It is a great honour for me to be able to address the Commission on Human Rights today on behalf of the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. I speak not only for him, but also to bring a message to the Commission and through it to the leaders of the National Human Rights Institutions attending this debate.
The Commission's 58th Session in 2002 was the setting for the first statement by the International Federation's President touching on the subject of potential cooperation between the International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies with the Office of the High Commissioner and the National Human Rights Institutions working with it in accordance with the Paris Principles.
At that time, President Suarez del Toro spoke of the importance the International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies attach to human rights within their mandate to protect the most vulnerable. He spoke in greater detail about the work we do in certain specific human rights areas, particularly those concerned with work against discrimination, for humanitarian principles and values, for the achievement of economic, social and cultural rights, and for the rights of refugees, displaced persons and other marginalised groups.
That statement was followed by a discussion with the then High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, at which it was agreed that there was much to be gained from working out ways which would help National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies establish a counterpart relationship with National Human Rights Institutions where those institutions are committed to the Paris Principles and work with independence and integrity towards their objectives.
Work proceeded between the Secretariats, and our President had the honour to hold a significant discussion with the late High Commissioner, Sergio Vieira de Mello, during the Commission's 59th Session in 2003. The tragic death of Sergio Vieira de Mello robbed us all of a great man, but in the context of our work - work between National Institutions and National Societies - it also stole an inspiring leader for a special cause. We mourn his passing, but are dedicated to realising the dream he shared with our President a year ago.
That dream had very practical dimensions. The discussion a year ago concluded with the decision that our President and the High Commissioner should author a joint letter which they would send to National Institutions and National Societies inviting them to meet and consider the best ways of cooperating towards common objectives in their national context.
They also agreed that it would be for the best if cooperation could begin in a selected group of countries, for they recognised that they were opening a fresh page in cooperative activity towards human rights objectives, and it would be likely to need considerable support in logistic and other senses if it were to succeed.
Our President spoke of this when he addressed the High Level Segment of the 59th Session of the Commission, and also noted that one of the joint objectives would be to bring together the strength of the National Societies and the National Institutions in pursuit of the relevant Millennium Development Goals.
All the Goals are important, including in an human rights context. Some, like Goal 1 on poverty, Goal 2 on universal primary education, Goal 3 on the promotion of gender equality are obviously of direct relevance. I want to mention one today which is of particular importance to the world and of special relevance to my country, South Africa. It is Goal 6, concerning HIV/AIDS.
This goal, with its accompanying task concerning the evils of stigma and discrimination, shows well how relevant our cooperation will be at the national level. The importance of this cooperation is underlined by the very powerful message and recommendations concerning HIV/AIDS and the Rights of the Child, contained in General Comment No. 3, issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on 17 March 2003.
We see, within the recommendations of the Committee concerning the role played by community-based groups in the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a powerful linkage between the expertise of the members of National Human Rights Institutions with the volunteer strength and the dedication of the memberships of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
We see that collective strength as a marvelous addition to the demand for human rights which comes from the people themselves, at the individual and community levels.
We see this power as an element which all governments committed to the promotion and protection of human rights will welcome and be glad to partner.
We look forward to joining with Justice Louise Arbour after she takes up her appointment as High Commissioner to bring this strength to bear on all those human rights issues which can benefit from the backing of this powerful combination. In the meantime, we pay tribute to Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharam for the way he has so devotedly worked to build the strength of the National Institutions. We in the International Federation are sure that it would not have been possible to move so far to establish strong and credible National Institutions without his devotion and persistence.
The opportunity to speak today in the presence of so many leaders of National Institutions allows me to add a personal note. South Africa is one of the countries in which this cooperation should be able to start soon, and I have already had a preliminary discussion with my colleague Mr Jody Kollapen, the Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission.
We will both need to speak to other members of our organisations before we can take any further steps, but we both recognise the value that the cooperation can offer, especially to our work against the stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV/AIDS, and in our work to combat poverty. We believe there is much we can do together, both in terms of advocacy to the general public, and in work with our government at national and other levels, and with parliament, the media and other institutions.
We see this as a commendable initiative, and we look forward to bringing our experience of cooperation to the attention of all others in the Red Cross Red Crescent community, as well as to all other National Human Rights Institutions. The debate on this item next year promises to be all the richer because of this.