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I. From UN Commission on Human Rights to UN Human Rights Council: One step forwards or two steps sideways?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 January 2008

Nazila Ghanea
Affiliation:
PhD, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of London, Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Extract

The policy decision to replace the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with a new UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was taken by governments at the September 2005 World Summit and adopted as a General Assembly (GA) resolution on 15 March 2006.1 This brought an end to the CHR's chequered 60-year history.2 The membership, structure and aims and procedures of the new HRC underwent months of intense discussion between States in the lead up to the adoption of this resolution. The purpose of this note is to explain the various proposals explored in the shaping of the HRC and the extent to which the resolution bringing it into being responded to weaknesses perceived in the CHR. Since almost every reference to the CHR came to be prefaced by the term ‘discredited’ since 2005, the question is to what extent the reasons for the loss of legitimacy in the CHR were actually addressed in the crafting of the new HRC.

Type
Current Developments: Public International Law
Copyright
Copyright © British Institute of International and Comparative Law 2006

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References

1 UN Doc A/60/251, 3 Apr 2006. This resolution was adopted with a vote of 170 in favour, 4 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, and United States) and 3 abstentions (Belarus, Iran and Venezuela).

2 The CHR was established by the UN Economic and Social Council at its first meeting in 1947 and came to serve as one of its nine commissions.

3 Alston, P ‘The Commission on Human Rights’ in Alston, P (ed) The United Nations and Human Rights, A Critical Appraisal (Clarendon Press Oxford 1992) 194.Google Scholar

4 Tolley, HThe U.N. Commission on Human Rights (Westview Press Boulder Co 1987) 154.Google Scholar

5 This meeting on the morning of 12 Apr 2005 was an informal session, so no Summary Records exist of the meeting. However, a press report on the meeting was issued though it does not constitute an official record. See: UN Press Release, Commission Holds Informal Session to Discuss Human Rights Sections of Report of Secretary-General on Reform, 12 Apr 2005.

6 Joint statement on UN Reform, Amnesty International, Public Statement, AI Index: IOR 41/034/2005 (Public), News Service No 089, 12 Apr 2005.

7 Statement by Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 14 Mar 2005.

8 Speech by Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 Apr 2005.

9 Dialogue, facilitating technical assistance and advisory services and persuasion for states to comply by human rights standards.

10 Standard setting, the clarification of conceptual issues, responding to human rights violations and monitoring.

11 To include the generation of new human rights norms and the public discussion of human rights related matters.

12 For a further discussion of the roles of the CHR see the following: P Alston ‘The Commission on Human Rights’ 131–92. Kälin, W and Jimenez, CReform of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Study Commissioned by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Political Division IV) (Institute of Public Law University of Bern Bern/Geneva 30 08 2003) 45.Google Scholar

13 Kälin, W and Jimenez, CReform of the UN Commission on Human Rights 16.Google Scholar

14 Also referred to as ‘special rapporteurs’, ‘representatives’ or ‘independent experts’.

15 Flood, PJThe Effectiveness of UN Human Rights Institutions (Praeger Westport 1998) 113.Google Scholar

16 The author continues ‘For credible fact-finding, access to victims and witnesses is required; to influence a State to halt violations and to restore respect for rights, access to decision-makers is likewise necessary.’ PJ Flood The Effectiveness of UN Human Rights Institutions 113.

17 CHR Res 1235 (XLII), 6 June 1967. Through this resolution the CHR agreed to ‘examine information relevant to gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms’ and ‘make a thorough study of situations which reveal a consistent pattern of violations of human rights’.

18 CHR Res 1503 (XLVIII), 27 May 1970. Through this resolution, the CHR agreed to examine all communications received by the UN ‘which appear to reveal a consistent pattern of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms’.

19 Flood, PJThe Effectiveness of UN Human Rights Institutions 101.Google Scholar

20 For example, she stated, ‘There is something fundamentally wrong, and obscure, with a system in which the decision as to whether or not a country situation is addressed under Item 9, Item 19, or Item 3, or not at all, is viewed either as a political triumph or a political defeat. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered only by reference to four States [only four States had item nine resolutions adopted against them at the 2005 session]. I put it to you that it is a discredit to this Commission to view these decisions as political victories or losses. I say this in full knowledge, and with all due respect for the fact that yours is an inter-governmental body.’ Speech by Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 Apr 2005.

21 Kälin and Jimenez further criticized the system for lacking ‘a special agenda item for countries that may be called upon to reform without the condemnation that is currently attached by some resolutions under Item 9.’ W Kälin and C Jimenez Reform of the UN Commission on Human Rights 26.

22 GA Rep 59/565, High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change addressed the Secretary-General, 2 Dec 2004, para 3.

23 ibid, para 1.

24 ibid para 283.

25 GA Rep 59/2005. In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all, Report of the Secretary-General, 21 Mar 2005, para 140.

26 ibid para 143.

27 ibid para 147.

28 Speech by Mr Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, 7 Apr 2005.

29 Kälin, W and Jimenez, CReform of the UN Commission on Human Rights 8.Google Scholar

30 ibid 8–9.

31 ibid 9.

32 ibid 10.

33 GA Rep 59/565 para 285.

34 ibid.

35 ibid para 183.

36 Speech by Mr Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, 7 Apr 2005.

37 Kälin, W and Jimenez, CReform of the UN Commission on Human Rights 67.Google Scholar

38 ibid 7.

39 UN Doc A/60/251 para 7.

40 ibid para 8.

41 ibid para 9.

42 GA Rep 59/565 para 286.

43 ibid para 287.

44 GA Rep 59/2005 para 183

45 GA Rep 59/2001/Add.1, 23 May 2005, Human Rights Council, Explanatory note by the Secretary-General, para 1.

46 ibid para 4.

47 ibid para 4.

48 ibid.

49 The CHR met annually in Geneva for one six-week session.

50 ECOSOC Res 1990/48, 25 May 1990, authorized the CHR to agree by majority to meet exceptionally for special sessions in order to be able to deal with urgent and acute human rights situations. It met in Aug and Nov/Dec 1992 regarding the situation in the former Yugoslavia, in May 1994 regarding Rwanda, Septr 1999 regarding East Timor and in Oct 2000 regarding the Palestinian people.

51 UN Doc A/60/251 para 1.

52 ECOSOC was the governing body of the CHR, it voted for its membership and approved its budget.

53 UN Doc A/60/251 para 16.

54 ibid para 1.

55 ibid para 10.

56 GA informal consultations, Statement on behalf of the European Union, New York, 6 Feb 2006.

57 UN Doc A/60/251 para 11.

58 ibid paras 15 and 16.

59 Speech by Mr Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, 7 Apr 2005.

60 GA informal consultations, Statement on behalf of the European Union, New York, 6 Feb 2006.

61 UN Doc A/60/251 para 6.

62 GA Res 60/L.1, 20 Sept 2005, para 159.

63 Speech by Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 Apr 2005.

64 ibid.

65 UN Doc A/60/251 para 5(e).

66 UN Doc A/60/251 para 5(f).

67 Speech by Mr Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, 7 Apr 2005.

68 GA Rep 59/2001/Add.1, 23 May 2005, Human Rights Council, Explanatory note by the Secretary-General, para 7.

69 ibid, para 8.

70 UN Doc A/59/2005/Add.3, 26 May 2005, Addendum, Letter dated 26 May 2005 from the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly, para 92.

71 GA informal consultations, Statement on behalf of the European Union, New York, 6 Feb 2006

72 UN Doc A/60/251 para 5(e).

73 Speech by Mr Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, 7 Apr 2005.

74 Speech by Ms Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 Apr 2005.

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I. From UN Commission on Human Rights to UN Human Rights Council: One step forwards or two steps sideways?
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