Navi Pillay, OHCHR

Interview with Navi Pillay, High Commissioner, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, Geneva: 

Imagine that your organization didn’t exist and you were asked to invent it. What would you do? How would it be fundamentally different from what exists? What would be the differences regarding mandate, resources and objectives?

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which is the foundation of the modern human rights system, including my mandate, is a living document which has inspired a rich body of legally binding international human rights treaties and human rights development worldwide. The UDHR is relevant both in times of peace and conflict, in established democracies and in societies suffering repression. No matter where you live, how much money you have, what colour or gender you are, what faith you practice or political views you hold, all the human rights in the Declaration apply to you, everywhere, always. The Universal Declaration and its progeny, the Covenants and other human rights treaties that have been adopted to provide a more detailed legal framework for implementation of the rights laid down in the Universal Declaration, clearly equate the importance of civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. At the UN Human Rights Office, we work for the full implementation of all these rights on the ground. This is the basis of my mandate and I would not change it one bit. It emboldens me to speak out when the need arises, with my words grounded in a document that was universally agreed upon 63 years ago by the international community of States. Over the years, the UN human rights office has increased its presence in the field, reaching out more and more and giving a voice to the people who need it the most. UN human rights presences away from headquarters are a strategic entry point for promoting and protecting human rights at the country level; preventing and reducing human rights violations; helping to strengthen national institutions and civil society; and mainstreaming human rights within the rest of the UN. More and more countries are also calling on us for technical assistance: for example giving assistance to build the capacity of civil society, train police, security services and judiciaries, advise on the drafting of laws and improvement of constitutions. These are a vital component of our work and an important part of our mandate.

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(Photo © Evan Schneider / UN)