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.”
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.