and the need to avoid the application of double standards in the implementation of human rights and its politicization, and that no violation of human rights [could] be justified… [The meeting] … recognize[d] that while human rights [were] universal in nature, they must be considered in the context of a dynamic and evolving process of international norm-setting, bearing in mind the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds.84
Other meetings and activities
In addition to the meetings of the Preparatory Committee and the Regional Meetings, the preparations for the World Conference included several meetings, conferences, seminars and similar events.85
Civil society input
To participate, NGOs were to be ‘non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council … active in the field of human rights and/or development as well as in the concerned region’ or ‘non-governmental organizations … active in the field of human rights and/or development, [with] their headquarters in the concerned region, in prior consultation with the countries of the region’.86
NGOs organized several events in preparation for the Conference. They participated at the regional meetings and convened in parallel among themselves. The value of their contribution was recognized throughout the lead-up and at the Conference.87
Throughout the preparations and during the Conference, NGOs focused on the protection of human rights of women, coordinated by a Women’s Caucus Coordination Group, including a Coalition against Trafficking in Women, Asia, Women in Law and Development in Africa.88
A large number of NGOs participated in the Tunis Regional Meeting.89
At the Regional Meeting in San José, ‘the non-governmental organizations … formed five working groups and elaborated … recommendations and proposals’.90
NGOs adopted a Bangkok NGO Declaration setting out priorities and making recommendations. The meeting brought together ‘some 240 representatives of more than 110 non-governmental organisations from about 26 countries across the Asia-Pacific region’.91
In Vienna, NGOs convened a forum entitled ‘All Human Rights for All’ which was shared with the Conference.92
The Secretary-General kept the Preparatory Committee informed of the status of preparations for the World Conference.93 The Conference established a Main Committee ‘composed of all participants’ to discuss the substantive issues on its agenda,94 a Credentials Committee,95 and a Drafting Committee ‘to negotiate the final document’.96
was attended by the representatives of 171 States, 2 national liberation movements, 15 United Nations bodies, 10 specialized agencies, 18 intergovernmental organizations, 24 national institutions and 6 Ombudsmen, 11 United Nations human rights and related bodies, 9 other organizations, 248 non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council and 593 other non-governmental organizations.97
The Secretary-General of the United Nations … invited … eight eminent persons to the World Conference on Human Rights as his special guests: Ms. Elena Bonner, Russian human rights activist; Mr. Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America; Mrs. Simone Veil, State Minister of France; Hassan bin Talal, Crown Prince of Jordan; Ms. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (Guatemala); Mr. Wole Soyinka, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Nigeria); Mr. Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC); Mrs. Corazon Aquino, former President of the Philippines … Of the eight special guests, the following six persons attended and addressed the World Conference: Ms. Elena Bonner … Mr. Jimmy Carter … Crown Prince Hassan bin Talal … Ms. Rigoberta Menchú Tum … Mr. Wole Soyinka … and Mrs. Corazon Aquino.98
In addition to the documentation prepared in the lead-up, the Conference also had before it a message from Nobel Peace Prize Laureates convened by the Government of Austria, as the host country, to share their reflections with the participants at the Conference. ‘It was felt that the Laureates should be given the opportunity to hold an in-depth discussion on the relationship between human rights and peace. Accordingly, appropriate private meetings were organized. In addition, a public round table on this topic, in which all Laureates attending participated, took place on 15 June.’99
(p. 731) The Conference brought together the treaty bodies100 and the special procedures,101 each making their own input to the outcome of the Conference. The Conference provided a platform for national human rights institutions to integrate into the international human rights system.102 Contributions were made by the other UN bodies, including the specialized agencies and by regional organizations.103
In the course of its deliberations participants raised various issues. The following are some examples. Iraq raised the issue of the ‘[i]mpact of the economic blockade on the health, nutritional and environmental situation in Iraq; its repercussions on development, democracy and human rights’.104 Russia shared concerns regarding developments in Estonia: ‘Legislation recently adopted or currently under discussion by the Parliament of Estonia and decisions by local Estonian authorities have led to a serious aggravation of the situation around the Russian troops temporarily stationed in the Estonian Republic and have further exacerbated the plight of the non-indigenous population, particularly Russian-speakers’.105 China objected to the invitation extended by Austria to the Dalai Lama.106 On 15 June 1993, the Conference adopted a decision by which it appealed to the Security Council ‘after hearing the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina … to take the necessary measures to end the genocide taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in particular at Gorazde’.107
The Secretary-General (Butros Butros-Ghali) opened the Conference, recalling the historical events that occurred in the late 1980s at the time that the General Assembly decided to convene the World Conference.
Two months earlier, the Berlin Wall had fallen, carrying away with it a certain vision of the world, and thereby opening up new perspectives … thus preparations for today’s Conference have gone hand-in-hand with an impressive acceleration of the course of history … That conjunction of events must not be seen as pure chance or mere coincidence. It is always when the world is undergoing a metamorphosis … that the quest for ethics becomes more urgent, that the will to achieve self-understanding becomes imperative.
The goals of the Conference faithfully reflect the following key questions: ‘What progress has been made in the field of human rights since the Universal Declaration of 1948?’ ‘What are the obstacles and how are they to be overcome?’ ‘How can implementation of the human rights instruments be enhanced?’ … Each cultural epoch has its own special way of (p. 732) helping to implement them. In this connection, a debt of thanks is owed to Member States which, at the regional level, have reminded others of this reality … In sum, what I mean to say, with all solemnity, is that the human rights we are about to discuss here at Vienna are not the lowest common denominator among all nations, but rather what I should like to describe as the ‘irreducible human element’, in other words, the quintessential values through which we affirm together that we are a single human community! … Human rights, by definition, are the ultimate norm of all politics … Not a day goes by without scenes of warfare or famine, arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, murder, expulsion, transfers of population, and ethnic cleansing. Not a day goes by without reports of attacks on the most fundamental freedoms. Not a day goes by without reminders of racism and the crimes it spawns, intolerance and the excesses it breeds, underdevelopment and the ravages it causes!
The Secretary-General then addressed what he called the
three imperatives of universality, guarantees and democratization … I am tempted to say that human rights, by their very nature, do away with the distinction traditionally drawn between the internal order and the international order. Human rights give rise to a new legal permeability. They should thus not be considered either from the viewpoint of absolute sovereignty or from the viewpoint of political intervention. On the contrary, it must be understood that human rights call for cooperation and coordination between States and international organizations … In this context, the State should be the best guarantor of human rights. It is the State that the international community should principally entrust with ensuring the protection of individuals … However, the issue of international action must be raised when States prove unworthy of this task, when they violate the fundamental principles laid down in the Charter of the United Nations, and when—far from being protectors of individuals—they become tormentors … In these circumstances, the international community—that is to say, international organizations, whether universal or regional—must take over from the States that fail to fulfil their obligations. This is a legal and institutional construction that has nothing shocking about it and does not, in my view, harm our contemporary notion of sovereignty. For I am asking … whether a State has the right to expect absolute respect from the international community when it is tarnishing the noble concept of sovereignty by openly putting that concept to a use that is rejected by the conscience of the world and by the law! When sovereignty becomes the ultimate argument put forward by authoritarian regimes to support their undermining of the rights and freedoms of men, women and children, such sovereignty—and I state this as a sober truth—is already condemned by history.108
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
On 25 June 1993,
[i]nvoking the spirit of our age and the realities of our time which call[ed] upon the peoples of the world and all States Members of the United Nations to rededicate themselves to the (p. 733) global task of promoting and protecting all human rights and fundamental freedoms so as to secure full and universal enjoyment of these rights,
the Conference adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which was to set out the human rights agenda and priorities of the years to come.109
The Vienna Declaration reaffirmed
the solemn commitment of all States to fulfill their obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all … [and included the statement that] … All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.110
The Programme of Action addressed increased coordination on human rights within the UN system, equality, dignity and tolerance, including racism, minorities, indigenous people, and migrant workers, the equal status and human rights of women, the rights of the child, freedom from torture, enforced disappearances, and the rights of disabled persons. The Programme addresses cooperation, development and strengthening of human rights, human rights education, implementation and monitoring methods, and follow-up to the World Conference.111
In December 1993, the General Assembly welcomed the outcome of the Conference and asked for widespread awareness of the Vienna Declaration and endorsed its recommendation for ‘further action with a view to the full implementation of all recommendations of the Conference’.112 In 1994, the Commission decided to review the progress towards the full implementation of the recommendations in the Vienna Declaration annually.113
In 1997, the Commission asked all States ‘to continue to give widespread publicity to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, in particular in the context of the public information and human rights education activities for the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including through training programmes, human rights education and public information’. It addressed similar requests to the mandate holders of special procedures.114
In 1998, the Commission had before it an interim report on the review of the five years since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The report gives some data and makes suggestions on the manner in which the review could be conducted.115
In 2012, the Human Rights Council decided to convene a high-level panel discussion ‘to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of (p. 734) Action, with a particular focus on its implementation, as well as on achievement, best practices and challenges’.116
As the first High Commissioner noted in his first report to the General Assembly in 1994, ‘the establishment of the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is a dream almost as old as the United Nations’.117
A High Commissioner for Human Rights (1965)
In 1965, the Commission added to its agenda, the ‘Election of a High Commissioner for Human Rights’. This elicited an engaged discussion, which led to its inclusion in the agenda of the Commission under the general title of the ‘Question concerning implementation of human rights, through a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights or some other appropriate international machinery’.118 Subsequently, in 1967, the Commission adopted a resolution119 recommending the establishment of a UN High Commissioner’s Office for Human Rights.120
In 1973, the General Assembly decided to include in its agenda ‘Alternative approaches’ in the context of the ongoing discussion on the creation of the post of a High Commissioner.121
The Sub-Commission addressed the issue in 1981 when it shared its
conviction that the number and scale of gross violations of human rights occurring in many parts of the world require[d] urgent and effective forms of action by the United Nations and … that in the view of the Sub-Commission the establishment of a post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights would be highly valuable in advancing the promotion and protection of human rights in the world.122
In response, the Commission asked the Sub-Commission to ‘formulate a first study on possible terms of reference for the mandate of a High Commissioner for Human Rights’.123
In 1980 and 1981, with its membership increased to forty-three states and more meeting time, the Commission124 notified the General Assembly that it had not yet reached any decision.125 The General Assembly was not impressed. It requested the Commission in 1982 ‘to consider the question with the attention it deserve[d]’.126
(p. 735) The Commission in response informed the General Assembly ‘that it intend[ed] to keep under continued consideration the proposal for the creation of a post of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, taking into account the work being undertaken [by the Sub-Commission]’.127
The following year, the Commission took up the Sub-Commission’s proposals and, after some discussion, decided to return them, asking the Sub-Commission to resubmit them the following year after having taken into account the Commission’s comments.128 No action was taken until 1993.
A High Commissioner for Human Rights (1993)
In December 1993, following the recommendation of the World Conference on Human Rights, the General Assembly decided ‘to create the post of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’.129
The Conference recommended to the General Assembly “that when examining the report of the Conference … it begin, as a matter of priority, consideration of the question of the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights for the promotion and protection of all human rights’.130
The first High Commissioner for Human Rights (José Ayala Lasso, 1994–1997; followed by Mary Robinson, 1997–2002; Sergio Vieira de Mello, 2002–2003; Louise Arbour, 2004–2008; Navanethem Pillay, 2008–2014; Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, 2014–2018; Michelle Bachelet Jeria, 2018) took up his responsibilities in February 1994. His first major challenge was the genocide in Rwanda.
The High Commissioner first addressed the Commission on 3 March 1994 when he shared his vision of the implementation of his mandate and the challenges it presented. Among them was
the growing awareness of the need to base international security on the triad of democracy, development and human rights … reflected in greater participation by international institutions in programmes to promote fundamental rights. He had been entrusted with the immense task of coordinating those activities within the United Nations systems and, in that connection, he wished to mention the important work being carried out by UNESCO, ILO, WHO, FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, UNHCR and, of course, the United Nations Secretariat. Coordination would be directed towards ensuring the common objective, and that would have a multiplying effect in terms of benefits and would avoid unnecessary duplication.131
On that occasion, the Commission ‘heard a recording of the first session of the Commission on Human Rights, in 1946’ to mark its fiftieth session. The arrival of the High Commissioner coincided with the arrival of information technology at the Commission: the Commission was given ‘a demonstration of the CD-ROM system’.132 The human rights website was launched in December 1996.
(p. 736) Resources remained an issue. In 1997, the Commission expressed appreciation for the report of the High Commissioner (Building a partnership for human rights) and thanked him for his efforts in strengthening human rights activities ‘in spite of the prevailing financial constraints’.133
Upon taking office, issues developed with the Centre for Human Rights on the modalities and the general hierarchical relationship with the High Commissioner. These were addressed in the years that followed. In 1995, the General Assembly ‘support[ed] and encourage[d] the efforts of the Secretary-General to enhance the role and further improve the functioning of the Centre for Human Rights … under the overall supervision of the … High Commissioner’ and supported ‘fully the High Commissioner in his efforts to strengthen the human rights activities of the United Nations, inter alia through measures aimed at restructuring the Centre for Human Rights to improve its efficiency and effectiveness’.134
The situation was finally clarified with the decision of the Secretary-General (Kofi Annan) to consolidate the OHCHR. The original intention of the General Assembly to maintain two separate structures, with the High Commissioner having overall supervision of the Centre, had not worked ‘inadequate coordination and complementarity between the two entities hindered performance, diminished the impact of human rights activities and resulted in a lack of appropriate coordination of related activities throughout the organisation’. The Secretary-General consolidated the High Commissioner’s Office and the Centre for Human Rights into a single unit, ‘to be called the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’.135
The OHCHR as it exists today came into being in 1996. ‘The new High Commissioner for Human Rights [would], therefore, have a solid institutional basis from which to lead the organization’s mission in the domain of human rights.’136
The reform of 1997
On his appointment in 1997, the Secretary-General (Kofi Annan) undertook a wide-ranging reform of the organization, giving a special focus to the human rights programme. This was consistent with the emerging mainstreaming process in the human rights programme, as formally sanctioned in the terms of reference of the newly established High Commissioner.137
In 1997, Kofi Annan launched the reform of the United Nations secretariat. Following a ‘thorough review of the activities of the United Nations … to identify the ways in which the United Nations can more effectively and efficiently meet the challenges that [lay] ahead’. He (p. 737) described the reform as ‘the most extensive and far-reaching … in the fifty-two-year history of this Organization’.138
In addition to announcing the consolidation of the OHCHR, the report described human rights as
integral to the promotion of peace and security, economic prosperity and social equity. For its entire life as a world organisation, the United Nations has been actively promoting and protecting human rights, devising instruments to monitor compliance with international agreements, while at the same time remaining cognisant of national and cultural diversities. Accordingly, the issue of human rights has been designated as cutting across each of the four substantive fields of the Secretariat’s work program (peace and security; economic and social affairs; development cooperation; and humanitarian affairs).139
The report cited the Vienna Conference and the ‘growing demands for a human rights presence in the United Nations field operations’ as a considerable evolution in the mandate of the United Nations. Referring to the need for mainstreaming of human rights, ‘[a] major task for the future [was] to enhance the human rights programme and integrate it into the broad range of the organization’s activities, including in the development and humanitarian areas’.140
A review of the human rights programme had been carried out by the Office of Internal Oversight Services and PriceWaterhouseCoopers and
following their recommendations, a major reorganization [had been] implemented. The streamlined structure … in place reflect[ed] the priorities of the work programme and … focused on three areas of activity (a) information, analysis and policy development; (b) support to human rights bodies and organs; (c) and actions for the promotion and protection of human rights.141
The reform envisaged the appointment of a Deputy High Commissioner ‘to assist and provide management support to the High Commissioner and manage the Office in her absence’.142
Addressing the link between human rights and peace and security, which ‘[was] laid out in the Charter and [had] been amply confirmed by recent experience’ (see Chapter 6.A, 1994—Rwanda), the report proposed that
an analysis of developments and trends in the area of human rights should be incorporated in the early warning activities of the organization; human rights [were] a key element in peace making and peace building efforts and should be addressed in the context of humanitarian operations. The capacity of the office of the High Commissioner to provide support in this regard [was] one of the objectives of the current reorganization.143
(p. 738) The growth of technical assistance under the human rights programme and under other entities of the organization who provided technical cooperation in areas which had a bearing on human rights called for better coordination in providing such services. ‘The Office of the High Commissioner should be able to provide its advice for the design of technical assistance projects and participate in needs assessment missions.’144
The human rights programme was to be represented in the work of each of the four Executive Committees set up under the reform on Peace and Security, Economic and Social Affairs, Development Operations (later to subsumed into the United Nations Development Group—UNDG) and Humanitarian Affairs.145 In addition to strengthening the representation of the OHCHR in New York, the report mandated the Office of the High Commissioner to ‘assess the work carried out on human rights issues in the Executive Committees and regularly participate in every stage of the organization’s activities in relation to actual or potential conflicts or post-conflict situations that have a human rights dimension’. The High Commissioner was to ‘undertake an analysis of the technical assistance provided by the United Nations entities in areas related to human rights and to formulate proposals for improving complementarity of action’.146
The framework established by the Secretary-General is reproduced below. It illustrates the place of human rights as cross-cutting and participating in the work of each of the newly established Executive Committees laying the ground for the ‘mainstreaming’ that was to follow.147
Finally, the report asked the High Commissioner to review the human rights machinery and ‘to develop recommendations on possible ways to streamline and rationalise it’. The highest priority was to be given to
actions underway in the context of the restructuring of the human rights program to strengthen and coordinate the substantive and technical support to the legislative bodies, monitoring committees and special procedures. The establishment of common (p. 739) data banks of information, research and analysis to assist these bodies [was to] be accelerated.148
The Millennium Declaration and the Development Goals (2000)
On 8 September 2000, the General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration, which included a commitment to ‘promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development’.149
The Declaration was adopted by a total of 189 states, including 147 Heads of State and Government. They ‘solemnly reaffirm[ed], on this historic occasion, that the United Nations is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which [they would] seek to realize … universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development’.150
The goals and commitments in the Declaration—later to be ‘crystallized’ into the Millennium Development Goals—were to be attained by 2015. Their fulfilment was to be addressed through ‘a comprehensive approach and a coordinated strategy, tackling many problems simultaneously across a broad front” since ‘the problems facing humanity [were] closely intertwined, and that each tend[ed] to complicate the solution of one or more others’.151
The commitments on human rights alongside those on peace, security and disarmament, development and poverty eradication, protecting the environment, protecting the vulnerable, meeting the special needs of Africa and strengthening the United Nations, were defined as goals and corresponding strategies put forward towards their attainment set out in the Road map towards the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.152
This was to take place in the following context:
The United Nations exist[ed] to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, and the right of minorities and migrants to live in peace. All human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural—[were] comprehensive, universal and interdependent. They [were] the foundations that support[ed] human dignity, and any violations of human rights represent[ed] an attack on human dignity’s very core.153
Six goals were defined under Human Rights, democracy and good governance, each of which was accompanied by strategies. The goals and strategies set out in the Declaration contained elements which were relevant to human rights activities.154(p. 740)
Goals and strategies for human rights, democracy and good governance
To respect and fully uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and strive for the full protection and promotion in all countries of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all
To strengthen the capacity of all our countries to implement the principles and practices of democracy and human rights, including minority rights
To combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
To take measures to ensure respect for and the protection of the human rights of migrants, migrant workers and their families, to eliminate the increasing acts of racism and xenophobia in many societies, and to promote greater harmony and tolerance in all societies
To work collectively for more inclusive political processes, allowing genuine participation by all citizens in all our countries
To ensure the freedom of the media to perform their essential role and the right of the public to have access to information
The Millennium Declaration, with its priorities and time-bound goals became ‘a common policy framework for the entire United Nations system’.155 The Great Enterprise was now integrated into the system. (See below, The Sustainable Development Goals (2015))
In 2002, as part of his comprehensive review of the work of the organization, the Secretary-General presented a report in follow-up to the 1997 reform and the Millennium Development Goals.156
The report focused on strengthening of human rights.157 Referring to the Commission on Human Rights, it warned against ‘political considerations’ and ‘block positions’ in its work and the danger of erosion of ‘its credibility and usefulness’. Progress had been achieved in integrating human rights into the UN system,
for example, human rights specialists are deployed as part of peacekeeping missions. In most humanitarian operations, the protection of refugees or internally displaced persons [was] a crucial aspect of the response to emergency situations. Development programmes supported by the United Nations promote[d] human rights through information dissemination and education, as well as through support for human rights institutions, such as national human rights commissions.158
The report put forward four actions in regard to the human rights programme, addressing respectively:
– supporting human rights at the country level:
‘Action 2: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [was to] develop and implement a plan, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Group and the Executive Committee for Humanitarian Affairs, to strengthen human rights-related United Nations actions at the country level.’
– reviewing treaty procedures:
‘Action 3: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [was to] consult with treaty bodies on new streamlined reporting procedures and submit his recommendations to me [the Secretary-General] by September 2003.’
– improving special procedures:
‘Action 4: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [was to] undertake a review of the special procedures and report back to me by September 2003 with recommendations on how to enhance their effectiveness and improve the support provided.’
– streamlining management:
‘Action 5: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [was to] develop a plan to strengthen management, taking into account the recommendations emerging from the management review conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services… the report to be submitted to me by March 2003.’159
(p. 743) At the same time, the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) presented the results of its management review of the OHCHR, making a number of proposals on the upgrading of the management structures of the Office, and pointing out the need to strengthen the core staffing through increased regular budget allocation. The rapid increase in the activities of the Office had not been supported by a commensurate budget, creating a reliance on voluntary contributions which amounted to 67 per cent of the overall OHCHR budget.160
In 2003, the Secretary-General reported on changes made in the OHCHR in its internal management and in the services it provided.161 Specifically, the report mentioned ‘increased support for national human rights capacity building’, where a plan was being developed with other UN partners aiming at encouraging ratification of human rights treaties, integrating human rights into national development plans and supporting reform of national legislation and institutions, and more generally, promoting enhanced awareness of human rights. The report pointed out that ‘the protection mandate for monitoring, investigations and reporting [would] remain the exclusive responsibility of the Office … and the wider human rights machinery’.162
The report mentioned various measures on the human rights treaties that were being taken or were being discussed to enhance their implementation. This included enhanced cooperation among the treaty bodies, governments and NGOs, and meetings among the treaty bodies. These meetings were producing suggestions for streamlining procedures, including the elaboration of a core document for the various treaties.163 (See Chapter 7)
The report described steps being taken to enhance support for the special procedures such as the production of a manual for special rapporteurs, internal guiding principles governing working relations between mandate holders and staff, an induction kit for special procedures, additional human resources to support special rapporteurs, and the establishment of a quick response desk. The mandate holders had also agreed to take measures, among them:
(a) strengthened joint initiatives, including joint urgent appeals… (b) … identifying good practices (c) … systematic debriefing between desk officers after country visits … (d) strengthened cooperation with United Nations country teams … in country visits … (e) preparation of a feasibility study on ways to enhance the dissemination of findings and recommendations … (f)interaction between special procedures … and the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the Security Council … (g) continuous exchange of information and communications between mandate holders … (h) further strengthening of the interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights.164
Improvements had also been carried out in the OHCHR consistent with the recommendations of the Office of Oversight Services:
(a) the establishment of two new branches, one on special procedures and the other on external relations … (b) the rationalization of the system of OHCHR regional (p. 744) representatives … (c) the initiation of a roster of human rights officers to serve with United Nations peacekeeping missions … (d) the regularization of [the contractual status of] OHCHR staff … (e) strengthened financial and budgetary management through the development of a … database … (f) … a refined system of annual appeals for voluntary contributions and the corresponding annual report on the use of those contributions.165
The high-level panel on threats, challenges and change (2004)
In 2003, the Secretary-General set up a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, to ‘provide [him] with a shared, comprehensive view about the way forward on the critical issues’. The issues stemmed from the ‘deep divisions among Member States on the nature of the threats that we faced and the appropriateness of the use of force to address those threats’.166
The panel167 was asked to ‘assess current threats to international peace and security; to evaluate how our existing policies and institutions have done in addressing those threats; and to make recommendations for strengthening the United Nations so that it can provide collective security for all in the twenty-first century’.168
The panel emphasized the need for the international community to acknowledge priority for collective security, and the prevention of the emergence of threats to such collective security. It identified six clusters of threats:
• Economic and social threats, including poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation
• Inter-State conflict
• Internal conflict, including civil war, genocide and other large-scale atrocities
• Nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons
• Transnational organized crime.169
The panel underlined the need to
combine power with principle. Recommendations that ignore underlying power realities will be doomed to failure or irrelevance, but recommendations that simply reflect raw distributions (p. 745) of power and make no effort to bolster international principles are unlikely to gain the widespread adherence required to shift international behaviour … Change for its own sake is likely to run the well-worn course of the endless reform debates of the past decade.170
The panel identified institutional weaknesses of which a number stood
as the most urgently in need of remedy:
• The General Assembly has lost vitality and often fails to focus effectively on the most compelling issues of the day.
• The Security Council will need to be more proactive in the future. For this to happen, those who contribute most to the Organization financially, militarily and diplomatically should participate more in Council decision-making, and those who participate in Council decision-making should contribute more to the Organization. The Security Council needs greater credibility, legitimacy and representation to do all that we demand of it.
• There is a major institutional gap in addressing countries under stress and countries emerging from conflict. Such countries often suffer from attention, policy guidance and resource deficits.
• The Security Council has not made the most of the potential advantages of working with regional and sub-regional organizations.
• There must be new institutional arrangements to address the economic and social threats to international security.
• The Commission on Human Rights suffers from a legitimacy deficit that casts doubts on the overall reputation of the United Nations.
• There is a need for a more professional and better organized Secretariat that is much more capable of concerted action.171
The panel addressed the Commission on Human Rights:
‘In recent years, the Commission’s capacity to perform these tasks has been undermined by eroding credibility and professionalism. Standard-setting to reinforce human rights cannot be performed by States that lack[ed] a demonstrated commitment to their promotion and protection. We are concerned that in recent years States have sought membership of the Commission not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others. The Commission [could not] be credible if it [were] seen to be maintaining double standards in addressing human rights concerns.172
The panel supported the mainstreaming of human rights in the international system as well as the support for strengthening national human rights institutions. It made the point that
[i]n many ways, the most difficult and sensitive issue relating to the Commission on Human Rights [was] that of membership. In recent years, the issue of which States [were] (p. 746) elected to the Commission [had] become a source of heated international tension, with no positive impact on human rights and a negative impact on the work of the Commission. Proposals for membership criteria [had] little chance of changing these dynamics and indeed risk[ed] further politicizing the issue. Rather, we recommend that the membership of the Commission on Human Rights be expanded to universal membership. This would underscore that all members are committed by the Charter to the promotion of human rights and might help to focus attention back on to substantive issues rather than who is debating and voting on them.
In addition, it proposed that heads of delegation to the Commission should be ‘prominent and experienced human rights figures’ restoring the practice in the Commission in its earlier years. The new Commission of the whole, was to be supported by ‘an advisory council or panel’ of some fifteen independent experts, ‘in addition to advising on country-specific issues, the council or panel could give advice on the rationalization of some of the thematic mandates and could itself carry out some of the current mandates dealing with research, standard-setting and definitions’ (emphasis added).173
The panel recommended that the High Commissioner prepare an annual report on the situation of human rights worldwide. The Security Council was invited to involve the High Commissioner
more actively in its deliberations, including on peace operations mandates … We also welcome the fact that the Security Council [had], with increasing frequency, invited the High Commissioner to brief it on country-specific situations. We believe that this should become a general rule and that the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission should request the High Commissioner to report to them regularly about the implementation of all human rights-related provisions of Security Council resolutions.
The panel underlined the need for adequate funding of the Office, pointing out that there was a
clear contradiction between a regular budget allocation of 2% for this Office and the obligation under the Charter … to make the promotion of and protection of human rights one of the principal objectives of the Organization … In the longer term, Member States should consider upgrading the Commission to become a ‘Human Rights Council’ that is no longer subsidiary to the Economic and Social Council but a Charter body standing alongside it and the Security Council, and reflecting in the process the weight given to human rights, alongside security and economic issues, in the Preamble of the Charter.174
Among other recommendations addressed to other areas of the Organization, the Panel proposed some ‘modest changes’ to the Charter, including:
– the revision of articles 53 and 107, where references to ‘enemy States’ were outdated. ‘The Charter should reflect the hopes and aspirations of today, not the fears of 1945’;
– the deletion of Chapter 13 (Trusteeship Council) and article 47 (the Military Staff Committee).
The Panel recommended that ‘[a]ll Member States should rededicate themselves to the purposes and principles of the Charter and to applying them in a purposeful way, matching political will with the necessary resources’.175
In larger freedom (2005)
Following on from the Millennium Development Goals, and the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, the Secretary-General in 2005 presented his report In larger freedom: toward development, security and human rights for all.176 The Secretary-General made the point, in addressing the objective ‘to perfect the triangle of development, freedom and peace’177 that ‘we [would] not enjoy development without security, we [would] not enjoy security without development, and we [would] not enjoy either without respect for human rights’.178
The report addressed collective responsibility:
In today’s world, no State, however powerful, can protect itself on its own. Likewise, no country, weak or strong, can realize prosperity in a vacuum. We can and must act together … If we live up to these mutual commitments, we can make the new millennium worthy of its name.179
The human rights system was ‘under considerable strain … important change [was] already under way … the human rights machinery [had] expanded its protection work, technical assistance and support for national human rights institutions, so that international human rights standards [were] now better implemented in many countries’. The Secretary-General appealed for more resources and staff for the human rights programme.180
The Secretary-General addressed the role of the High Commissioner and the Security Council in the context of mainstreaming of human rights.
The High Commissioner must play a more active role in the deliberations of the Security Council and of the proposed Peacebuilding Commission, with emphasis on the implementation of relevant provisions in Security Council resolutions. Indeed, human rights (p. 748) must be incorporated into decision-making and discussion throughout the work of the Organization. The concept of ‘mainstreaming’ human rights [had] gained greater attention in recent years, but it [had] still not been adequately reflected in key policy and resource decisions.181
The Secretary General proposed the creation of a Human Rights Council:
The Commission on Human Rights [had] given the international community a universal human rights framework … During its annual session, the Commission [drew] public attention to human rights issues and debates, provide[d] a forum for the development of United Nations human rights policy and established a unique system of independent and expert special procedures to observe and analyse human rights compliance by theme and by country. The Commission’s close engagement with hundreds of civil society organizations provide[d] an opportunity for working with civil society that [did] not exist elsewhere … Yet the Commission’s capacity to perform its tasks has been increasingly undermined by its declining credibility and professionalism. In particular, States have sought membership of the Commission not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others. As a result, a credibility deficit has developed, which casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole …
If the United Nations [was] to meet the expectations of men and women everywhere—and indeed, if the Organization [was] to take the cause of human rights as seriously as those of security and development—then Member States should agree to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a smaller standing Human Rights Council. Member States would need to decide if they want the Human Rights Council to be a principal organ of the United Nations or a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, but in either case its members would be elected directly by the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting. The creation of the Council would accord human rights a more authoritative position, corresponding to the primacy of human rights in the Charter of the United Nations.182
The Sustainable Development Goals (2015)
In 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‘the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda’.184
This Agenda [was] a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also [sought] to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom … eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, [was] the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development … The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets … demonstrate[d] the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They [sought] to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what they did not achieve. They [sought] to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.185
In 2018, the Council addressed the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ and decided to organize
two one-day inter-sessional meetings for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which [would] provide a space for States, relevant United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations to voluntarily share good practices, achievements, challenges and lessons learned in the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.186
The Council further ‘reaffirm[ed] that the 2030 Agenda … [was] grounded in and [sought] to realize human rights and fundamental freedoms for all’.187
Sustainable Development Goals
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
Source: General Assembly Seventieth session, resolution 70/1 of 25 September 2015 para 54 et seq.
Activity in human rights during the early years and up to the mid-1950s was concentrated within the Commission and almost exclusively focused on the drafting of the International Bill of Human Rights in the Commission and the Sub-Commission, with the statutory involvement of the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. UNESCO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) contributed to the work of the Commission during this formative period. Once this phase was completed, the focus shifted to the search for ways to implement the International Bill. In the Commission, these aspects were treated under agenda items such as ‘Further promotion’ and ‘Alternative ways and means’. (See Chapter 4.C, Rationalization (1992–2006))
Given the nature and scope of the International Bill of Human Rights, its contents related to matters which were handled in other areas of the UN system. The system had evolved over several decades and the objectives of its components were individually related to human rights values, some more so than others. The International Bill of Human Rights provided the catalyst to bring the individual components of the international system together as an organic totality. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action provided the consensus basis for action.
The process of implementation which took off in the late 1970s necessarily involved the system as a whole—this was to become the ‘mainstreaming’ that emerged in the 1990s.
The first attempt at this outreach to other areas of the international system came in 1962, when the General Assembly suggested that the Commission ‘devote special attention [to the adoption of measures designed to accelerate the promotion of respect for human rights] (p. 751) during the United Nations Development Decade’.188 The Commission had reported on its (heavy) programme and on the status of the various projects before it.189
The report of the discussion in the Third Committee contained the following:
the importance of human rights in connexion with the United Nations Development Decade was emphasized; delegations considered, for example, that questions of human rights constituted an implicit element in every Development Decade project, and it was suggested that programmes to promote respect for human rights should be included within the Development Decade.190
The reaction of the Commission was not constructive. Instead of following the exhortation of the Assembly to establish a link with development activities, it sent the General Assembly a ‘report’—consisting of a few paragraphs embodied in a resolution191—giving a list of its activities, spelling out the various studies and draft instruments that occupied its agenda and were likely to do so in the future; it also reminded the Assembly to expedite its own work on the Covenants which by then had been before it for nine years. In other words, the Commission informed the Assembly that it had no time (or intention) to follow its suggestion.
The need for the Commission to organize its programme within the UN system and the improvement in the respect for human rights in the outside world became intertwined in the following years. A corollary of this process was the need for the Commission to coordinate its work with those UN bodies with responsibility for administrative and budgetary procedures,192 especially when the demands for more resources for the Commission increased dramatically as its agenda expanded.
The need for substantive coordination became evident. This in turn affected the resources and management available to the human rights secretariat. These elements combined in the years that followed, to give the need for organization and planning of the Commission’s work a central role in the continuing evolution.
The Assembly returned to its call regarding human rights and development activities in 1965, when it urged Governments ‘to make special efforts during the United Nations Development Decade to promote respect for and observance of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms’. It called on the technical assistance authorities of the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies to give all possible assistance under their respective programmes to such activities, ‘with a view to achieving progress in the field of human rights’, and asked the Commission ‘to continue its consideration of the question of further promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights’.193
The Commission, however, did not give any substantive consideration to the issue until 1975. By then the Decade was over; between 1964 and 1974, for a variety of reasons, the Commission did not take up the démarches of the General Assembly. That year, in 1975, (p. 752) the Commission asked for views on its future programme of work194 and the following year, ‘noting that only a small number of states [had] sent replies’, asked for five reports on the question of its future programme,195 including on proceedings of international conferences taking place at the time whose subject matter was relevant to human rights aspects and the implementation of human rights. This was the era when the Covenants were coming into force and their implementation was about to be tested.
The Commission also asked for ‘a complete description of the use made of the advisory services programme in all its components (for example, experts, seminars, training courses, fellowships) since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 926 (X) ’ and on
ways and means of achieving, within the framework of the Committee for Programme and Co-ordination, intensified co-operation and co-ordination between various organs and secretariat units of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies whose work bears on the enjoyment of various aspects of human rights, with a view to developing the Commission’s over-all approach and concern on the question of the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.196
The report ‘on the discussions and recommendations … relating to the various aspects of the implementation of human rights’ of the Conference on The Human Environment (Stockholm, 5–16 June 1972) the World Population Conference (Bucharest, 19–30 August 1974), the World Food Conference (Rome, 5–16 November 1974) reflected the newness of the approach. In preparing the report,
the Secretary-General … understood the words ‘relating to the various aspects of the implementation of ‘human rights’ in a broad sense, as referring to all aspects, not merely the (p. 753) institutional aspects, of implementation and as embracing all human rights—economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political.197
The Commission also had before it an account of the discussions and recommendations of the Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (Geneva, 1–21 September 1975) referring to human rights issues, principally related to torture and treatment of offenders.198
The other study by the Secretary-General identified possible common ground in the various components of the UN system and in the UN Secretariat, in the matter of the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.199
The report contained some pertinent observations:
It [was] not until recently that emphasis seems to have been laid on this latter aspect in the United Nation with regard to human rights. Only in the last few years has the Commission on Human Rights tried to draw up its own unified long-term programme of work and it [was] at its last session in 1975 that it concentrated in its resolution 10 (XXXI) on the problem of co-ordination between the various United Nations organs and services whose activities [were] in one way or another concerned with human rights. For a long time, such activities were mainly of a normative character engaged in by a small number of bodies and presented no great problems as regards priorities or coordination. The situation [was] of course quite different today because the United Nations [had] not only extended the scope of its basic concepts concerning human rights to encompass many scientific technological, demographic and economic questions but also diversified its methods of action, so that monitoring the application of standards and information, education and aid activities [were] receiving as much if not more attention than work on legislation. This [had] increased the complexity of human right’s programmes and opened the door to dispersion and duplication of efforts. The co-ordination of human rights activities within the United Nations system [had] thus become both more necessary and more difficult to achieve.200
In the area of peace and security, human rights had yet to establish its relevance. 1976 also coincided with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In the Commission, reference was made to the Final Act of that Conference as being ‘of capital importance for human rights, not only in Europe but also for the world as a whole’.201 Against this, it was argued that the ‘primary responsibility of the Commission was in the field of promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and not in the field of international peace and security, which was within the competence of the Security Council and the General Assembly under the Charter’.202 This limited thinking persisted through the decades that followed until the early 1990s when the massacres of Yugoslavia and Rwanda left no doubt as to the link between international peace (p. 754) and security and the respect of human rights. (See Chapter 6.A, 1992—Yugoslavia and Chapter 6.A, 1994—Rwanda)
In 1977, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Commission asked UNESCO for a study and recommendations on the ‘teaching of human rights throughout the world’ and invited Member States and the other sectors of the international community to report to it on ‘efforts made with a view to marking the thirtieth anniversary’.203
Later that year, the General Assembly asserted the international character of the protection of human rights, affirming that
in approaching human rights questions within the United Nations system, the international community should accord … priority to the search for solutions to the mass and flagrant violations of human rights of persons … and of every nation to the exercise of full sovereignty over its wealth and natural resources.204
The request of the Commission in 1975 for the five reports marked the point when the modern ‘mainstreaming’ of human rights in the UN system may be said to have originated.205 In 1991, the Commission took up the coordination role of the Centre for Human Rights ‘within the United Nations bodies and machinery dealing with … human rights’.206 The outreach to other parts of the international system was on the agenda and growing—but not without challenges.
In its evaluation of the human rights programme (1989) the Committee for Programme and Coordination addressing human rights advisory services and technical cooperation, recommended that
in so far as technical assistance projects [were] concerned, the country programmes of UNDP [might] include human rights projects … Governments should be encouraged by the organizations of the United Nations system to take into account the long-term importance of human rights projects. The Centre for Human Rights should play an advisory and catalytic role in that regard by communicating through the resident representatives to the Governments its advice on human rights projects… Human rights projects should be incorporated into the existing technical assistance and economic and social development programmes of the United Nations system.207
In the general area of the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, in 1993 the Commission welcomed the suggestion of the Special Rapporteur on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights of the Sub-Commission (Danilo Turk) ‘that cooperation between the financial institutions and the human rights organs … be strengthened, in particular by encouraging the participation of the representatives of those institutions in the meetings of the human rights organs’.208
(p. 755) The focus on issues relating to the implementation of economic and social rights continued and expanded in the following years, combining support for the work of the Committee under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights209 with initiatives on particular issues in the economic and social rights sector, not least the implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development.210 (See Chapter 5.B, The right to development (1977))
The High Commissioner and mainstreaming (1993)
With the World Conference and the establishment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights, the mainstreaming of human rights received its official mandate. The High Commissioner was entrusted with the coordination of ‘the human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the United Nations system’ having been designated the ‘United Nations official with principal responsibility for United Nations human rights activities’.211
In his first report to the General Assembly, the High Commissioner confirmed his mandate underlining ‘the important responsibility of enhancing international cooperation in the field of human rights and coordinating human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the United Nations system’.212 He outlined his vision of mainstreaming human rights across the United Nations system, being ‘responsible for promoting and protecting the effective enjoyment by all of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; promoting and protecting the realization of the right to development and enhancing support from relevant bodies of the United Nations system for that purpose’.213
The High Commissioner announced his intention, consistent with the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, to integrate the protection of the human rights of women and the protection of children into the mainstream of human rights activities of the United Nations system.
The High Commissioner summarized his first six months in office, he had ‘sought during the first six months of his mandate to open avenues of action for the United Nations human rights programme in keeping within his mandate. Priority areas [had] been the promotion of international cooperation in human rights and strengthening coordination within the United Nations system.’214
In June 1994, the Security Council welcomed the visit by the High Commissioner to Rwanda and the region shortly after taking up his office and noted the appointment by the Commission on Human Rights of a Special Rapporteur for Rwanda. Later that year, the Security Council, as it set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), took (p. 756) note of the reports of the Special Rapporteur. By November 1994, the Security Council mentioned
the deployment of human rights officers to Rwanda by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to monitor the ongoing human rights situation … and the establishment of a more secure environment and thus facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons, and to implement programmes of technical cooperation in the field of human rights, particularly in the area of administration of justice.
This marked the ‘mainstreaming’ of human rights in issues of peace and security.215
In 1995, in the context of the search for strengthening the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, the Commission welcomed ‘the dialogue which [had] been established between human rights bodies, in particular the Centre for Human Rights as coordinating focal point, and other bodies of the United Nations system, including the international financial institutions’.216
The Commission encouraged these institutions ‘to increase their participation in the meetings of human rights bodies, including the treaty monitoring bodies, as well as to assess the impact of their policies and programmes on the enjoyment of human rights’.217
At the same session, the Commission asked the High Commissioner to undertake ‘in cooperation with the joint and co-sponsored United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, non-governmental agencies and other actors in the field, the task of elaborating guidelines on promoting and protecting respect for human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS’.218
Consistent with the focus on the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic brought about coordination between World Health Organization (WHO) and the Commission on Human Rights. As seen earlier, the topic reached the Commission agenda in the late 1980s. A Global Consultation on AIDS was convened in July 1989,219 followed by two others in 1996 (23–25 September 1996) and 2002 (25–26 July 2002). (See Chapter 2, 1987—Health)
In 1996, in the context of the human rights of women, the Commission called for ‘intensified effort at the international level to integrate the equal status and human rights of women into the mainstream of United Nations system-wide activity’ and encouraged ‘the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, within his mandate … to coordinate the activities of relevant United Nations organs, bodies and mechanisms dealing with human rights in considering violations of the human rights of women’.220
The High Commissioner reported on the mainstreaming process in his annual reports in succeeding years. In 1996, reporting on cooperation within the United Nations system, the High Commissioner reported:
Coordination within the United Nations system is probably one of the most difficult challenges. Progress has been made, however. The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC),221 when it met in the spring of 1994, had human rights on its agenda for the first time ever. On that occasion, the High Commissioner stressed to ACC the need for a permanent dialogue within the system to promote human rights through the systematic exchange of information, experience and expertise. The members of ACC concluded that session by affirming the commitment of all the agencies to the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.222
In his report to the General Assembly that year, the High Commissioner referred to
initiatives aimed at concluding working agreements or memoranda of understanding with programmes and agencies. These define[d] the framework for cooperation at the operational level. In 1994 a joint work –programme was signed between the Centre for human rights and UNICEF, and in 1995 memoranda of understanding were signed with UNESCO and with the United Nations Volunteers programme.223
Integrating the Great Enterprise into the UN system (1997)
Mainstreaming gathered momentum in parallel to the process of rationalization of the work of the Commission in the post-Vienna period (see Chapter 4.C, Rationalization (1992–2006)). The Office of the High Commissioner in turn needed to adapt its internal organization to support the expanding work programme of the Commission, whilst enhancing interaction with the other sectors of the UN system.
In 1996, the High Commissioner made the point that ‘human rights, as the moral foundation of international relations, must permeate all activities of the United Nations. The need for cooperation and coordination of the related efforts [had been] forcefully stressed by the World Conference in 1993’.224
The High Commissioner expressed the view that
The complementarity of United Nations programmes [was] becoming a reality. This perspective was adopted in the Medium-Term Plan (1998-2001) for human rights and provided the framework for the restructuring of the High Commissioner/Centre for Human Rights. The United Nations human rights programme [was] part of the United Nations programme and require[d] the continuing support of other United Nations agencies and programmes… Today’s expectations result[ed] from recent positive experience: Cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UNDP in establishing national human rights institutions in Latvia and Mongolia, a stand-by agreement with (p. 758) the Norwegian Resource Bank for Democracy and Human Rights (NORDEM) … cooperation with the International Commission of Jurists in establishing the field office in Colombia, support by the European Union for the programmes in Burundi, Colombia and Rwanda, support for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Memoranda of Understanding with UNESCO, the United Nations Volunteer programme, and with the International Human Rights Institute in Strasbourg and the Andean Commission of Jurists [were] examples of extended partnerships.225
Mainstreaming proved to be an ongoing process: in 2013, for example, the Council held a ‘high-level panel discussion on the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system’.226
OHCHR website launched (1996)
In the same report, the High Commissioner announced the launch of the UN Human Rights Website on 10 December 1996, Human Rights Day, ‘to meet the need for timely and worldwide dissemination of information on human rights’227 as well as the development of ‘an integrated human rights information system, which require[d] a basic change in the existing procedure of human rights information management’.228
The introduction of information technology, following on from the introduction of word-processing some years earlier, brought a new approach to communication, information storage and analysis and therefore to the work of the various procedures, including the treaty monitoring system, the support for special procedures, and the preparation and dissemination of human rights education materials and related programmes. The Great Enterprise had truly entered the modern era.229
As the inter-agency body at the Chief Executive level, the Administrative Committee on Coordination (restyled Chief Executives Board for Coordination—CEB)230 provided an important forum for the mainstreaming of human rights activities. Over the years, human rights was gradually inserted into the CEB agenda and work programme.
The Great Enterprise goes overseas (1993)
Technical cooperation activities emerged as a result of the evolution in special procedures, as epitomised in the example cited earlier in the case of the Special Envoy on Bolivia in 1982. (See Chapter 6.A, 1981—Bolivia) In the years that followed, more countries requested technical assistance, leading to the establishment of programmes of technical cooperation, some necessitating the presence of human rights personnel on site.
(p. 759) Special procedures teams had long undertaken visits to countries as part of their procedures, but there was not yet a human rights presence outside the headquarters offices in Geneva and New York. It was in 1993 that the Great Enterprise received its first overseas assignment. That year, the Commission on Human Rights asked the Secretary-General ‘to ensure a continued United Nations human rights presence in Cambodia after the expiry of the mandate of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, inter alia through the operational presence of the Centre for Human Rights’. The Commission also decided on the appointment of a Special Representative (Michael Kirby) ‘to maintain contact with the Government and the people of Cambodia … to guide and coordinate the United Nations human rights presence in Cambodia … to assist the Government in the promotion and protection of human rights’.231
Activities in the field increased rapidly. Offices were established in Rwanda232 and Burundi in 1994.233 (See Chapter 6.A, 1994—Rwanda) In 1994, the General Assembly asked for an ‘adequate monitoring presence in Kosovo’.234
In 1998 the High Commissioner reported ‘field activities [were] being carried out through offices or presences in 15 countries or territories staffed by over 200 individuals’ each with its own with mandate.
These field offices [were] organized in a number of ways. Some [were] part of wider United Nations presences, while some [were] organized in cooperation with other organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or offices directly set up by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.235
In 1999, the number of presences had risen to twenty countries, making a total of forty countries where technical cooperation activities were being carried out.236
Reporting in 2000, the High Commissioner recalled:
Starting in 1992 with the deployment of two officers in Zagreb with the mandate to provide support to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, following a recommendation of the Commission on Human Rights the same year OHCHR established an office in Cambodia with a comprehensive mandate. Since then, field presences [had] been established with diversified profiles to meet needs at the national level, from the human rights field operation in Rwanda in 1994—to date the largest OHCHR field presence—to the establishment of relatively small field presences linked to the implementation of technical cooperation projects such as those in Malawi, Mongolia, and the Gaza Strip.237
In 1996, the High Commissioner reported:
Human rights field presence, either in the form of field operations or field offices, [was] one of the major innovations in the implementation of the human rights programme in recent years. There [was] a variety of forms in which field presence [was] manifested, ranging from one professional staff office, such as in Malawi, to an operation in Rwanda involving more than 120 staff. In some countries, the human rights presence [had] been established as an autonomous project, in others it supports a broader United Nations involvement as in the case of the human rights programme for Abkhazia, Georgia. In some cases, the operations integrate[d] assistance and monitoring functions, whereas in others they [were] mandated exclusively in the area of technical assistance.238
The following year the High Commissioner shared further:
Experience has proved that the effective implementation of human rights [was] greatly facilitated by activities in situ … Some operations integrate[d] assistance and monitoring functions, whereas others [were] mandated exclusively in the area of technical assistance. The flexibility of the human rights field presence [was] one of its strongest assets. In 1992 there were no human rights field activities; the High Commissioner/Centre for human rights now [had] offices in 11 countries in all regions. Recently, human rights field offices [had] been opened in Abkhazia (Georgia), Colombia, Gaza (Palestine) and Zaire.239 (See above, Chapter 8.A. Technical cooperation (1987))
or [those] requiring a longer period of implementation [were] often carried out with assistance of human rights presences in the field, acting as offices of OHCHR or components of larger United Nations operations … in 1999, in addition to the technical cooperation field presences in El Salvador, Guatemala, Mongolia, Palestine, South Africa, southern Africa and Togo, which [had] been operational for several years, new presences were established in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Uganda. The sub-regional office based in Pretoria continued to implement and facilitate the implementation of activities at the regional level as well as in various countries of the southern African region. The Afghanistan presence, which operat[ed] from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities (OCHA) in Islamabad, [was] responsible for assisting other United Nations agencies in integrating a human rights dimension in their assistance programmes. A number of OHCHR field presences combining monitoring and technical cooperation mandates also carried out programmes and activities in Abkhazia-Georgia, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Croatia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.240
(p. 761) In 2006, the High Commissioner presented a study on transitional justice activities undertaken by its field presences and by its human rights components of peacekeeping operations.241 A typical case was that of Tunisia in 2011, when the Council welcomed
the process of political transition that … started in Tunisia and the commitment of the transitional Government of Tunisia to fully realize the universal values of human dignity, liberty, democracy and human rights … [and took] … note of the assessment mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to Tunisia and … the decision, … to set up a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner in Tunisia.242
Human rights advisers
The UN system reforms of 1997 and 2002 were reflected in field operations with the formation of ‘Country Teams’ (UNCTs)—comprising the agencies and programmes active in the country, headed by a Resident Coordinator. The High Commissioner reported in 2006 that he was
encouraged by the increasing number of Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators, UNCTs and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General, who [were] actively integrating human rights in their work and by applying human rights-based approaches. To support these efforts, OHCHR … provided advisory services through its headquarters, regional and country offices as well as through human rights advisers deployed to Resident Coordinator’s Offices.243
Human rights and human development (1998)
In the late 1980s, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) developed the notion of ‘human development’ and in 1990 produced its first Human Development Report. The process coincided with the opening up of technical assistance in the human rights programme, the establishment of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Assistance in the Field of Human Rights (1987) and the emergence of mainstreaming of human rights into the United Nations development system, described earlier.
The report developed the Human Development Index, described as ‘a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living’. States were ranked according to their score of ‘the geometric mean of normalized indices for each of the three dimensions’.244
The 2000 version of the Human Development Report was dedicated to human rights. In introducing the report, the UNDP Administrator (Mark Malloch-Brown) wrote:
While the Report cite[d] and examine[d] many examples of egregious human rights violations across the world, it [was] not aimed at producing legalistic rankings of the worst offenders. Instead, it [was] intended primarily to help promote practical action that put a (p. 762) human rights–based approach to human development and poverty eradication firmly on the global agenda.245
The reform of 1997 enabled the mainstreaming of human rights through the presence of the High Commissioner on the Executive Committees established in that reform. The Executive Committee on Development (later the United Nations Development Group or UNDG) coordinated by UNDP, served as the channel for human rights into development activities. A new approach to programming was introduced on a trial basis in 1998: UNDP issued its policy Integrating human rights with sustainable human development. This led to the drawing up of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Its purpose was ‘to achieve goal-oriented collaboration in preparing a single framework with common objectives and time-frame’.246
The World Bank launched its Comprehensive Development Framework in January 1999.247
It was during this period that the term ‘Human rights-based approach’ (HRBA) first emerged, following the introduction of the cooperation between the Office of the High Commissioner and the UNDP starting in 1998.
UNDP focused on three strategic areas of intervention:
3) Greater engagement with the international human rights machinery.248
The Framework was adopted by UNDP after the initial piloting stages and was applied since then. Together with the Common Country Analysis (CCA), it became the procedure followed by Country Teams in developing programmes.
In 1999, the first joint programme was signed between UNDP and OHCHR to support the integration of human rights with human development. The programme, Human Rights Strengthening (HURIST), enabled the introduction of a human rights-based approach to UNDP’s work.
According to a 2005 UNDP Practice Note, activities included the drawing up of National Action Plans for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Human Rights (p. 763) Programme Reviews, Poverty Reduction and Human Rights, Parliamentary Development and Human Rights, Human Rights and the Environment, Decentralised Governance and Human Rights, and Human Rights and the Police.249
In the annual report to donors in 2004, the High Commissioner addressed cooperation with UNDP on the implementation of the HURIST project:
active in some 30 countries worldwide, HURIST pilot[ed] a human rights based approach to UNDP activities and explore[d] capacity development for a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction, indigenous peoples, the environment, access to justice and parliamentary development. In 2004, HURIST supported human rights-based reviews of seven UNDP country programmes in China, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Rwanda. It also focused on building capacities in UNDP Regional Resource Centres … Pilot projects were also launched under HURIST in Ecuador and Kenya focusing on indigenous people’s rights; and another pilot project was launched in Timor-Leste to promote better integration of human rights treaty reporting.250
The role and responsibility of multinational corporations in the enjoyment of human rights came up with increasing frequency in the discussions in the Commission on the implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development,251 more specifically relating to foreign debt, economic and structural adjustment policies, and related issues.252 (See Chapter 5.A, The focus on specific rights)
In 1998, the Sub-Commission had before it a background document prepared by one of its members (El-Hadji Guissé), ‘on the impact of the activities of transnational corporations on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights’.253 The Sub-Commission set up a working group ‘to examine the working methods and activities of transnational corporations’. The Working Group was asked:
(a) To identify and examine the effects of the working methods and activities of transnational corporations on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development, as well as civil and political rights; (b) To examine, receive and gather information … on the effects of the working methods and activities of transnational (p. 764) corporations on the enjoyment of [the same rights] … (c) To analyse the compatibility of the various international human rights instruments with the various investment agreements, regional as well as international, including, in particular, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment; (d) To make recommendations and proposals relating to the methods of work and activities of transnational corporations in order to ensure that such methods and activities are in keeping with the economic and social objectives of the countries in which they operate … (e) To prepare each year a list of countries and transnational corporations, indicating, in United States dollars, their gross national product and financial turnover, respectively; (f) To consider the scope of the obligation of States to regulate the activities of transnational corporations, where their activities have or are likely to have a significant impact on the enjoyment of [the same rights] of all persons within their jurisdiction.254
The draft norms of the Sub-Commission (2002)
The Working Group of the Sub-Commission completed its work in 2002, and included in its report, ‘draft human rights principles and responsibilities for transnational corporations and other business enterprises’ and a related commentary.255 The Sub-Commission asked the working group ‘to continue their efforts to explore possible mechanisms for implementing the draft norms’ including ‘the establishment or nomination by the Commission of a group of experts, a special rapporteur, or a working group to receive information and undertake effective measures with regard to human rights violations or abuses committed by transnational corporations and other business enterprises’.256
In 2003, the Sub-Commission ‘solemnly proclaim[ed] these Norms … and urged that every effort be made so that they become generally known and respected’.257 The Commission took them up the following year and asked for a report ‘setting out the scope and legal status of existing initiatives and standards relating to the responsibility of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights, inter alia, the draft norms … and, identifying outstanding issues’.258
The Commission affirmed that the Sub-Commission’s draft ‘had not been requested by the Commission and, as a draft proposal, [had] no legal standing, and that the Sub-Commission should not perform any monitoring function in this regard’. It asked the High Commissioner for a report ‘setting out the scope and legal status of existing initiatives and standards relating to the responsibility of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights, inter alia’, the Sub-Commission’s proposed norms.259
The report was to include consultations with ‘all relevant stakeholders … and … options for strengthening standards on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and related business enterprises with regard to human rights and possible means of implementation’.260 (p. 765) The resulting study recommended further reflection and study,261 leading to the appointment of a Special Representative. (See below, The Special Representative on business and human rights (2005–2011))
The global compact
Against this background, on 31 January 1999, the Secretary-General (Kofi Annan) addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, proposing a Global Compact on human rights, labour, and environment. The initiative was in the wider context of the involvement of ‘relevant partners, in particular the private sector’262 in UN activities. Specifically, the Global Compact was aimed at ‘cooperation with the business community’.263
The Global Compact was consistent with the efforts at mainstreaming human rights across the wider range of international institutions. The Secretary-General had shared his
hopes for a creative partnership between the United Nations and the private sector… the everyday work of the United Nations—whether in peacekeeping, setting technical standards, protecting intellectual property or providing much needed assistance to developing countries help[ed] to expand opportunities for business around the world … this year, I want to challenge you to join me in taking our relationship to a still higher level. I propose that you all, the business leaders gathered in Davos, and we, at the United Nations, initiate a global compact of shared values and principles, which will give a human face to the global market. Globalization is a fact of life. But I believe we have underestimated its fragility. The problem is this. The spread of markets outpaces the ability of societies and their political systems to adjust to them, let alone to guide the course they take… specifically, I call on you individually through your firms, and collectively through your business associations—to embrace, support and enact a set of core values in the area as of human rights, labour standards, and environmental practices … The United Nations agencies—United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)—all stand ready to assist you, if you need help in incorporating these agreed values and principles into your mission statements and corporate practices.264
The challenge launched by the Secretary-General consisted of nine (subsequently ten) principles to which business entities were invited to voluntarily subscribe, promote and apply. The ten principles were:
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10*: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.265
(*In 2004, the Secretary-General added the tenth principle against corruption the Global Compact Leaders’ Summit focusing on specific issues.)266
A Global Compact Office was established in the Office of the Secretary-General to support the activities resulting from the response to the Secretary-General’s initiative. By 2003, the Global Compact had grown267 and the focus was on ‘good corporate citizenship’. Since 2006, the Global Compact Office is supported by a Foundation for the Global Compact.268
Communication on progress
The Global Compact developed tools to implement the principles. Companies were expected to submit annual self-assessments or Communication on Progress (COP) the preparation and contents of which were required to reflect three minimum requirements:
a) A statement by the chief executive expressing continued support for the UN Global Compact and renewing the participant’s ongoing commitment to the initiative … b) A description of practical actions the company has taken or plans to take to implement the Ten Principles in each of the four areas (human rights, labour, environment, anti-corruption) … c) A measurement of outcomes.
(p. 767) Participants were to submit their first COP within one year of joining the Global Compact and every year from then on. The COPs were classified in three levels (Advanced, Active and Learner), and were listed on the Global Compact website. The ‘Learner’ category was for business participants who did not submit (also classed as ‘non-communicating’) or whose COP did not meet the minimum requirements; these were given a twelve-month grace period to submit a new COP that conformed.
If a non-communicating participant fail[ed] to submit a COP that [met] all COP requirements within a year of becoming non-communicating, it [would] be expelled from the Global Compact. The names of expelled participants [were] listed on the Global Compact website … All organizations that [had] been expelled must reapply if they wish[ed] to rejoin the initiative.269
As of 2017, there were over 10,000 active business participants and some 2,000 ‘non-communicating’.270
Communication on engagement
As of 2013, non-business participants in the Global Compact, such as academic institutions, labour unions, civil society organizations, etc., were required to make a disclosure of activities in support of the Global Compact—they filed a Communication on Engagement every second year.271 As of 2017, there were over 4,000 non-business participants.
Communications were accessible on the Global Compact website.272 The Global Compact supported a Human Rights and Labour Working Group,
an expert group comprised of representatives from business, civil society, trade unions, academia, UN agencies, and Global Compact Local Networks working on business and human rights. The Secretariat for the [working group] is the … Global Compact Office, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labour Organization. Membership [was] reviewed every two years.
In 2011, the General Assembly recognized
the vital role that the United Nations Global Compact Office continue[d] to play with regard to strengthening the capacity of the United Nations to partner strategically with the private sector in accordance with its General Assembly mandate to advance human rights (p. 768) values and responsible business practices within the United Nations system and among the global business community.273
In 2018, the Secretary-General reported on the impact of the partnership with the private sector in pursuit of the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, ‘translating partnership challenges into opportunities’, and ‘measuring and communicating partnership outcomes’.274 The General Assembly extended the mandate of the Global Compact Office in 2018.275
The Special Representative on business and human rights (2005–2011)
The Special Representative presented an interim report in 2006 to the Council which addressed the core issues of globalization, the types of abuses and the existing responses. He referred to the Norms adopted by the Sub-Commission among other approaches taken.278 (See above, The draft norms of the Sub-Commission (2002)) In 2007, the Special Representative presented a set of reports covering various aspects of his mandate.279 (See Chapter 6.B, 2011—Transnational corporations and other business enterprises)
The framework—protect, respect and remedy (2008)
In his 2008 report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Representative outlined a ‘principles based conceptual and policy framework’ to assist the international community in ‘adapting the human rights regime to provide more effective protection … against corporate-related harm’. He described the prevailing situation in the following terms: ‘The business and human rights debate currently lack[ed] an authoritative focal point. Claims and counter-claims proliferate, initiatives abound, and yet no effort reache[d] significant scale. Amid this confusing mix, laggards—States as well as companies—continue[d] to fly below the radar.’
The framework was based on ‘three core principles: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies’. The three principles ‘form[ed] a complementary whole in that each supports the others in achieving sustainable progress’.280
(p. 769) The Special Representative presented ‘a survey of the scope and pattern of alleged corporate-related human rights abuse’ listing the rights and the groups affected by these abuses.281 He presented a report on multi-stakeholder consultations that he had conducted ‘to anchor the business and human rights debate and to help guide all relevant actors’. The consultations addressed
(a) the role of States in effectively regulating and adjudicating the activities of corporations with respect to human rights; (b) business and human rights in conflict zones: the role of home States; (c) the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; (d) accountability mechanisms for resolving corporate-related human rights complaints and disputes; and (e) improving the human rights performance of business through multi-stakeholder initiatives.282
The guiding principles for the implementation of the framework (2011)
The Special Representative completed his mandate in 2011, putting forward a set of guiding principles for the implementation of the Framework.283 In so doing, he described the nature and scope of the guiding principles:
Council endorsement of the Guiding Principles, by itself, [would] not bring business and human rights challenges to an end. But it [would] mark the end of the beginning: by establishing a common global platform for action, on which cumulative progress [could] be built, step-by-step, without foreclosing any other promising longer-term developments.
… the Guiding Principles’ normative contribution [lay] not in the creation of new international law obligations but in elaborating the implications of existing standards and practices for States and businesses; integrating them within a single, logically coherent and comprehensive template; and identifying where the current regime [fell] short and how it should be improved …
… the Guiding Principles [were] not intended as a tool kit, simply to be taken off the shelf and plugged in. While the Principles themselves [were] universally applicable, the means by which they [were] realized [would] reflect the fact that we live[d] in a world of 192 United Nations Member States, 80,000 transnational enterprises, 10 times as many subsidiaries and countless millions of national firms, most of which [were] small and medium-sized enterprises. When it [came] to means for implementation, therefore, one size [did] not fit all.284
The Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles in 2011.285 The Guiding Principles, thirty-one in all, addressed the three components of the Framework, on the conduct of states, of business enterprises, and access to effective remedies. More specifically, they addressed:
– The State duty to protect human rights, setting out foundational principles and operational principles consisting of: general State regulatory and policy functions; the State-business nexus; supporting business respect for human rights in conflict affected areas, and ensuring policy coherence,
– The Corporate responsibility to respect human rights, setting out foundational principles, and operational principles, including policy commitment, human rights due diligence, remediation, and issues of context,
– Access to remedy, including a foundational principle and operational principles addressing state-based judicial mechanisms; State-based non-judicial mechanisms; non State-based grievance mechanisms, and effectiveness criteria for non-judicial grievance mechanisms.286
The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations (2011)
That year, the Council established a Working Group and a Forum on Business and Human Rights.287
The Working Group presented its first report in 2012 setting out its initial reflections and its proposed strategy.288 Among its conclusions, the Working Group stated that it was
acutely aware of the complexities and sensitivities that surround its mandate… [and] that business [was] a manifestation of opportunity, through the transformation of factors of production—land, labour, finance and technology—into goods or services, which [could] contribute to economic development. Current incentive structures for business, however, too often [led] to decisions that [were] detrimental to the enjoyment of human rights… by meeting their differentiated but complementary responsibilities, as outlined in the Guiding Principles, States and business enterprises [had] the potential to ensure that economic growth [was] achieved through more inclusive, equitable business practices… to this end, the inherent utility and strong, growing authority of the Guiding Principles as the authoritative global reference point on human rights and business should be leveraged to maximum effect. The Working Group intend[ed] to do precisely that.289 (See Chapter 6.B, 2011—Transnational corporations and other business enterprises)
The Forum on Business and Human Rights (2011)
The Forum on Business and Human Rights, under the guidance of the Working Group, was to ‘discuss trends and challenges in the implementation of the Guiding Principles and promote dialogue and cooperation on issues linked to business and human rights, including challenges faced in particular sectors, operational environments or in relation to specific rights or groups, as well as identifying good practices’.290
(p. 771) The Working Group was asked to include ‘reflections on the proceedings of the Forum’ in its report to the Council, together with recommendations for future themes to be taken up in the Forum. The Forum was to be open to a wide range of participants at its annual meetings.291 The Forum published summaries of discussions on each of its sessions.292 (See Chapter 6.B, 2011—Transnational corporations and other business enterprises)
The Working Group on transnational corporations—towards a treaty? (2014)
In 2014 the Council established
an open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights; whose mandate [was] to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises.293
The Chairman of the Working Group was to ‘prepare elements for the draft legally binding instrument for substantive negotiations at the commencement of the third session of the working group on the subject, taking into consideration the discussions held at its first two sessions’.294 The Working Group met in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the Group was to start substantive negotiations.
8 Funding was a chronic obstacle in the way of the expansion of the work of the Commission; notably, the creation of special procedures, originally not envisaged in the budget, were provided for on an ad hoc basis by seeking approval for each activity from the budgetary organs. The Director of the Division on Human Rights, Theo van Boven, underlined the problem in his last statement to the Commission (SR 14, para 73).
In accordance with General Assembly resolution 926 (x) the programme of advisory services also provides for the advisory services of experts in the field of human rights. Since the inception of the programme in I956 only a few Governments have availed themselves of these expert services. The Secretary-General wishes to inform the Commission that, depending on the availability of funds, this component of the advisory services programme is still in existence and that he would welcome the interest of Member States in this regard.
16 A/43/711 para 16: ‘Since 1979, the Commission on Human Rights has each year adopted a specific resolution on the development of public information activities in the field of human rights (E/CN.4/1347, resolution 23 (XXXV) of 14 March 1979, E/CN.4/1408, resolution 24 (XXXVI) of 11 March 1980, E/CN.4/1475, resolution 24 (XXXVII) of 10 March 1981, E/CN.4/1982/30, resolution 1982/42 of 11 March 1982, E/CN.4/1983/60, resolution 1983/50 of 10 March 1983, E/CN.4/1984/77, resolution 1984/58 of 15 March 1984, E/CN.4/1985/66, resolution 1985/49 of 14 March 1985, E/CN.4/1986/65, resolution1986/54 of 13 March 1986, E/CN.4/1987/60, resolution 1987/39 of 10 March 1987, and E/CN.4/1988/88, resolution 1988/74 of 10 March 1988).’
29 E/CN.4/2000/105 I.B paras 6–8, and Annex; E/CN.4/2004/99 Annex I. See also E/CN.4/2000/167, resolution 2000/80 of 26 April 2000; E/CN.4/2002/200, resolution 2002/87 of 26 April 2002; E/CN.4/2004/127, resolution 2004/81 of 21 April 2004.
38 A/HRC/18/2, resolution 18/18 of 29 September 2011; A/HRC/26/51. See also E/CN.4/2006/104; A/HRC/4/94; A/HRC/7/74; A/HRC/10/57 and Corr.1; A/HRC/13/61; A/HRC/16/66; A/HRC/20/34; A/HRC/23/16; A/HRC/26/51; A/HRC/32/51; A/HRC/34/74; A/HRC/37/79; A/HRC/40/78.
(a) Objective 1: Jean Mayer, ‘Progress and obstacles in the implementation of human rights: review of the period 1945-1992 and suggestions for the future’ (b) Objective 2: Hubert Wieland Conroy, ‘On the relation between development and the enjoyment of all human rights, recognizing the importance of creating the conditions whereby everyone may enjoy these rights’ (c) Objectives 1 and 2: Sergio Pinheiro, ‘Poverty, marginalization, violence and the realization of human rights’ (d) Objective 3: Fausto Pocar, ‘Enhancing the universal application of human rights standards and instruments’; (e) Objective 4: Maxime Tardu, ‘The effectiveness of United Nations methods and mechanisms in the field of human rights: a critical overview’; (f) Objective 5: Nigel Rodley, ‘Towards a more effective and integrated system of human rights protection by the United Nations’ (g) Objective 6: Maria Vassiliou, ‘Strengthening of the United Nations human rights programme: one of the priorities of the Organization’.
75 General Assembly forty-seventh session, resolution 47/122 of 18 December 1992 The approval of the provisional agenda was ‘on the understanding that participants can raise issues of interest to them under the appropriate agenda item at the fourth session of the preparatory committee and at the Conference for possible inclusion in the final text’.
35 members to be made up of the following: the President, 29 Vice-Presidents, the Rapporteur-General, 2 Chairmen of the main committees, the Chairman of the Drafting Committee and the Chairman of the Credentials Committee, and that the 35 offices should be distributed as follows: Africa: 9 offices, Asia: 8 offices, Eastern European: 4 offices, Latin American and the Caribbean: 7 offices, Western European and other States: 7 offices.
85 E/CN.4/1992/43 and Adds 1 and 2; A/CONF.157/PC/6/Add.7/Rev.1; PC/7; PC/32;/PC/42/Rev.1 and Adds 1–12, PC/43; PC/65; PC/71; PC/66; and Adds 1 and 2; PC/73; PC/76; PC/77; PC/78; PC/79; PC/81; PC/84; PC/85/Rev.1; PC/86; PC/89; PC/93; PC/95; PC/96A/CONF.157/AFRM/5.
Individual personalities: Dr. Norman E. Borlaug (award 1970); Mrs. Betty Williams (1976); Mr. Adolfo Perez Esquivel (1980); Mr. Tenzin Gyatso, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet (1989); Mrs. Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992). Institutions and organizations: The Institute for International Law (1904) represented by Mr. Christian Dominicé; the International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944, 1963) represented by Mr. Dietrich Schindler; the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) (1947) represented by Mrs. Brenda Bailey; the American Friends Service Committee (1947) represented by Mr. Stephen Cary; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1954, 1981) represented by Mrs. Sadako Ogata; the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (1963) represented by Mr. George Weber; the United Nations Childrens’ Fund (1965) represented by Mr. Samir Sanad Basta; the International Labour Office (1969) represented by Mr. Heribert Maier; Amnesty International (1977) represented by Mr. Pierre Sané; the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985) represented by Co-President Dr. Mikhael Kuzin … Furthermore, the President of the Polish Republic, H.E. Mr. Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 1983, who was not in a position to come to the gathering of Laureates in Vienna, sent a special message of his own to the World Conference.
124 Notably the redesignation of the Division of Human Rights as a Centre for Human Rights with an Assistant Secretary-General as its Director. It also invited the Secretary-General to address it and encouraged the resort to good offices as a means of addressing human rights issues. See also E/CN.4/1408 and Add.1 resolutions 22 (XXXVI) of 28 February 1980, 27 (XXXVI) of 11 March 1980 and 28 (XXXVI) of 11 March 1980.
I asked Anand Panyarachun, former Prime Minister of Thailand, to chair the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which included the following eminent persons from around the world, who represent a wide range of experience and expertise: Robert Badinter (France), João Baena Soares (Brazil), Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway), Mary Chinery Hesse (Ghana), Gareth Evans (Australia), David Hannay (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Enrique Iglesias (Uruguay), Amre Moussa (Egypt), Satish Nambiar (India), Sadako Ogata (Japan), Yevgeny Primakov (Russian Federation), Qian Qiqian (China), Salim Salim (United Republic of Tanzania), Nafis Sadik (Pakistan) and Brent Scowcroft (United States of America).
‘Alternative approaches and ways and means within the United Nations system for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms’ pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 3136 (XXVIII) and 3221 (XXIX);
(b) The discussions and recommendations of the Fifth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders relating to the various human rights aspects, with particular reference to General Assembly resolution 3218 (XXIX), as well as the decisions of the General Assembly on the matter;
(c) The discussions and recommendations of the World Food Conference, the World Population Conference and the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment relating to the various aspects of implementation of human rights;
(d) A complete description of the use made of the advisory services programme in all its components (for example, experts, seminars, training courses, fellowships) since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 926 (X), with a view to a more effective utilization of the advisory services programme in the field of human rights in relation to the over-all work of the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities;
(e) Ways and means of achieving, within the framework of the Committee on Programme and Co-ordination, intensified co-operation and co-ordination between various organs and secretariat units of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies whose work bears on the enjoyment of various aspects of human rights, with a view to developing the Commission’s over-all approach and concern on the question of the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, including the procedures adopted and the results achieved towards further promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the system of periodic reports.
210 See, for instance, E/CN.4/Sub. 2/1989/19; E/CN.4/Sub. 2/1990/19; E/CN.4/Sub.2/1991/17; E/CN.4/Sub.2/1992/16; E/CN.4/1990/94, resolution 1990/18 of 23 February 1990; E/CN.4/1990/9/Rev.1; E/CN.4/1991/91, resolution 1991/13 of 22 February 1991 and E/CN.4/1992/84, resolution 1992/9 of 21 February 1992.
221 The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), now restyled the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), ‘brings together the Chief Executives of 31 specialized agencies, to deliver as one at the global, regional, and country levels’. They consist of “15 specialized agencies established by intergovernmental agreement; 3 Related Organizations; and 12 funds and programmes created by the United Nations General Assembly’. See http://www.unsceb.org visited on 28 January 2020.
228 E/CN.4/1997/98, para 49. Known as HURICANE (Human Rights Integrated Comparative Analysis Environment), it was to provide a window to human rights-relevant information within the various components of the Office of the High Commissioner, and links to the other sectors of the UN system.
230 See http://www.unsceb.org visited on 28 January 2020.
243 E/CN.4/2006/10 para 25. See also http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/Pages/HumanRightsAdvisorsIndex.aspx, visited on 28 January 2020.
an approach by which countries can achieve more effective poverty reduction. It emphasizes the interdependence of all elements of development—social, structural, human, governance, environmental, economic, and financial. It encompasses a set of principles to guide development and poverty reduction, including the provision of external assistance. The four CDF principles are: Long-term, holistic vision, Country ownership, Country-led partnership, Results focus. http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website01013/WEB/0__CO-14.HTM visited on 10 October 2019.
252 See, for example, E/CN.4/1991/91, resolution 1991/13 of 22 February 1991 and E/CN.4/1992/84, resolutions 1992/9 and 1992/11 of 21 February 1992, E/CN.4/1993/122, resolution 1993/12 of 26 February 1993, E/CN.4/1994/132, resolutions 1994/11 and 1994/12 of 25 February 1994, E/CN.4/1995/176, resolution 1995/13 of 25 February 1995, E/CN.4/1996/177, resolution 1996/15 11 April 1966, E/CN.4/1997/150, resolution 1997/10 of 3 April 1997.
265 See https://www.unglobalcompact.org/what-is-gc/mission/principles, visited 28 January 2020.
266 The 2017 summit: ‘The UN Global Compact Leaders Summit (21 September, New York) brings together an international community of leaders from business, civil society, academia, Government and the United Nations to accelerate local and global business action and partnerships to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ at https://www.unglobalcompact.org/take-action/events/leaders-summit-2017/faq. visited 28 January 2020.
269 UN Global Compact Policy on Communicating Progress. Updated 1 March 2013 at https://www.unglobalcompact.org/participation/report/cop visited on 28 January 2020.
270 See https://www.unglobalcompact.org/about visited on 28 January 2020.
271 UN Global Compact Policy on Communicating Engagement for Non-Business Organizations: at https//www.unglobalcompact.org/participation/report/coe visited on 28 January 2020.
275 General Assembly seventy-third session, resolution 73/254 of 20 December 2018. See also resolutions 55/215 of 21 December 2000; 56/76 of 11 December 2001; 58/129 of 19 December 2003; 60/215 of 22 December 2005; 62/211 of 19 December 2007; 64/223 of 21 December 2009; 66/223 of 22 December 2011; 68/234 of 20 December 2013; 70/224 of 22 December 2015; decision 72/543 of 20 December 2017.
… the Forum shall be open to the participation of States, United Nations mechanisms, bodies and specialized agencies, funds and programmes, intergovernmental organizations, regional organizations and mechanisms in the field of human rights, national human rights institutions and other relevant bodies, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, business associations, labour unions, academics and experts in the field of business and human rights, representatives of indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council; the Forum shall also be open to other non-governmental organizations whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including affected individuals and groups, based on arrangements, including Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996, and practices observed by the Commission on Human Rights, through an open and transparent accreditation procedure in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Council.
… the Forum shall be open to the participation of States, United Nations mechanisms, bodies and specialized agencies, funds and programmes, intergovernmental organizations, regional organizations and mechanisms in the field of human rights, national human rights institutions and other relevant bodies, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, business associations, labour unions, academics and experts in the field of business and human rights, representatives of indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council; the Forum shall also be open to other non-governmental organizations whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including affected individuals and groups, based on arrangements, including Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996, and practices observed by the Commission on Human Rights, through an open and transparent accreditation procedure in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Council.
293 A/HRC/26/2 resolution 26/9 of 26 June 2014; The resolution qualified the term ‘other business enterprises [as denoting] all business enterprises that have a transnational character in their operational activities, and does not apply to local businesses registered in terms of relevant domestic law.’