When UN’s Cash Crisis Undermines Human Rights, Are the World’s Torturers the Key Beneficiaries?

A meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Credit: UN / Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 2020 – The UN’s ongoing cash crisis, which has virtually destabilized the Organization’s day-to-day operations, has also undermined the human rights mandate of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC).

The HRC’s programme of work has been hindered by dwindling resources resulting in shorter working hours, cancellation of meetings, reduction in staff and leaving some of the UN Special Envoys investigating human rights violations worldwide — grounded.

The new austerity measures, prompted by a shortfall in assessed contributions from member states, came into force last October. But so far there are no signs of any significant improvement.

Kyle Ward, Director, a.i., Human Rights Council & Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told IPS that the human rights treaty bodies, established under the international human rights conventions, have been struggling with reductions in their overall regular budget resources, including a 25% reduction in travel resources for members (applied by the General Assembly in the last biennium), as well as reduced staffing, which has had already a serious impact on their ability to meet.

“Last year, with the financial crisis, it appeared that they would not be able to complete all of their sessions, until the UN Controller intervened and agreed to ensure we would have access to sufficient funds to enable them to meet”.

It was a bit touch-and-go, said Ward, “but for the most part we managed.”

But some of the work of the treaty bodies, he pointed out, was nevertheless blocked because of the shortfall in resources.

“The situation has unfortunately not improved this year, as the main budgetary constraints remain – while the potential impact of a continuing liquidity crisis for the Organization also remains a serious concern,” he warned.

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002). 08 January 2020. Credit: UN / Mark Garten

Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, told IPS the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms and the Geneva treaty bodies form an essential early warning system with regard to potential atrocity crimes.

“Starving the system of funds, and undermining its effectiveness, will only benefit those who prefer silence and inaction when it comes to human rights abuses and violations in the world today”, he added.

Moreover, he pointed out, “weakening the Human Rights Council only benefits torturers, atrocity perpetrators and those who consider universal human rights to be an affront to the unrestrained exercise of state power.”

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council has been looking at efficiency measures for some time and had some success there, rearranging its schedule to be able to reduce the number of its annual meetings.

But this is now being threatened by the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) due to the “special measures” arising from the cash flow crisis, with the refusal to provide interpretation for any lunchtime meetings (which are essential – even in the reduced format – to enable the Council to cover its agenda in its ten allotted weeks per year).

The President of the Council, Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger of Austria, has written to the Secretary-General to request that this be allowed notwithstanding – still waiting for an outcome, with the main annual session just a few weeks away.

Similarly, the restrictions have also led DGACM to restrict the interpretation services to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meetings beyond the two standard three-hour meetings per day, in order to save money.

The UPR has since the beginning allocated 3.5 hours to each State under review . . . so this will shave at minimum 15 minutes from each (given a 15-minute “courtesy” extension by the interpreters).

As this comes in the midst of the UPR Third cycle, there is some concern about equity in treatment to all States . . . but in reality, the statistics show that only 20% of the total have actually gone over 3h15 for their reviews, so the impact is not *that* extreme.

As it stands, in an effort to better manage cash flow, the Controller has decided (presumably in consultation with the SG) to allocate resources only on a quarterly basis (rather than the usual full allotment at the beginning of the year).

Although fully understandable, says one staffer, it also difficult to manage as the work is not simply linear . . . “so for a number of important mandates we cannot manage on just 25% right now.”

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria is a case in point, as the current mandate is only through March – so they need 100% of their considerable 2020 resource requirements now.

Once again, the OHCHR will have to juggle resources and move allocations around in order to make this work as best it can, which is extremely inefficient and time-consuming.

“A more tailored approach to the situation would be unwieldy for the colleagues at UNHQ to manage across the entire Organization, but it certainly feels like those of us at the operational end are being made to bear the brunt of all the various “emergency” measures, making everything we are trying to accomplish even more difficult,” said another staffer.

In her letter to Guterres last month, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger said “the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) has informed me that due to the special emergency measures you instituted last October to address the United Nations’ liquidity crisis, the meetings of intergovernmental bodies cannot be serviced outside of normal official hours”

It is furthermore of great concern that according to UNOG, they will be unable to service meetings of the upcoming 35th session of the Universal Periodic Review in accordance with Human Rights Council Decision 17/119 of 19 July 2011.

“When it established the Human Rights Council through resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, the General Assembly decided that the Human Rights Council should schedule no fewer than three sessions per year, for a total duration of no less than ten weeks,” the letter said.

As its programme of work has grown over the past 13 years, the Human Rights Council has often been obliged to schedule more than two meetings per working day in order to complete its programme of work.

Consequently, a considerable number of lunchtime meetings have been required in recent years in order to deal with numerous thematic and country human rights crises.

“In 2016, the Director-General of UNOG and the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management drew the attention of my predecessor to the growing dichotomy between the workload entailed in servicing the Council and the resources allocated to UNOG”, the letter adds.

In her letter, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger also said: “In your address to the Human Rights Council on 25 February 2019, you emphasized that “the Human Rights Council is the epicentre for international dialogue and cooperation on the protection of all human rights.”

In order for the Council to fulfil its responsibilities vis-àvis the international community and carry out all of its mandated activities, some lunchtime meetings are necessary.

Should the Human Rights Council not be afforded the opportunity to meet, as is required by its programme of work, it would be prevented from fulfilling its responsibilities under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, and the work of the United Nations in the area of human rights, and the human rights cause as a whole, would suffer as a result.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

At the International Summit on Balanced & Inclusive Education: A Call to Transform Globally

President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh and President of ERF Manssour Bin Mussallam

By Anna Shen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 24 2020 – In an increasingly unequal and divided world, what role can education play to achieve sustainable development globally?

How do we unite to achieve inclusive and quality education systems? Can we transform education so that it fosters local solutions, taking into account existing cultural contexts?

These are just some of the questions being addressed January 27-29 during the International Summit on Balanced and Inclusive Education, being held in Djibouti. The summit, sponsored by the Geneva-based Educational Relief Foundation, will bring together some of the world’s most profound thinkers and world leaders on education globally; 300 participants from 35 countries — Heads of State, Ministers of Education, NGOs, academics and civil society representatives.

A few on the list include the President of Djibouti; as well as Ministers of Education from Djibouti, Yemen, Ethiopia, Guyana, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Maldives and Palau, to name a few.

A major theme of the summit is how the global South will take the lead in developing education systems for the future. In a world of global standardization of education, and a “one-size fits all” approach, many are left behind.

Those present at the conference would say that education systems that must adapt to the contexts of their students, and not the other way around.

What strategies can be implemented to achieve the United Nations’ fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of quality education, the most fundamental human right that is critical to ending extreme poverty? What are the best practices, experiences and collaborations to share?

The summit takes place in a context where the world is facing greater, more urgent global challenges: climate change, geopolitical fragility, and increases of forced mass migrations.

The population of climate refugees is on the rise. Many of the displaced — children — are the world’s most vulnerable and fragile. The issue of refugee education, as well as how to provide it in increasingly multicultural classrooms, is urgent.

The challenges of diversity are great, especially in a world where there are ever greater technological, digital and scientific divides. Transforming education systems — and ensuring they are equitable and inclusive — requires large-scale mobilization of human, technical and financial resources.

Participants at the Summit will take away best practices and lessons learned on successful approaches: how to create inclusive education that considers diverse needs: physical, cognitive, academic, social, cultural, and emotional?

The question is how to design effective systems that consider the local communities (rural, peri-urban areas, conflict zone) and country-specific situations with regard to levels of development, religions, history, and culture.

Sustainable Development Goal 4 : Education Critical to Winding Global Poverty. Credit: Maged Srour / IPS

The event will culminate with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Balanced and Inclusive Education which addresses the urgent need to enact educational reform globally. It calls for the establishment of new multilateral instruments of technical and financial cooperation, as well as support for education systems around the world.

Specifically, the declaration calls for the technical and financial resources to develop relevant curricula and train teachers.

About the Education Relief Foundation:

The Education Relief Foundation (ERF) is a Geneva-based not-for-profit and non-governmental organisation which serves to develop, promote and embed a balanced and inclusive education through policy development, capacity building and civil society engagement, amongst other activities.

For more information: