New publication examines achievements and challenges facing UN’s top human rights official
On the eve of International Human Rights Day, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay praised the “important niche” occupied by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights at an event at UN Headquarters marking the 20th Anniversary of the UN’s top human rights post.
The event launched a JBI publication that is the first comprehensive study on the High Commissioner, entitled The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School and former Legal Adviser to the US State Department Harold Koh, and editors Felice Gaer and Christen Broecker of the Jacob Blaustein Institute, all contributors to the study, addressed the crisis in Syria and other human rights challenges worldwide.
High Commissioner Pillay, in a statement delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, thanked JBI for its “crucial role in the creation of the High Commissioner’s office.” She noted the timeliness of the book, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the High Commissioner post, and added, “The office has been using this anniversary to take stock of where we are, what we have achieved and not achieved and what challenges lie ahead. And for our evaluation, it is extremely helpful to have an external expert and academic analysis, which this book provides.”
Felice Gaer, Director of JBI and one of the co-editors of the volume, surveyed case studies addressed in the volume, including on the High Commissioner’s response to China, to Russia, and to North Korea. She discussed the volume’s conclusion that leadership, credibility, and accountability are the cornerstones of success for any High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the volume’s findings on the leadership styles of the six individuals to have occupied the post. Gaer identified four priorities for the High Commissioner in the future: promoting and defending the universality of human rights, monitoring and publicly presenting accurate facts about egregious human rights abuses, enhancing protection of human rights on the ground, and maintaining the independence of the UN’s human rights mechanisms.
Christen Broecker, Associate Director of the JBI and the other co-editor of the volume, explored the volume’s application to the High Commissioner’s response to the conflict in Syria, which has been ongoing for nearly half of her six-year term in office. Broecker called on Pillay to engage in greater diplomatic contacts with States with influence over the parties to pressure them to end the violence; to ensure that negotiations like the Geneva II conference scheduled for this coming January are conducted in a way that ensures their legitimacy and that any deals reached are consistent with human rights law; and to continue her efforts to gather the facts of human rights abuses being perpetrated on the ground.
In a question and answer period, Assistant Secretary-General Šimonović described his efforts to gain the Syrian government’s consent for human rights investigators to enter the country and the challenges encountered in advocating for the Security Council to include human rights monitors among the chemical weapons experts it recently deployed to the country.
JBI Chair E. Robert Goodkind introduced the program together with UN Foundation Vice President Susan Myers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World is a collection of essays examining the challenges faced by the six persons who served as High Commissioner since the General Assembly established the post in December 1993. Edited by JBI's Felice Gaer and Christen Broecker, the volume also examines the High Commissioner’s response to the “hard cases” of China, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, Burma and Colombia. It examines the challenges facing the High Commissioner in upholding universality of rights, raising her voice to protect victims of abuse, and amplifying this through field presences and her interactions with other mechanisms, such as the UN’s “special procedures” (including rapporteurs and commissions of inquiry) and treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, and the International Criminal Court, as well as the Human Rights Council and Security Council.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Conscience for the World
Table of contents
Introduction – Felice D. Gaer and Christen Broecker
1. Rights Inflation and Role Conflict in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Michael Ignatieff
2. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: From the Personal to the Institutional – Harold H. Koh
3. Address by the High-Commissioner at the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights – Navi Pillay
4. A Conversation with the High Commissioner – Felice D. Gaer and Navi Pillay
5. Future Preventive Strategies of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand G. Ramcharan
6. The High Commissioner and the Treaty Bodies – Michael O’Flaherty
7. The High Commissioners’ Promotion of Universality of Human Rights – Sunila Abeysekera
8. The High Commissioners and the Special Procedures: Colleagues and Competitors – Felice D. Gaer
9. Protection Through Presence: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Field – Christen Broecker
10. Enhancing UN Human Rights Work on the Ground – William G. O’Neill
11. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and National Human Rights Institutions – Tseliso Thipanyane
12. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council – Suzanne Nossel and Christen Broecker
13. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and International Justice – David Kaye
14. The High Commissioner, OHCHR, and China 1998-2005: Challenges and Achievements – Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt
15. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and North Korea – Roberta Cohen
16. The Role of the High Commissioner in Protecting and Promoting Human Rights in Afghanistan and Sudan – Sima Samar
17. The High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation – Karinna Moskalenko, Masha Goldman, and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
18. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and Burma (Myanmar) – Jared Genser
19. The Impact of the High Commissioner on Human Rights Protection in Colombia – Victor Rodriguez-Rescia