United Nations Human Rights Council: While mechanisms are maintained, safeguards need strengthening

Press release

Paris, Geneva, 20 june 2007

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its first year of work on Monday, with the adoption of a package of institutional reforms. Though not fully satisfied with the results, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is particularly relieved that most of the human rights protection mechanisms created by the Human Rights Commission are maintained. FIDH had feared the curling of existing human rights mechanisms’ protection capacities. An offensive was indeed led by a group of States that were keen to avoid international scrutiny on their human rights record. Most of it was contained. FIDH nevertheless calls upon Member States of the Council to adopt an exemplary behavior towards its mechanisms so as to ensure their maximum efficiency.

FIDH welcomes the maintaining of the system of special procedures, a range of inquiry procedures on specific thematic or country situations. Numerous attempts to undermine their methods of work, contained in a draft "code of conduct" were by-passed in the end. Such attacks were aimed at weakening their capacities to intervene, to undertake field visits, and to make public statements to the media.

Moreover, in addition to the possibility of convening special sessions, the possibility of introducing resolutions and of setting-up specific country investigative procedures is maintained.

FIDH welcomes the establishment of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the main novelty of the institution building package. This mechanism will allow a review by the Council of all members of the UN. It could follow-up on the implementation of recommendations adopted by different experts and UN bodies, and make specific recommendations in this respect to the country examined. FIDH recognises in it a potential to strengthen the UN human rights protection system which, till now, remained mostly declaratory. Little if any action used to be envisaged following human rights violations identified by experts.

In spite of all this, FIDH deeply regrets the abolition of the independent investigative procedures on Belarus and Cuba, whereas the situation in both countries has not significantly improved.

Moreover while the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and their occupation itself remain seriously preoccupying and condemnable, FIDH deplores the permanent inclusion of the situation and its separate treatment on the agenda from other situations of grave and massive
human rights violations.

In addition, this reform package provides little safeguards against selectivity and arbitrariness:
While the new procedure of selection of mandate-holders of special procedures strengthens the criteria to guarantee their independence, it establishes an intergovernmental “Consultative Group” with a power to veto against candidates put forward by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
FIDH also regrets that members of the Council did not entrust the evaluation of countries within the UPR to a group of experts but to diplomats who are peers to States under review. Such peer-review bears the risk of the politicisation of the debates or of the choice of situations to be acted upon;
Finally, while the system of special procedures remains largely unchanged, the reform failed to create a corrective mechanism for States that refuse to cooperate with procedures.

Therefore, FIDH calls upon member States of the Human Rights Council to remedy these deficiencies by working in practice towards strengthening effective protection human rights mechanisms:
By appointing independent experts recognised for their work on human rights to represent their delegation within the framework of the working group on UPR;
By proposing to geographical groups the appointment of previous mandate-holders within the Consultative Group on the election of future mandate-holders. Former peers are indeed better placed to judge the quality of the candidates proposed;
By extending standing invitations to the special procedures requesting a country visit and by responding to letters of allegations that they address to them.

Finally, FIDH renews its call on Members of the General Assembly not to elect to the Council those States which do not cooperate with the international human rights mechanisms and procedures.

Read more