19 June 2007 The United Nations Human Rights Council wrapped up its fifth session today by agreeing to a package of new measures that includes how the “universal periodic review” mechanism – which allows the human rights records of every country to be scrutinized – will work.
After marathon discussions ending late on Monday night, the Council agreed that each year 48 nations, comprising a mixture of Council members and observer States, will be reviewed to assess whether they have fulfilled their human rights obligations. Members serving one or two-year terms will be among the first to be evaluated.
These evaluations will not only involve input from the individual governments under review, but also will include contributions from treaty bodies, special procedures and other relevant organizations, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The Council also made decisions regarding its special procedures system, or the mechanisms, from rapporteurs and experts to working groups, which the Council can use to explore either specific country situations or thematic issues.
The Special Rapporteurs will be reviewed and will continue to report the Council. To improve the performance of the special procedures, the Council determined by consensus to retain 39 of the 41 mandates the body previously had, dropping the mandates to scrutinize Belarus and Cuba. A new item – “human rights situations that require the Council’s attention” – was also added to the Council agenda.
The Council’s outgoing President Luis Alfonso de Alba praised the results of the lengthy negotiations among the body’s 47 members before today’s decision.
“They lived up to the challenges that they were facing and they went to a final agreement on the institution building which is going to be a decision with historical dimensions, because it is the beginning of a new era for the United Nations and a new culture in dealing with human rights.”
He described the Universal Periodic Review mechanism as “a tool that will be, because of its dimension and because of its universal… character, what can make a difference in the way we deal with human rights with each other.”
Mr. de Alba added that the introduction of a new mandate on “human rights situations that require the Council’s attention” meant that if any Member State wished to focus on a particular issue on which different views existed, then it was possible to examine that topic closely.
Doru Romulus Costea of Romania, who assumed the role of Council President today, said the body would be judged by its willingness and ability to transform ideas into real action for the benefit of victims of human rights abuses all over the world.
“Let us have no illusions,” he said. “We may adopt good decisions, but are they enough to change the situation of the women, children and men, young and old, who have their rights violated, who are victims of abuses, whose voices are not heard, nor heeded by those who were called to protect them in their countries?”
The Council was established last year to replace the much-criticized Commission on Human Rights.