November 29, 2006

The UN Secretary General’s Message to the Third Session of the Human Rights Council

In an effort to move the new Human Rights Council beyond the difficulties that plagued the Commission, Mr. Kofi Annan urged states to “embrace the universality of rights,” and to “build coalitions based on principle” rather that regional alliances.

Below is an article published by the United Nations News Centre:

29 November 2006 – The members of the United Nations Human Rights Council must be careful to avoid becoming divided between developed and developing countries, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned today as he urged them to embrace the universality of rights.

In a message to the third session of the Council, scheduled to begin in Geneva, Mr. Annan said it was vital that the Council’s 47 members “are willing and able to build coalitions based on principle.” [Full statement below]

He said: “Do not let yourselves be split along the fault line between North and South… as your colleagues have done in some other parts of the system, with results inimical to progress.

“States that are truly determined to uphold human rights must be prepared to take action even when that means, as it sometimes will, giving offence to other States within their own region.”

Mr. Annan said it is crucial that the Council preserves and strengthens what he called its “crown jewel” – the system of Special Procedures, or rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups tasked with examining a specific area of human rights.

“It has long since been recognized in theory, and increasingly also in practice, that the rule of law cannot be left to the discretion of governments, no matter how democratically elected they may be.”

The Secretary-General said the area most in need of innovation is the organization of the universal periodic review, a peer review mechanism.

“This transformative idea was certainly not intended to impede or discourage the Council from bringing massive and gross violations of human rights to the world’s attention as and when they occur,” he said.

“It was intended to give concrete form to our shared principles of universality, non-selectivity, objectivity and cooperation. The world looks to the Council to develop a review mechanism that lives up to those ideals.”

Turning to the Middle East, Mr. Annan noted that the Council – which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights earlier this year – has held all three of its special sessions so far on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“I hope, however, that the Council will take care to handle this issue in an impartial way, and not allow it to monopolize attention at the expense of others where there are equally grave or even graver violations.

“There are surely other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny by a special session of this Council. I would suggest that Darfur is a glaring case in point.”

The message was delivered on the Secretary-General’s behalf by Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who gave her own presentation to the Council on her recent visits to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Haiti. She also briefed on the situations in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iraq and the Sudanese region of Darfur.

On Darfur, Ms. Arbour called on the Sudanese Government to “provide convincing answers regarding its well documented links with the [armed Janjaweed] militia, as well as the possible criminal culpability of its officials in aiding or abetting acts committed by the militia on the Government’s behalf.”

She urged the international community to give its full support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as that court’s chief prosecutor nears completion of its investigation into war crimes committed in Darfur since 2003.

Lamenting Iraq’s escalating violence, which “has reached unprecedented levels,” the High Commissioner urged the United States-led multinational forces inside the country, as well as Iraqi leaders from all sides, to step up their efforts to reassert the authority of the State and establish respect for the rule of law.

Ms. Arbour, who recently travelled to the Middle East, welcomed the Gaza Strip ceasefire that was agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday as “a first, indispensable step towards reducing harm to civilians.”

Juan Mendez, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, briefed the Council on his work so far, stressing that the support of Member States is crucial in the effort to identify countries or situations of risk.

Mr. Mendez, who emphasized that “the prevention of genocide is a legal and moral imperative,” added that he was also exploring ways of how he could work more closely with the Human Rights Council to devise workable approaches for ensuring that conditions do not deteriorate so much that genocide might take place.

Council members also conducted interactive dialogues with Ms. Arbour and Mr. Mendez after their presentations.

Source: United Nations News Centre

 

Secretary-General's message to the Third Session of the Human Rights Council

[Delivered by Mrs. Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights]
Geneva, Switzerland, 29 November 2006

Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,

I send you my greetings as you begin your third regular session. Since your first session in June you have been very active – holding three special sessions as well as two regular ones. You have focused especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which indeed has escalated during these months in ways that cause deep concern to us all. I am glad to note that the High Commissioner is also paying close attention to developments in the Middle East, and that you will be hearing a report from her on her recent visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

I hope, however, that the Council will take care to handle this issue in an impartial way, and not allow it to monopolize attention at the expense of others where there are equally grave or even graver violations. There are surely other situations, besides the one in the Middle East, which would merit scrutiny by a special session of this Council. I would suggest that Darfur is a glaring case in point.

If this Council is to fulfil its vocation, and take its place as one of the paramount bodies of the United Nations, giving human rights a priority on a par with that accorded to peace and security and to development, its work must be marked by a strong sense of purpose – one in which states from all regions come together to promote the vision contained in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

That will only happen if the Council's members are willing and able to build coalitions based on principle, and on a determination to uphold human rights worldwide. Do not let yourselves be split along the fault line between north and south – between developed and developing countries – as your colleagues have done in some other parts of the system, with results inimical to progress. States that are truly determined to uphold human rights must be prepared to take action even when that means, as it sometimes will, giving offence to other states within their own region. Only by showing such courage and rigour can you avoid disappointing the many people around the world who look to the UN for support in their struggle for human rights, and driving them to turn elsewhere.

The great challenge for the Council, as I see it, is to find a way to embrace the universality of rights while at the same time addressing specific human rights situations. That is why I strongly believe that the Council must preserve and strengthen the system of Special Procedures – the crown jewel of the system – while also developing a robust universal periodic review.

It has long since been recognized in theory, and increasingly also in practice, that the rule of law cannot be left to the discretion of governments, no matter how democratically elected they may be. It requires them to subject themselves to vigilance and constraint by independent institutions, such as courts and ombudsmen. By the same token, an intergovernmental body such as this Council cannot ensure the protection of human rights by taking all decisions into its own hands. It must be careful to avoid any innovation that would erode or undermine the independence of the Special Procedures, or of the High Commissioner and her staff.

By contrast, where there is most need for innovation is in the organization of the universal periodic review. This transformative idea was certainly not intended to impede or discourage the Council from bringing massive and gross violations of human rights to the world's attention as and when they occur. It was intended to give concrete form to our shared principles of universality, non-selectivity, objectivity, and cooperation. The world looks to the Council to develop a review mechanism that lives up to those ideals.

This dual approach to human rights – combining universality with specificity – must be based on the understanding that the Council can only be effective if it undertakes specific work at the country level. We have to face the fact that states are not only the collective protectors of our international norms but also, too often, the violators of those norms.

So there is much at stake for the Council, and for human rights, in the months ahead. A new atmosphere is vitally needed. You, the members of the Council, were elected on your own record and on your pledge to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” You have an obligation to rise above national and regional interests, and to fulfil that pledge wherever and whenever abuses occur.

It is not too late to make this new beginning worthy of the hopes that humanity has placed in it. Some critics have rushed to a premature judgement. Now is the time, for those members from all regions of the world who are truly dedicated to a strong and effective Council, to prove them wrong.

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