NHRC convenes panel on community engagement in advancing human rights on sidelines of universal periodic review process

GENEVA, 11th May 2023 (WAM) — The UAE National Human Rights Committee held an event on the sidelines of the 43rd Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group, where the UAE presented its fourth national report on its progress in protecting and promoting human rights.​

The panel, which was held under the title “Community Engagement as a Tool to Advance Human Rights of Vulnerable Groups: A Regional Perspective,” invited regional human rights experts to discuss the importance of community engagement of vulnerable groups such as women, children, people of determination, and the elderly. Moderated by Hind AlOwais, the panel included a UAE representative from the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood as well as representatives from the African Union, ASEAN, the League of Arab States and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The panel aimed to analyze different approaches to community engagement, explore challenges and opportunities based on the panel’s experience, and share best practices in this field.​

Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al-Jarman, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, opened the panel by highlighting community engagement as a longstanding practice upheld by the UAE’s leadership. In particular, Al-Jarman shared the example of the advancement of women’s rights in the UAE under the guidance of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union (GWU), Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, who began the General Women’s Union through the gathering of women in her majlis, which later transformed into a network of organizations spanning all seven emirates.

Al Rym Al Falasi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, spoke about the UAE’s efforts to engage children in discourse on issues that tangibly affect their lives, including through the Children’s Advisory Council, which serves as a platform for children to express their opinions and interact with high-level government officials. Her Excellency also touched upon how the UAE Government has prioritized engagement as a core element of its future-focused vision, remarking that, “By involving children in the decision-making process and providing them with platforms to voice their opinions, the UAE has successfully integrated their perspectives into policy-making and development initiatives. This inclusive approach has not only contributed to the well-being of young individuals but has also fostered a more robust, diverse, and sustainable society that benefits all its members.”

Hon. Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, shared the ACHPR’s experience in bolstering human rights through community engagement and pointed to a principle long held by the AU, stating that, “A unique feature of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights reflects the values of African societies, where ‘a person is not regarded as an isolated and abstract individual, but an integral member of a community, a principle we share with the UAE. As such we take special efforts to allow these communities to become empowered as drivers of change, as opposed to being viewed as passive recipients of laws and decisions affecting them. This leads to a greater sense of ownership, allowing effective implementation of human rights related instruments and decisions. We commend the UAE in this regard, and believe it is a reflection of the country’s commitment to the advancement the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, which are areas that have seen tremendous effort and results”.

Mounir El-Fassi, Director of the Human Rights Department at the League of Arab States, also highlighted the necessity of well-coordinated and planned approaches to carrying out community engagement, stating, “Community engagement can help to build trust between communities and governments, promote participation and inclusion, and foster collaboration and partnerships, ultimately leading to greater respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights for all. In this regard, the achievements of the UAE are a source of pride at the regional level. The progress made by UAE in the human rights field is notable. UAE National laws and policies would serve as good basis for regional action plans and strategies”.

Mohammad Alnsour, the OHCHR Chief of MENA Section provided an overview of international standards related to community engagement and said, “We congratulate the UAE on the submission of its fourth national report to the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council. We also congratulate the UAE’s reaffirmation to support the Universal Periodic Review process, which demonstrates the country’s commitment to promoting and protecting human rights. We welcome the panel discussion on engagement with communities and hope this will lead further attention to finding innovative ways to engage all communities, particularly vulnerable groups, in the development of and achieving the Agenda 2030”.

Miguel Musngi of the ASEAN Secretariat also highlighted the work of ASEAN in this area, sharing that, ‘ASEAN continues to leverage regional cooperation to institutionaliseplatforms and mechanisms for stakeholder engagements particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons, and vulnerable and marginalized groups towards realising an inclusive, sustainable and resilient ASEAN Community’

The panelists agreed that community engagement must be a critical building block in designing and implementing strategies to advance human rights. The panel also stressed that community engagement strategies must be harmonized with legal, institutional, social, and cultural contexts rather than pursued with a one-size-fits-all approach.

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