15 March 2005
General Assembly
GA/10449

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

NOTE: FOLLOWING ARE SUMMARIES OF STATEMENTS MADE THIS MORNING TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PLENARY ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL. A COMPLETE SUMMARY WILL BE AVAILABLE AT THE CONCLUSION OF MEETING AS PRESS RELEASE GA/10449.


Background


The General Assembly met this morning to take action on draft resolution A/60/L.48, by which it would establish a 47-member Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, in replacement of the Commission on Human Rights, to address violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and promote effective coordination and the mainstreaming of human rights within the United Nations system.


The text reaffirms the Assembly’s commitment to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery, with the aim of ensuring the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.


It also emphasizes the responsibilities of all States, in conformity with the Charter, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  But it acknowledges that non-governmental organizations play an important role, at the national, regional and international level, in the promotion and protection of human rights.


By the terms of the draft, the membership in the new Council would be based on equitable geographic distribution, and seats shall be distributed as follows among regional groups:  African Group, 13; Asian Group, 13; Eastern European Group, 6; Latin American and Caribbean Group, 8; and Western European and Others Group, 7.  The members of the council will serve for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.


The text would also have the Assembly decide that the membership in the Council shall be open to all Member States of the United Nations.  When electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.  The Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Human Rights Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.


Further by the text “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, fully cooperate with the Council and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership”.


It also envisions “a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States”.


The Assembly would recommend the Economic and Social Council to request the Commission on Human Rights to conclude its work at its sixty-second session and to abolish the Commission on 16 June 2006.  It would further decide to elect the new members of the Council.  The terms of membership should be staggered and such decision would be taken for the first election by the drawing of lots, taking into consideration geographical regional distribution.


Finally, the text would have the Assembly decide that the elections of the first members of the Council would take place on 9 May 2006, and that the first meeting of the Council shall be convened on 19 June 2006.


Introduction of Draft Resolution


Formally presenting the draft resolution on the new Human Rights Council (document A/60/L.48), JAN ELIASSON (Sweden), General Assembly President, said the text was in pursuance of the mandate given to the Assembly by the world leaders at the 2005 World Summit.  The Summit had resolved to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery.  As everyone knew, some action had already been taken in that regard, including strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Now it fell on the Assembly to fulfil the other main elements of the leaders’ resolve to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery, by creating a Human Rights Council.  The leaders had given Member States a clear mandate to do so, and they had given a specific task to the Assembly President to conduct open, transparent and inclusive negotiations, to be completed, as soon as possible, during the sixtieth session.  He had done that, and today, he was formally presenting the result.


He said that the draft resolution was the culmination of five months of negotiations.  The text, above all, was the outcome of “our common combined effort, intellect and aspirations”.  Since the presentation of the text in informal consultations on 23 February, everyone had had the opportunity to study the draft resolution thoroughly, with their capitals, and in their various groups.  He had been encouraged by the very broad support that had emerged for the text as an integrated whole, as a result of those deliberations.  The text before the Assembly today, as a whole, represented the work of all.  No Member State had gotten everything it argued for.  For many, adopting the draft today meant compromising on some points, on which they had felt -- and still felt -- strongly.


“But, we have now reached a decisive moment, both for the promotion and protection of human rights, and for effective multilateralism and the standing of the United Nations as a whole,” he said.


As the leaders had acknowledged in September 2005, the three pillars of the United Nations -- development, peace and security, and human rights -- were interlinked and mutually reinforcing, he said.  Without strength in all, there was strength in none.  And, the world had never needed a strong United Nations more than it needed it today.  So, it needed a strong Human Rights Council, just as it needed to achieve strong results in the other areas of Summit follow-up and reform, with which the leaders entrusted the international community.


On development, Member States must now do all they could to ensure that the commitments of 2005 were implemented in 2006, he said.  To achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, there was no time to lose.  The cost of a failure to implement the commitments on development would be measured in lives lost or blighted by poverty, disease, and lack of opportunity.  And, in order to deliver, it must be ensured that the United Nations was as strong and effective as possible.  The work on the draft resolution on the Human Rights Council must be concluded, to free up the time, energy and political space to address development, Secretariat and management reform, and other important tasks ahead.


Highlighting a few aspects of the text, he said it would make universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation guiding principles in the Council’s work.  It recognized that the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on cooperation and dialogue, and should aim at strengthening the capacity of Member States to comply with their human rights obligations for the benefit of all human beings.  Acknowledging the mistrust and tensions that were so evident in today’s world, the language of the draft also sent a strong a uniting message on the need for dialogue and understanding among civilizations, cultures and religions -- a clear signal to all to commit to working together to prevent provocative or regrettable incidents, and to evolve better ways of promoting tolerance, respect for and freedom of religion and belief.  He said it would be important that the relevant organs of the Untied Nations, including the Human Rights Council, made positive contributions in that respect, and promoted a much needed dialogue on those important and sensitive issues.


He said that the draft recognized six decades of valuable work undertaken by the Commission on Human Rights, and its commendable record of establishing norms and setting standards.  It acknowledged the important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights, at the national, regional and international level, which the Commission had done so much to encourage.  The draft also responded to the criticisms of the Commission.  It included a number of innovative elements to make the Council a significant improvement on the Commission.  For example, the draft would replace the Commission with a Council, elevating its institutional standing to a subsidiary body of the General Assembly; increase the frequency of meetings; introduce the universal periodic review to assess each State’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations; incorporate the mainstreaming of human rights in the United Nations system and the prevention of human rights violations; distribute seats in accordance with equitable geographical distribution; and make Council members ineligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.


Also, members of the Council would be elected by an absolute majority of the members of the General Assembly, by secret ballot.  Member States, when electing Council members, would take into account the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto, prior to the election; the Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting, could suspend the rights of membership of a Council member who committed gross and systematic human rights violations; and Council members would be expected to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, fully cooperate with the Council and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership.


He said that the draft was a unique opportunity for a fresh start for human rights.  Its adoption would be the first step in a continued process.  The Council would be expected to assume, review and, where necessary, improve and rationalize all mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the Human Rights Council within one year of its first session.  Within the same time frame, it would also develop the modalities and necessary time allocation for the universal periodic review mechanism.  The Assembly would review the Council’s status within five years.  It would also review its work and functioning five years after its establishing and report thereon to the Assembly.


“Today, we stand ready to witness a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human rights,” he said.  By adopting the draft, a body would be established, which would be based on dialogue and cooperation, and would be principled, effective and fair, a body whose members would uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.  And, that body would advance the founding principles that were initiated by the Assembly, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Council’s establishment was a decision whose time had come.  Many had told him in recent days and weeks of the importance they attached to the prompt adoption of the text “as it is”.  He, therefore, proposed that the Assembly adopt the text of the draft resolution as a whole.  No one part could now be added or subtracted from it in isolation, without jeopardizing its balance, strength and workability.  It was a draft resolution whose sum was greater than its parts.  It was his hope that the Member States were now ready to adopt it in its entirety, in the interest of human rights.



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