UNHCR's Contribution to the First Session of the Human Rights Council, Delivered by Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection

We wish to congratulate you, Mr. Chair, on your election.

Human Rights values and principles are central to the mandate of UNHCR and underpin all aspects of UNHCR's international protection work. We were, therefore, pleased that a number of the newly elected Council members made explicit commitments to the international asylum regime, or to refugee protection, in their pledges. We would have appreciated even more States taking this approach.

It is UNHCR's hope that the Council will now progressively evolve into a forum:

- where human rights violations are duly recognised as being, apart from natural disasters, the principal cause of forced displacement, whether it be across borders or within them; the Commission had great difficulty reaching this seemingly self evident acknowledgement;

- which, with this acknowledgement, accepts its responsibility to examine even-handedly specific situations which create refugees through denial of rights, but with the aim not only of condemning, but also of addressing the problems in constructive and solutions-oriented ways;

- where the gaps in protection, as much as the violations, are the focus of reflection and advocacy on how to fill them, with approaches such as through universal periodic review, introducing new ways for doing both; we will be following this in particular with great interest to see what are the lessons here for our management of our own international protection responsibilities;

- which keeps the rights and needs of individuals in the proper balance with state concerns, including about terrorism and illegal migration; this balance has tilted too much recently in our experience;

- which has zero tolerance of mischievous mischaracterisation of people and their problems for populist or other reasons;

- where the rights of non-citizens are as much in focus as those of citizens, so that the Council, unlike its predecessor, sees the merit of concrete interventions on behalf, in particular, of stateless people;

- where the rule of law trumps arbitrary or discretionary approaches to rights protection, and where ways are found to actively encourage adherence to and full implementation of international instruments, including those that benefit refugees and stateless persons;

- where states are encouraged to see that to do the right thing makes good national common sense, in their own interests, so that, not least, pledges prove more than rhetoric and the responsibility to protect takes form and substance in ways which do not constrict but rather enhance its flexibility as a rights advocacy and protection tool;

This is our wish list for the Council, and indeed for the way forward for global human rights protection. We would like to join the voices of the many who have emphasised that we should preserve the best from the Commission, such as the Special Procedures, while the Council disabuses itself of the worst inefficiencies of its predecessor.

The UN reform process has been the impetus for the putting in place of the Peacebuilding Commission and a Secretariat to support it. For persons of concern to UNHCR, the work of this entity is key. However peace building requires that priority be given to it across the board of UN structures. It needs to be squarely on the agendas of the humanitarian assistance agencies, built into the design and implementation of their operations at the earliest stage. It needs also to be programmed centrally into the work of the development agencies.

The General Assembly resolution which established the Peacebuilding Commission expressly recognises that development and peace and security, together with human rights, are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. Displaced persons are not only of humanitarian concern but also impact upon the political, security, justice, development and governance dimensions of peacebuilding. Human Rights concerns in the content of displacement are accordingly central to the peace building activities of the UN generally. The new Human Rights Council must also, in our view, accord this responsibility, not least in the context of the mass displacement debate, a priority focus in its deliberations.