12 March 2007 The Human Rights Council opened its fourth session in Geneva today, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressing that the “world is watching” to see if the new body, which was set up last year to replace the much-criticized Human Rights Commission, will live up to expectations.
“By your first anniversary in June, the wheels of the Council should be in full motion, including the Universal Periodic Review. This mechanism has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world,” Mr. Ban said in a video message to the 47 members.
“Once the Review is in place, you will be able to examine the record and performance of all countries, on all human rights, at regular intervals,” he said.
“Now, the world is watching to see whether this young Council will live up to its promise. It is my hope that Council members will work together to promote an objective and universal approach to human rights.”
Mr. Ban acknowledged that in the weeks and months ahead, the Council’s determination “will be put to the test time and time again,” warning that acute crises and long-simmering human rights issues will demand scrutiny and remedy, and adding that it was crucial to have the components in place to pass those tests.
He also highlighted the important role of independent experts to the work of the Council, as well as civil society and other international human rights machinery, and stressed the need to “ensure that all States open their doors to all of them.”
“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action. That is the essence of your mandate. That is ultimately how you will be judged. I wish you strength and inspiration in that mission,” Mr. Ban concluded.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also addressed the opening session, as did Council President Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, along with 16 other speakers.
Ms. Arbour said poverty and discrimination were both the causes and the consequences of the most egregious violations of human rights and attacks on human dignity, while also stressing that armed conflict, whether internal or international, inevitably increased the threats to life and the vulnerability of civilians.
In his remarks, the Council President said that while significant progress had been made in building the body’s institutions, more remained to be done concerning what the new system would mean for the protection and promotion of human rights in the world. He called for a constructive spirit in negotiations to overcome differences and avoid polarization.
This latest Council session will last until 30 March.