With human rights observance being one of the central goals of the United Nations, Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbour today outlined a strategic vision for the future and called for tools to increase her office’s global leadership and its engagement with individual countries.
“Our objective must be to help bridge the gap between the lofty rhetoric of human rights in the halls of the United Nations and its sobering realities on the ground,” Ms. Arbour says in a report to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who transmitted it to the General Assembly.
The report, “Plan of Action: Protection and Empowerment,” responds to Mr. Annan’s sweeping UN reform report “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all,” which reaffirms the centrality of human rights to the UN and recalls that the protection of human rights is essential to building a more secure and prosperous world, she says.
“In an organization pledged to promote and protect human rights, this is a call to action. In a world plagued by daily assaults on dignity and freedom, it is a call to conscience,” the High Commissioner says of her report.
The plan of action identifies poverty, discrimination, impunity, conflict, failure to act democratically and institutional weaknesses as areas needing special focus. To correct the deficits, it calls for more country and regional offices, enhanced monitoring of human rights observance and faster response to requests for aid.
While the human rights programme has made historic progress over the 60-year life of the UN, however, it would be difficult for it to expand the Office of the High Commissioner’s role when “its political body is today in difficulty, its monitoring role weak and my Office chronically under-resourced and ill-equipped,” she says.
Her Office receives only 1.8 per cent of the UN budget and most of its budget comes from other sources, Ms. Arbour says, but to raise its standards the Office would need to double its $86.4 million budget over the next five or six years.
She agreed with Mr. Annan’s proposal that the 53-member Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) should be upgraded to a small, standing Human Rights Council, saying her Office “strongly supports the proposal that country scrutiny should be exercised through an effective, fair and transparent system of peer review and that this system should be built on the principle of universal scrutiny.”