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UN: Time to Act

23 February 2006

UN: Time to Act - Adopt draft resolution on Human Rights Council without delay

Amnesty International calls on all governments to adopt without delay the draft resolution on the Human Rights Council presented today by the President of the General Assembly as the first concrete step in meeting the 2005 World Summit’s commitment to strengthen the United Nations' Human Rights machinery.

"This is an historic opportunity that governments must not squander for selfish political interests. It is time for those that have imposed so many tawdry compromises to allow the General Assembly to establish the Human Rights Council", said Yvonne Terlingen. "Still, this is only a first step. Governments must now show the political will to make the Council an effective human rights body," said Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International's UN representative.

"The Council to be established by the resolution will be weaker than hoped, because of many governments' failures to follow through on their stated commitment to human rights. While the President’s text provides a sound basis on which to create a better body than the Commission on Human Rights, it must not be diluted further."

The draft resolution released today will establish a Council with a clear mandate to address all human rights situations, a more frequent meeting schedule that allows it to react more effectively to both chronic and urgent situations, and a new universal review mechanism to ensure that all countries' human rights records are addressed periodically.

Moreover, the resolution establishes an election procedure, which if taken seriously by UN member states, can give the Council a membership much more committed to the promotion and protection of human rights than the Commission on Human Rights in recent years. The text also preserves key strengths of the Commission, including its unique system of independent experts known as "Special Procedures" and its practices of NGO participation.

Following the adoption of the resolution, the first priority of the international community should be to elect a Council membership committed to upholding the highest human rights standards.

Background

The Human Rights Council will retain a strong basic mandate to address all human rights situations, including gross and systematic violations. Its key features, proposed by the President of the General Assembly are:

more regular meetings (at least three per year), greater capacity to convene in special sessions (with support of 1/3rd of the membership), and more meeting time (at least ten instead of six weeks): this will allow the Council to react promptly to human rights crises and to tackle situations of gross or chronic violations in a more timely and nuanced way; improved membership selection procedures:

Council members are to be elected directly in secret ballots by an absolute majority of the General Assembly taking into account each candidate country's human rights record and pledges. Moreover, all members are required to uphold the highest human rights standards, cooperate fully with the Council and have their human rights record reviewed by the Council during their term of membership.

To help ensure improved membership, Amnesty International argued that there should be no regional "clean slates", or that Council members be elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly and that candidacies should be announced thirty days before elections, but these provisions were not included; a system of universal periodic review of implementation of human rights obligations and commitments to be established within one year that, for the first time, will apply to all countries, regardless of their power or human rights record.

This promises to answer the accusations of selectivity and double-standards that did so much to undermine the credibility of the Commission on Human Rights.

Governments must now make the periodic review operational without delay if they are to avoid exposing the Council to the same criticisms; retention of the system of independent experts called "Special Procedures" and the unique arrangements and practices applied by the Commission on Human Rights for NGOs that have been essential for the Commission on Human Rights' successes; broader membership:

contrary to the Commission on Human Rights where some countries, notably the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council, had a de facto permanent seat, the Council's members will be drawn from a broader membership as all Member States may serve no longer than 6 consecutive years; an acknowledged role for the Council in the prevention of human rights violations.

While the resolution emphasizes dialogue and cooperation, the Council will have the capacity to speak out when the seriousness or urgency of a human rights situation requires it; Amnesty International regrets that the Human Rights Council is not created as a principal organ of the United Nations, but welcomes the provision that will allow the General Assembly to review the Council’s status within five years. This review should lead to the elevation of the Council to a principal organ of the United Nations thereby according the Council a place that matches the importance of human rights in the UN Charter as one of the three pillars of the United Nations.

Amnesty International had also wished to see the Council created as a standing body with more regular - monthly - meetings throughout the year rather than the three provided expressly in the text. It, however, welcomes provisions in the President’s text which allow the Council to expand the number of its meetings as the work of the Council develops.

ALL AI Documents on UN: http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maaewN7abox70bb0hPub/

ENDS

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