I am pleased to present this report, the first covering an entire year of my term as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

As I write this Foreword, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge our societies and ourselves, presenting a colossal test of leadership and humanity. In these unsettling times, the importance of human rights has become even more evident. My Office has issued guidelines and recommendations to embed human rights at the core of the global response, engaging with the entire UN system to influence national action plans across the world. This is essential for an effective response and recovery - but also to ensure that we “build back better”, as enshrined in the COVID-19 and human rights report “We are all in this together”, released by the Secretary-General.

As you will find in these pages, 2019 was a year marked by important developments worldwide, supported by our Headquarters and 84 field presences across the world.

With our assistance, fifteen national laws were adopted to combat discrimination in all forms. In North Macedonia, for example, we supported advocacy efforts by civil society organizations, leading to the adoption of a new law by the country’s Parliament in May on prevention and protection against discrimination. We also supported the development of the first system-wide United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy, which aims to bring about structural change in the organization. It is the first UN accountability framework that operates across all UN pillars, without distinction, including climate action initiatives.  

As part of our efforts to pursue the Secretary-General’s vision of establishing a Prevention Platform and enhancing the UN’s role at the regional level, last year the emergency response teams based in Pretoria and Bangkok identified emerging risks in the north of Mozambique leading to improved response coordination and to the development of an early warning system in Myanmar. We also set up a new emergency response team for West Africa to work on risk analysis that influences UN responses in the field.

In addition, the Office was instrumental in the deployment of two multidisciplinary light teams to Comoros and Malawi. With human rights components, they strengthened the UN’s preventive role in the run-up to potentially destabilizing elections.

Moreover, as co-chair of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Task Team on “Leaving No One Behind, Human Rights and the Normative Agenda”, alongside the World Health Organization and UNESCO, my office actively contributed to the Secretary-General’s reform of the UN Development System. We ensured that the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework had a strong normative and human rights foundation supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, especially as we enter the Decade of Action do deliver the Goals.

In Central Asia and Central America, for example, my Office carried out a number of initiatives to integrate human rights into national frameworks for the Sustainable Development Goals. From advising State authorities on elaboration of SDG indicators in Uzbekistan to supporting development of an online platform that connects the recommendations issued by the international human rights mechanisms with the National Agenda for Sustainable Development in Honduras; our collaboration with  diverse partners across the UN System, civil society, private sector, academia and national authorities has contributed to the transformative change we are targeting. Standing up for all human rights – for everyone, everywhere – is essential to fulfilling our promise of leaving no one behind and building prosperous, just and inclusive societies on a healthy planet.

This Report highlights how human rights-based action achieves tangible results, though the gap between increasing demands and available funding keeps growing. I am grateful for the trust and support we received from our 84 donors in 2019: with the US$179 million we received, my Office was able to assist governments and civil society organizations with long-term work that places people and their rights front and center. At the same time, our capacity to respond to urgent and new requests was limited as our 2019 Annual Appeal was only funded to 56 per cent.

Even as we recognize, with pride, the value and impact of the work we have accomplished through our partnerships, I am cognizant of the need for strengthened efforts.  Today’s multiple predicaments are sobering on many fronts – I look forward to distilling lessons learned, building on good practice and, together, leveraging a united voice for human rights for all.
Michelle Bachelet
High Commissioner for Human Rights
May 2020
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