Helen Clark: Statement at High-Level Segment of the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council

Feb 29, 2016

It is a pleasure to address you in this year of the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council, and of the fiftieth anniversary of UNDP which was celebrated last week at a major Ministerial Meeting in New York. I welcome this opportunity to share with you information on UNDP’s contributions to human rights through its development work.

UNDP’s work at the intersection of human rights and development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by UN Member States last year will guide development priorities for a generation to come. The Agenda is guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties, and informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development.

UNDP has neither a normative nor a monitoring role in human rights. We consider human rights as intrinsic to development, and development as a means to realize human rights. We are active in 168 countries and territories, supporting all to achieve their national development priorities, and to give practical expression to the commitments they have made to international human rights conventions. This approach lies at the heart of our Strategic Plan which recognises “the intrinsic value of the body of economic, political, social, civil, and cultural rights established by the United Nations that are pursued through the human rights-based and other approaches”.

Our work is anchored in the principle of national ownership and focused on building the capacities of institutions. UNDP delivers support at the request of Member States. Since 2009, it has responded to requests from around 100 countries to support integration of human rights standards and principles more fully into public policies, laws, and national development frameworks.

UNDP’s support to human rights institutions and processes

UNDP works with many partners to strengthen human rights institutions and processes. With OHCHR, we have supported the establishment and strengthening of around eighty National Human Rights Institutions, working to enhance governments’ capacities to meet international obligations and prepare for Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs). Our tripartite partnership with OHCHR and the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (ICC) is important to us.

UNDP also supports governments to implement recommendations of UPRs which address human rights and development issues. In Afghanistan and in Turkmenistan, for example, the UN Country Teams have supported the development of National Human Rights Action Plans based on UPR recommendations.

At the global level, UNDP engaged last year with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the process of consultation and drafting of the UN System Wide Action Plan (SWAP) for the implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The SWAP will bring more coherence to UN interventions in support of indigenous peoples’ rights.

UNDP also serves as the Technical Secretariat of the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and promotes these rights from Albania to Vietnam, Ukraine, South Africa, Egypt, and beyond.

UNDP's support to human rights and development in special contexts

The Human Rights Council has advanced the global normative framework for human rights. The challenge is to translate those norms into action and impact, especially where protracted conflict, crises, and displacement have weakened national institutions and frayed social cohesion. Such situations create fertile ground for human rights violations, and discrimination and marginalization are often among their root causes.

The Syria crisis is nearing the end of its fifth year. Its scale, severity, and protracted nature make it not just a humanitarian crisis, but also a development and human rights one. In close partnership with OCHA and UNHCR, UNDP is helping to join up the efforts of humanitarian and development actors by building the resilience of the Syrian people, and of Syrian refugees and host communities in neighboring countries. In Lebanon, for example, UNDP is conducting a comprehensive sector-wide assessment on the needs and capacities of the justice and security system to address rights grievances. We are also training police on their human rights obligations.

Allow me to share a few examples of UNDP’s work in other special contexts:

  • In Costa Rica, on the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and at the request of the Government of Costa Rica, UNDP and the broader UN Country Team supported the establishment of an inter-cultural mechanism for dialogue called the Mesa de diálogo between the Costa Rican government and indigenous leaders. Through this, agreement was reached on a methodology for clarifying land tenure in the seven territories of the southern region in which a hydroelectric project was planned.
  • UNDP’s support for a human rights based approach to constitution-making makes significant contributions to states in transition. In Tunisia, whose new constitution is recognized for its strong protections of women’s rights, UNDP supported a nationwide dialogue between the National Constituent Assembly, citizens, and civil society in all 24 Tunisian governorates. UNDP also provided training in legislative and constitutional drafting and in public consultation techniques.
  • UNDP is also bringing a development and human rights perspective into its support for responses to and prevention of protracted displacement.  For example, in Iraq, UNDP is implementing the Iraq Crisis Response and Resilience Programme (ICRRP), which has improved basic service provision, such as shelter, health, education, electricity, water and sanitation, to 11,444 households from displaced and host communities. Legal services have been provided for over 5,000 women refugees and IDPs to promote access to justice and legal identity.
  • More generally, the multi-stakeholder ‘Solutions Alliance’, of which UNDP is currently a co-chair, is an important platform for advancing integrated and inclusive responses to protracted displacement.

In the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, human rights and development are closely linked. Development actors can help countries make progress on human rights even in the most challenging of circumstances.

UNDP will continue to support countries to implement the commitments they have made when ratifying the international human rights conventions.

I wish you all a very productive 31st session of the Human Rights Council.

UNDP Around the world