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Funding mechanism allowing OHCHR to support Human Rights Council mandates on urgent human rights situations

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November 23, 2011

To: All Member States of the United Nations



We are writing to seek your support for a funding mechanism that would allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide swift support to urgent missions and investigations mandated by the Human Rights Council (HRC).

Since 2006 and particularly during the last year, there have been numerous examples of rapid HRC action on emerging human rights crises. In these circumstances the HRC has frequently authorized on-the-ground investigations through fact-finding missions or commissions of inquiry, often requiring a report back to the HRC with findings and recommendations on a short deadline. The OHCHR has provided support to all these investigations. The HRC’s readiness to rapidly respond to crises is a welcome development. However it is becoming increasingly difficult for OHCHR to fulfill these tasks due to the absence of a mechanism to ensure timely provision of additional necessary funding for their implementation.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised concerns about her office’s ability to respond to these demands appropriately with support from the regular UN budget due to delays in the regular budget approval process. While activities mandated by intergovernmental bodies are in principle supposed to be supported through the regular UN budget, OHCHR has had instead to rely on ad hoc arrangements to fund these missions with the urgency they require, primarily by reallocating existing resources and capacities or drawing from its extra-budgetary funds to cover the significant initial expenses of these missions. The scope of this problem is significant, as the cost of supporting the missions mandated in 2010-2011 is estimated to be US$7 million.

The investigations undertaken with OHCHR’s support are critical to the HRC’s performance of its mandate and have had an important impact on the ground, both in sending a signal that serious human rights violations are being monitored and paving the way for accountability. OHCHR’s support to these investigations has been crucial to their success, and deserves to be supported through more predictable and sustainable funding from the regular budget.

The current approach to funding such missions is not only unreliable, it is also detrimental to OHCHR’s other work. OHCHR is at the moment being forced to divert funds for planned activities that are important to the fulfillment of its independent mandate, such as technical assistance programs to enhance states’ capacities to protect human rights. We are concerned that this is unsustainable and leaves OHCHR vulnerable to criticism about how it uses its funds and bolsters attempts, as seen in recent years, to curtail OHCHR’s independence by imposing inappropriate governmental oversight over OHCHR’s work through the HRC.

This unsustainable funding situation should be urgently resolved. OHCHR needs to be in a position to implement its work in a manner that is not subject to such serious financial unpredictability, or that potentially exposes it to further infringements on its independence.

We urge you to support the establishment of an emergency funding mechanism for OHCHR at this session of the General Assembly in line with the following principles:

  • The administration of the funding mechanism should be sufficiently flexible to allow OHCHR to rapidly receive the necessary funds to dispatch urgent missions and initiate time-sensitive investigations mandated by the HRC;
  • Approval of expenditure should be based on clear criteria that allow the predictable use of the fund for missions and investigations mandated by the HRC; and
  • The funding mechanism should be adequately funded from the regular UN budget to respond to HRC requests to investigate urgent human rights situations that arise during the year.


We look forward to working with your delegation to ensure that a sustainable solution is found without delay that reaffirms OHCHR’s independence and reinforces its ability to continue to provide professional support to the HRC in relation to its important decisions on urgent human rights situations. Please contact us should you wish to discuss this issue more fully.



African Democracy Forum

Amnesty International

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Asian Legal Resource Centre

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

Democracy Coalition Project

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Human Rights Watch

International Service for Human Rights

Open Society Foundations

Partnership for Justice