Video Statement by UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner at the High-level Opening of the GANHRI Annual Conference

May 8, 2024

Chair of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Maryam Abdulla Al Attiyah,

High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my privilege to join GANHRI’s Annual Conference. This year it is focused on the unique role of National Human Rights Institutions, or NHRIs, in supporting businesses to advance human rights across the globe.

The United Nations Development Programme’s new Human Development Report for 2024 paints a picture of the great development leaps that our community has made over the past decades. For instance, it highlights how expanding global trade has generated enormous wealth, especially for some. 

Yet there is a disconcerting trend whereby economic growth has not effectively translated into poverty reduction in many countries, while also perpetuating the continued destruction of our natural world. This often negatively impacts the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. 

Crucially, many people globally report a lack of agency in shaping their futures. Indeed, there is ever-greater polarization at a time when we need to be more united to tackle our shared challenges like climate change, that severely impact people’s rights.

So how can NHRIs help to ensure that people are heard -- including when it comes to ensuring “checks and balances” on the private sector’s human rights obligations?

First, as we witness macro-level shifts, including the European Union’s new Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, national human rights institutions will have an ever-more important role in sustaining this global momentum. For instance, consider the National Enquiry on Climate Change in the Philippines led by the Human Rights Commission, which examined how climate change affects the rights of future generations. It is indicative of the potential for other national human rights institutions globally to drive forward the system-level shifts needed to tackle our climate and nature emergencies.

As part of our new pledge, UNDP will support Member States to operationalize the right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment – an area where national human rights institutions continue to help turn this aspiration into a reality.

Second, there is an ongoing necessity for businesses to stay abreast of the latest developments in order to seamlessly integrate human rights due diligence and environmental considerations into their operations. 

Informed by a range of parties including the Danish Institute for Human Rights, UNDP will offer a manual for businesses, which will also be available to national human rights institutions. It will outline and assess 132 separate, adverse human rights and environmental impacts.

Third, national human rights institutions continue to play a pivotal role in receiving complaints from affected individuals and intervening to help find redress. To this end, UNDP and the UN Human Rights Office supported 11 national human rights institutions in the Asia-Pacific region, for example, to handle business and human rights cases. 

UNDP will also ensure that national human rights institutions can get one step ahead of the ongoing digital transformation, including through tools that power new connections with communities. In the year 2024, this will be supported through the TriPartite Partnership that UNDP enjoys with GANHRI and the UN Human Rights Office.

Finally, with the Summit of the Future on the horizon, national human rights institutions are ideally placed to inform the thinking on going ‘beyond GDP’ as a measurement of progress. This involves their role in helping to define what matters to people -- including their human rights, wellbeing, and agency -- to shape the new metrics of the future that better value the rights of both people and our natural world.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To overcome our global impasse, there is a need to re-frame development as freedom from the crises now facing people and the planet. This new take on development centers on the expansion of agency at the intersection of human development, human rights, and sustainability. In many ways, this is the crux of the vital role of national human rights institutions.

By empowering individuals and communities to realise their rights -- including holding businesses accountable -- they are not only advancing the Global Goals -- they are the type of responsive, inclusive institutions that we now need to break our global gridlock and ensure that people can be true ‘agents’ in shaping their own futures.

In that spirit, I wish you a most productive conference.