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Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger Elected President of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Published: December 7, 2019; 09:01 · (Vindobona)

In 2020 Austria is taking over the presidency of the UN Human Rights Council for the first time. The Council elected Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN Office at Geneva, to serve as its President for a one-year term beginning on 1 January 2020.

Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger Elected President of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. / Picture: © OSCE / Salko Agovic

Commenting on her appointment as President for next year, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger said, "We need to be guided by the impact of the Council on the ground - for the people who suffer, whose rights are infringed, whose freedoms are not respected or whose needs are not met – and for those who defend them - sometimes at the risk of their own lives".

She added: "Let us not forget for one moment that this Council is the best hope for many people, in particular the victims of human rights violations and abuses, the oppressed, the poor, those suffering from conflict, crisis and terror."

According to the Austrian Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger has been serving as Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva since December 2017.

Prior to her appointment to Geneva, from 2007 to 2017, Ms. Tichy-Fisslberger served as Director General for Legal and Consular Affairs at the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger joined the Austrian diplomatic service in 1988 and has a long record of working in various areas of European affairs.

Before joining the Austrian diplomatic service, she has worked for the European Commission in Brussels.

Foreign postings included Dublin, London and a long spell in Brussels.

Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger has been the first Austrian National Coordinator on Combatting Human Trafficking as well as President of the Austrian Task Force on Combatting Human Trafficking since 2009.

Since 2002 she has been a lecturer at the University of Vienna and from 2006 onwards also at the Diplomatic Academy, Vienna.

Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger holds degrees from the University of Vienna in Law and Languages (French, Spanish). She is also fluent in English and Italian.

The Council also elected Ambassadors Nasir Ahmad Andisha of Afghanistan, Socorro Flores Liera of Mexico and Juraj Podhorsky of Slovakia, and Yackoley Kokou Johnson of Togo to serve as its four vice presidents next year. Ambassador Johnson will serve as Rapporteur of the Geneva-based body.

Speaking on the occasion, Ambassador Coly Seck of Senegal, who has been serving as Human Rights Council President throughout 2019, stated: "No one can deny the major impact the Human Rights Council has on the ground. The Council's success stories need to be told in order to bolster trust and facilitate human rights around the world."

He added: "We need to ensure the effective participation of civil society in the Council; we need to be more active in tackling the effects of climate change on human rights, emerging digital technology and mass migration...And we must look for common ground to make human rights a reality."

On 17 October, the General Assembly elected 14 members of the Human Rights Council to serve as members of the 47-member body filling the vacancies to be left at the end of this year.

At the last meeting, the Council also adopted a President's statement on the Council's long-term efficiency process aimed at enhancing the organization's working methods. Through this action, the Council approved a series of measures to streamline its work given its expanding agenda, while preserving its essential mandate to promote and protect human rights throughout the world.

Today's action comes one year after the Council adopted a decision on 3 December 2018 setting in motion ways to improve the annual programme of work of the Council, rationalizing its resolutions and initiatives and using modern technology. Through that decision, the Council invited the Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG) to provide an update on the status of resources required to service the 47-member body.

Apprising the Council of the status of implementation of measures outlined in the December 2018 decision was Ambassador Vesna Batistic Kos of Croatia, one of the Council's Vice Presidents for this year, and co-facilitator of the efficiency process, who spelled out steps taken to overcome the persisting challenges facing the Council given its increasing workload and budget constraints.

Delivering the update on behalf of UNOG, summarized in a letter from Director-General Tatiana Valovaya of 25 November, Corinne Momal-Vanian, Director of the Conference Management Division, presented an overview of the financial situation and special measures required to address the current UN budget crisis mainly caused by unpaid contributions to the UN's regular budget.

At the meeting, the Council also heard from its task force on accessibility for persons with disabilities, which presented an oral update on the work and progress made on the implementation of its accessibility plan. Presenting the update, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, one of the current Vice Presidents of the Council, highlighted various measures taken by the Task Force aimed "to underscore the equal dignity of all those who address meetings at the United Nations."

The Council will meet on 18 December to hear oral updates by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on the human rights situations in Venezuela and Ukraine, as mandated by the 47-member body. It will then convene and organizational meeting on 14 January 2020 to adopt its programme of work for the year and select troikas - country rapporteurs - for the human rights reviews to be carried out by its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in 2020. The 43rd regular session of the Council will then be held from 24 February to 20 March 2020.

Foreign Minister Schallenberg also congratulated Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger on her election

Schallenberg welcomed the decision of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to appoint Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger as its President for 2020.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg expressed his satisfaction with the decision:

"The election is a great vote of confidence by the international community in the work of our Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. It is also a sign of recognition for Austria’s decades-long and tireless commitment to human rights within the United Nations."

The Austrian candidate was nominated by the “Western European and Others Group” (WEOG) for the presidency of the highest human rights body of the United Nations and subsequently selected by the Human Right

I would like to congratulate Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger on her election and wish her all the best for this important task, which she will perform as only the second woman to undertake this role, explained the Austrian Foreign Minister.

In view of International Human Rights Day, Schallenberg also underlined the central importance of human rights for Austrian foreign policy:

"Even 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its implementation - despite all its successes - is unfortunately still far from a global reality. We experience this every day, when pictures and reports of serious human rights violations from all over the world reach us. But it is not something we can accept. Every state is called upon to improve this situation - both internally and externally. Austria is therefore consistently continuing its commitment to human rights, in particular the protection of women and children, journalists and minorities. Austria supports the promotion of rule-of-law structures and continues to work against impunity, in particular for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."