New York, US - The UN Human Rights Council on Monday in Geneva opened its 25th session with calls for the protection of members of civil society who pursue justice in their countries.
The Council said in a statement on the session, made available to reporters in New York, noted that more and more people around the world were taking to the streets to lay claim to their rights.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, at the opening of the high-level segment of the session of the Council, said: 'Streets, airwaves, entire countries are buzzing with demands for economic, social and political justice.'
She said that the session, which runs through 28 March, would include presentations by the independent commissions of inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Syria.
Others are discussions on human rights mainstreaming, the death penalty and genocide as well as the promotion and protection of civil society activities.
She said the 47-member body would also review the rights records of members and hold events addressing the prevention of large-scale abuses and on combating sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ms. Pillay also said that the annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child and the annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities would be held during the session.
The UN official emphasized the important role of civil society in the efforts to ensure their protection, saying: 'We need to work together to ensure that the space, voice and knowledge of civil society is nurtured in all our countries.'
She recalled reports of what she labelled 'intolerable' reprisals against people who cooperated with the UN’s human rights activities, and called for more action to protect them.
'The UN itself is required to protect and support those who contribute to its work, often at great personal risk,' she added.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also present at the opening session, said: 'No one should have to risk their life for standing up and speaking out on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.'
Ban said that civil society was the representative of 'We the Peoples', as cited in the opening of the UN Charter, and that it must be able to carry out its vital work, 'free of reprisals and intimidation'.
He also highlighted the 'Rights Up Front' action plan that he launched last year to ensure that human rights considerations were the top priority in all UN activities.
'This initiative seeks to ensure that the United Nations system leverages the full breadth of its mandates to protect people at risk,' he said.
The statement said Ban also met with representatives of the NGOs, the International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.
The meetings, among other issues, centred on the role of human rights defenders and the importance of protecting them from attacks and supporting their essential work.