The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward an appeal received from Amnesty International regarding the draft decision by some governments to remove UN Special Procedure mandate holders in the UN Human Rights Council. Please immediately send a letter to your foreign minister to oppose the draft. For further queries, please contact Tania Baldwin-Pask (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Amnesty International.
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
This is a request for urgent action to mobilize against efforts in the Human Rights Council to remove some of the current Special Procedure mandate-holders and to weaken the Special Procedures system.
Yesterday, a draft decision was tabled by India and the Russian Federation, supported by Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), Singapore and Sri Lanka, which would enable the Human Rights Council to remove a thematic mandate-holder after his or her first term of three years by including the post in the list of vacancies for appointment. The draft decision, L.15 is available via the OHCHR extranet, and reads as follows:
“The Human Rights Council,
Decides to include in the list of vacancies for appointment of Special Procedures Mandate Holders in accordance with the procedure established in HRC resolution 5/1, those thematic mandates in respect of whom the current mandate holder has completed his/her first term of three years”.
If adopted by the Human Rights Council, this decision would mean that mandate-holders – including some current incumbents like the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak – could be removed from their positions by the Council now, having served only one term. The custom and practice of the former Commission on Human Rights was always that mandate-holders served two terms of 3 years each. During the negotiations on the review of the Special Procedures which took place during 2006-7, no state ever raised the question of whether mandate-holders positions should be open to appointment after a single term. In addition, the removal of a mandate-holder before he or she had completed their six year term for reasons other than of their own choosing is unprecedented since the first mandates were created 40 years ago, and would set the Special Procedures, and the Human Rights Council, on a dangerous course.
Review, rationalization and improvement of mandates
This initiative follows the process of review, rationalization and improvement of each of the Special Procedures mandates, as foreseen in the institution-building package which was adopted by the Human Rights Council last year through resolution 5/1.The review, rationalization and improvement process was to focus on the scope, relevance and contents of mandates. Attached to that resolution, and following intense and often difficult negotiations, was a Code of Conduct for the Special Procedures (5/2) which defines the professional standards expected of mandate-holders. Since September 2007, most mandates have been through the review process and, with few exceptions, this has been relatively smooth.
Last week, however, the Council undertook a review of the remaining 8 mandates, including the Special Rapporteurs on Extra Judicial Executions (EJEs) and the Special Rapporteur on torture. In the course of the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on EJEs, a number of states (notably India, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Russian Federation) launched fierce attacks on the mandate-holder, accusing him of failing to abide by the Code of Conduct, of acting beyond the terms of his mandate and of bias. In particular, he was criticized for questioning the lack of cooperation by states who have failed to facilitate his request to carry out on-site missions. The Special Rapporteur on torture also came under fire from Indonesia and the Russian Federation, facing similar charges. Subsequently, and in the context of negotiations on the renewal of the mandate on EJEs, it became clear that while governments supported the continuation of the mandate they did not support the continuation in the post of Prof Alston. India took the initiative to seek to insert a paragraph calling for the appointment of a new mandate-holder. This language is now off the table, but has been superceded by the draft decision which has much wider application and would enable states to challenge other mandate-holders from continuing in post.
The draft decision fails to make reference to the Code of Conduct, or indeed any other process by which a mandate-holder’s performance would be examined. It would enable states to decide that they simply did not like a particular mandate-holder and could appointment someone else. Having negotiated a Code of Conduct, and according to any standard of due process, if a state has an allegation of serious misconduct, it must follow a process to substantiate that allegation and evaluated by an independent entity. It would be the responsibility of that entity to advise the Council, and for the Council to decide what action should be taken once the nature of the misconduct has been ascertained.
In addition, the draft decision would jeopardize the independence of the Special Procedures system, by ensuring that mandate-holders were under political pressure from states at the time that their mandate could be renewed. The mandate-holders would then all become subject to political ping-pong in the Council, as states go after each other’s favoured mandate-holder or mandate.
Take action NOW!
The Council finishes its 8th session next Wednesday, 18 June. It is therefore imperative that we mobilize NOW as negotiations are reaching a climax. Please cut and paste the text below and send to your foreign minister:
I am very concerned to learn of a draft decision which was tabled at the Human Rights Council on 12 June 2008 (L.15) by the governments of India and the Russian Federation. If passed, this decision will result in the inclusion in the list of vacancies for appointment of Special Procedures mandate holders the thematic mandates where the mandate-holder has completed his or her first term of three years. I urge the Government of [ ] not to support this decision.
The review of the Special Procedures mandates, which began in September 2007 and continued at the current 8th session of the Council last week, has demonstrated broad support for the renewal of the vast majority of mandates. However, in the last few days, a number of states have used the opportunity of the review to criticize the performance of some mandate-holders. The Council has adopted a Code of Conduct to establish professional standards for mandate-holders. If there is misconduct in the execution of a mandate, it should be addressed using the established procedures for the application of the Code of Conduct and with due process.
The implications of the draft decision which has now been tabled will reach far beyond a single mandate, with mandate-holders becoming the focus of negotiation. This would, among other things, put the mandate-holders at risk of undue political pressure by states, pressure that can only be detrimental to their capacity to carry out their functions in an independent and impartial manner while in office. It would also act as a disincentive for mandate-holders from developing and carrying out anything but short-term plans in their respective areas of work. It would seriously undermine the capacity of mandate-holders to fulfil effectively their mandates given by the Council.
I urge the Government of [ ] to review the mandates of the Special Procedures in accordance with agreed procedures, and to take action to ensure that mandate-holders who have completed only three years of their tenure are not removed from office.
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)
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