UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The post of High Commissioner for Human Rights was created by the UN General Assembly in 1993. The purpose was to strengthen UN capacity with regard to human rights. In autumn 2008, Navanethem Pillay succeeded Louise Arbour as the fifth High Commissioner. The High Commissioner has her own office, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which organisationally is part of the UN Secretariat and reports to the Secretary-General, but largely operates as an independent body.

What does the High Commissioner do?
The High Commissioner has a mandate to prevent violations and ensure respect of human rights and coordinate the activities of the UN in this area.

The post of High Commissioner was not warmly welcomed by everyone. On the contrary, some countries viewed it as a threat to their right of self-determination or national sovereignty. As part of the work to gradually strengthen and develop its mandate, it has therefore been important to ensure that the High Commissioner remains independent of the committees and other organisations within the UN where human rights are discussed.

Significance of the High Commissioner
During Kofi Annan’s tenure as UN Secretary-General the foundations were laid for a more prominent position for the High Commissioner and the OHCHR within the UN, and for the significance of human rights as a whole. Mr Annan made a clear connection between the work on security policy and human rights by stating that respect for human rights is a prerequisite for both security and development. This helped to enable the High Commissioner to advance the positions with regard to both the responsibility of states to protect their populations from abuse and the ambition that human rights shall permeate the entire UN system.

Swedish interests and considerations
Ever since the creation of the post of High Commissioner, Sweden has been one of its foremost supporters, both politically and financially. Today, Sweden is the fourth largest donor to the OHCHR after the USA, Norway and the Netherlands. In 2010 and 2011, Sweden’s contribution amounted to approximately SEK 60 million. Sweden’s contribution is almost 5 per cent of the total OHCHR budget and just under 8 per cent of the voluntary contributions.

In political terms, Sweden has advocated a strong mandate enabling the High Commissioner to seek actively to give human rights greater weight in the work of the UN, both in the maintenance of international peace and security and in its development programmes. We therefore defend the independence and integrity of High Commissioner in relation to the UN Human Rights Council and actively support High Commissioner Pillay in her work.