Outgoing UN rights chief hails progress in new system of scrutinizing States

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

2 June 2008 – The top United Nations human rights official has praised the progress made so far in the new system of examining the performance of the world body’s 192 Member States, as she delivered her final address in the post to the Human Rights Council today.

Louise Arbour, who is set to conclude her four-year term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 30 June, said the new reporting system, known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), “could provide a vehicle for scrutiny of the implementation of rights and norms beyond anything ever attempted by the Commission on Human Rights.”

The UPR is one of the reforms which differentiate the Geneva-based Council – which opened its eighth session today – from the Commission on Human Rights, which it succeeded in 2006. Under the Review’s work plans, 48 countries will be reviewed each year, so that all 192 UN Member States will be reviewed once every four years. The Council examined the first batch of countries in April.

“The constructive participation of all States under review has already made absolutely clear that consideration of human rights at the national level is no longer regarded as a taboo,” Ms. Arbour said. At the same time, she added that it will take “two whole cycles of reviews… before we can fully measure the added value and real impact of the UPR.”

In a wide-ranging speech to the 47-member body, Ms. Arbour also urged States to stop the “pursuit of narrow parochial political agendas,” which she said is the “greatest impediment” to the realization of human rights.

The High Commissioner also noted improvements in the system of “special procedures” – independent rights experts known as Special Rapporteurs, with mandates ranging from torture to housing – and urged the Council to continue its support “to further strengthen this system as a crucial tool in the promotion and protection of all human rights.”

The reform of the human rights machinery, she said, “represents the most tangible achievement in the institutional renewal process of the United Nations system. By comparison, other innovative proposals, such as the creation of a more representative Security Council, still languish in the ‘to do’ folder of reform-minded advocates.”

While lauding the advances, she also highlighted the continuing need to address a number of issues, including intolerance and discrimination against women, migrants and minorities. In addition, she called for new mechanisms to strengthen the system designed to prevent and punish genocide, “the worst crime generated by discrimination and intolerance.”

Ms. Arbour’s successor, who will be chosen by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after consultation with Member States, has not yet been named.


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