Blueprint for new, more effective UN human rights body unveiled

Jan Eliasson

23 February 2006 – Seeking to dramatically bolster the protection of human rights around the world, the President of the United Nations General Assembly today unveiled the draft blueprint for a new Human Rights Council with higher status and greater accountability than the much-criticized Commission on Human Rights that meets yearly in Geneva.

“While we will build on the positive achievements and best practices of the Commission, some of the elements we are considering will make the Human Rights Council a truly new and different body – a fresh start,” Jan Eliasson of Sweden said in introducing the draft resolution for the body, which was called for by world leaders at the September 2005 summit in New York.

According to Mr. Eliasson, a major improvement of the proposed Council is the requirement that its members, elected individually by the Assembly, would be judged on their human rights records with the proviso that they can be suspended if they themselves commit gross and systematic violations.

“We were looking for something that would show muscle in cases of gross violations,” he said of this provision at a UN Headquarters press conference, after his introduction of the draft. He expressed hope that this provision, in particular, would be approved and used wisely by Assembly Members.

Mr. Eliasson also said that the new Council would have a higher standing as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, would meet year round as opposed to the six-week annual session of the Commission, and conduct a “universal, periodic review” of all States’ adherence to human rights norms, starting by scrutinizing its members.

In addition, Mr. Eliasson said that the latest text took heed of the violence over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by including a preambular paragraph on the need for dialogue and understanding among civilizations, cultures and religions.

Praising the proposed body, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “Its ability to meet throughout the year, and when necessary for longer than the Commission has done, will allow the Council to sound the alarm and bring urgent human rights crises to the attention of the world community.”

At the same time, Mr. Annan said, “the Council will preserve the best features of the Commission, including the use of independent rapporteurs and the opportunity for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to play their essential role in the Organization’s human rights work.”

He stressed that the President’s text is the product of many months’ efforts to reach consensus, and that while no delegation will get everything it wants – indeed, Mr. Annan himself said he would have preferred States be elected by a two-thirds majority – the Council could be a basis for a more effective base for human rights protection.

A decision on the proposal could come as early as next week, according to Mr. Eliasson. Mr. Annan urged Member States to quickly approve the latest draft.

“But that will be only the first step in a process of change and renewal,” he cautioned. “No technical fix can make all the difference.”

“Indeed, how different the Council is from the Commission will depend in large part on how committed Member States are to make it better, and how they act on that commitment in the weeks and months ahead,” he concluded.

Video of press briefing [46 mins]

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