UNITED NATIONS: A second chance for all – the AHRC welcomes the establishment of the United Nations Human Rights Council

The first step on a new road towards the worldwide enjoyment of human rights and the protection of victims was taken yesterday, with the creation of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, following a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. This adoption, by a vote of 170 to four with three abstentions, underlines the universal ownership of human rights. The Asian Human Rights Commission welcomes this significant step and sincerely hopes that the body’s establishment will herald a new and positive era in the implementation of all human rights for all.

New impetus has been required for some time, with the soon to be abolished Commission on Human Rights having progressively lost credibility, notably due to the inclusion of some of the world’s worst human rights violators as its members and the lack of effective implementation of its recommendations. The Commission was established in 1946 and has played an important role in advancing the human rights debate and producing a framework of laws, standards and mechanisms. However, times have changed since the Commission’s inception. As was stated by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his address to the Commission in 2005, “the era of declaration is now giving way, as it should, to an era of implementation.”

The AHRC gives primacy to the implementation of human rights laws and standards and sees in the new 47-member Council an opportunity to bring about such greatly needed measures. Implementation requires moving from the discussion of human rights and establishment of standards to the concrete improvement of the situation of actual or potential victims, the protection of persons from violations and an end to the impunity that accompanies even the gravest abuses in many parts of the world, including in the majority of Asian countries. Such improvements regarding human rights benefit everyone; not only individual citizens, but the States themselves. The development and security of States and persons fundamentally require the protection and enjoyment of human rights.

The resolution establishing the Human Rights Council provides new standards and procedures for the election of members, notably through an absolute majority of at least 96 positive votes, which should allow grave violators of rights to be excluded from Council membership. The Commission has previously been greatly undermined by the membership of States seeking to protect themselves from criticism rather than uphold rights. States are urged to only elect members that express a clear commitment to human rights and have a record to back their claims. It is therefore essential that regional groups present a range of candidates at least thirty days prior to the elections, which are set for May 9, 2006, so that each candidate’s human rights record can be evaluated. The standards and credibility of the Council will be defined by those of its members.

In meeting more regularly than its predecessor, the Council enables the possibility of greater speed of reaction with regard to grave crises, as well as a more continuous monitoring of human rights throughout the world. Violations committed at any time, in any place, should now face greater scrutiny, with the Council also having the possibility of convening emergency sessions to address particular crises in a timely manner. Advances in technology and communications permit unprecedented amounts of up to date information to be available, making a more continual monitoring capacity for the central UN human rights body both logical and necessary.

Furthermore, the Council also comprises a system of universal review, under which all States will have their rights records examined. Recommendations stemming from this process must be followed. The success of the Council depends on the good will of its members to uphold the values and honour the commitments made at its inception. Member States must show real commitment to human rights and ensure full cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms. They must also pledge to address human rights situations elsewhere with objectivity. The implementation of recommendations and resolutions is an area in which great progress is needed – this should be a fundamental yard-stick with which States’ cooperation and good faith with regard to the Council should be measured.

The onus also lies upon civil society to ensure its effective participation in the new workings of the UN’s human rights mechanisms. The members of civil society have a continuing crucial role to play, notably given that the Council will continue with the practice of adopting country-specific resolutions. Non-governmental organisations must ensure that their participation in the proceedings and provision of information to the Council evolves to accommodate the newly available prospects. Such involvement is vital, both in terms of the existing special rapporteurs and other special procedures, which will be carried over to the Council, as well as in terms of involvement in the Council’s sessions. The Council is set to meet at least three times per year for a total of ten weeks, plus any additional emergency meetings. Civil society is presented with an opportunity to revitalise its activities in favour of human rights within the United Nations system.

The AHRC reiterates its support for the new Human Rights Council and urges all participants to ensure a successful new beginning, based on the shared and lofty ideals enshrined in human rights laws and standards, and to pursue the fundamental goal of the protection of all individuals’ human rights with renewed good faith.

Document Type : Statement
Countries : Asia,