The first United Nations human rights office in the European Union opened today in Brussels, marking what the world body’s top rights official hopes will be a new era of cooperation with countries in the region.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is headquartered in Geneva but has never before opened a national or regional office in Western Europe.
“We already have 10 other regional offices in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, and we are now present in 55 countries around the world in all. Europe was in many ways the missing piece in the puzzle,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said as she opened the new office at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels.
The main aim of the new Regional Office, she said, will be to strengthen engagement with European countries in the implementation of international human rights standards as well as to forge stronger partnerships with regional organizations such as the EU and its relevant institutions. The office would also work with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
“The EU is, of course, already an important partner for us, both as a donor and as a strong moral voice on many human rights problems facing people all over the world,” said Ms. Pillay.
“When the EU speaks, people listen. When the UN speaks on human rights issues, people also listen, and when we are in tune we can be an important force for change.”
The High Commissioner noted that EU countries themselves face a number of human rights challenges.
“This office will help EU countries in their efforts to combat racism and discrimination, and to tackle human rights violations related to migration and poverty, as well as deficits in other economic and social rights, particularly for minorities such as the Roma,” she said. “A particular challenge in recent years has been ensuring that counter-terrorism measures do not undermine human rights standards.”
While in Brussels Ms. Pillay also took part in a joint OHCHR-EU conference on combating all forms of discrimination – with a particular focus on discrimination based on race, gender and disabilities – and met with Belgian and EU officials.