Painful cuts as UN human rights office turns 20

Navi Pillay, United Nations high commissioner for human rights presents her 2013 annual appeal to donors. Photo by: Jean-Marc Ferré / U.N.

Like other global organizations, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is eyeing to build its presence in Myanmar. The plan, though, is not exactly set in stone.

The country office in Myanmar “may be opened” in 2013, the agency said. Funding may depend on the response to the rights office’s appeal for 2013, the year the office celebrates its 20th anniversary.

For this year, the U.N. human rights office is seeking $130.4 million in contributions, $17 million less than what the staff initially projected for 2013. The appeal represents 60 percent of the financial plan not funded by the U.N. regular budget.

OHCHR went through a “downsizing exercise” to get to the 12 percent cut, said Navi Pillay, who heads the office, on Jan. 31 as she launched the appeal. What does this mean for the agency’s staff and partners?

For one, there will be a reduction in positions and a freeze in hiring some experts such as gender advisers as well as a decrease in the number of nongovernmental organizations OHCHR can help to attend events at its headquarters in Geneva.

The human rights office has suffered a funding shortfall over the past three years, prompting the budget cut. Pillay said there was a stark difference in donor response to crises and to causes that can prevent these situations.

“It is a disturbing paradox that raising funds to respond to crisis situations is so much easier than raising funds to prevent crises from happening in the first place,” she said. “Imagine all the suffering, destruction and loss of life that could have been avoided if we were able to prevent or mitigate only some of the crises the world is witnessing today.”

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.