Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Human rights in United Nations: The new Human Rights Council

The United Nations gives only two per cent of its annual budget for human rights purposes, mostly for financing the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneve. The rest of money is spent mostly for keeping alive its immersive administrative apparatus. This Office of HCHR is considered to be under-staffed and constantly lacking in funding for its various mission needed in today's troublesome world. Apart from that the UN Special Rapporteurs for various human rights usually have to fund their fact-finding mission with their own many or their institutions, if the decided to prepare proper reports.

In the light of this wary facts and also last years report “In Larger Freedom (21 March 2005)"
from UN Secretary General, The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the creation of a Human Rights Council on March 15, 2006.* It will replace the Commission on Human Rights, which will be formally abolished on 16 June 2006. This outcome is far from being perfect, however it may be a small step to whole-reaching UN reform.

In order to succeed, the new Human Rights Council must truly be “transparent, fair and impartial,” as the text indicates, “and uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” The test will be whether the UN General Assembly elects members with respectable human rights records which truly want to confront those States that are responsible for human rights abuses, regardless of geo-strategic or border relationships.

The NGO community, the Secretary-General, the U.S., and many other states were strong advocates of excluding States with atrocious human rights records from participating in the new Human Rights Council. This position responded to prior or current membership by countries accused of gross human rights abuses, including Zimbabwe, the Sudan, the Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Libya, which chaired the Commission in 2003. The new Human Rights Council includes the criterion that membership “shall take into account candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.” However, an earlier draft an earlier draft prohibited membership to any State found responsible for human rights abuses or violations by UN bodies.

The new Council is widely acknowledged to be imperfect. However, there were risks in the failure to create a new Council, which would have been be an embarrassment for the UN, or to create one that showed no semblance of reform or lessons learned from the Commission on Human Rights, which would have been a different type of embarrassment for the UN. The questions also remains whether NGOs will be able to take part in such Council like they were able in the former Commission on Human Rights.

* The vote was 170 to 4, with three abstentions. The resolution was opposed by the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained.

More info on HR Council is available here: http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/

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