|UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
June 19-30, 2006
Palais des Nations
Joint written statement submitted by the Commission of the Churches
on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (CCIA/WCC)
and Franciscans International (FI), non-governmental organizations
in general consultative status, and the Lutheran World Federation
(LWF), DOMINICANS FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, and Pax
Christi International, non-governmental organizations in special
A new era in the promotion and
protection of human rights?
From the experience and perspective of the churches, it has long
been clear that peace, development and human rights are inseparably
inter-connected foundations for the promotion of the God-given human
dignity of every individual, and for the wellbeing of the communities
in which we all live. The recognition of human rights as one of
the main pillars of the United Nation - alongside security and development
- accords well with this experience and perspective. The co-sponsors
of this statement therefore welcome the establishment of the Human
Rights Council as an organ within the UN system with the status
and authority to reflect this priority.
The Commission on Human Rights, though now almost universally vilified,
made contributions to the struggle for human rights the significance
of which is now too easily forgotten or understated. The Commission’s
formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of
many other foundational instruments of international human rights
law was a true landmark in the development not only of international
law, but also of the very nature of human societies and politics.
The idea that legal tools and systems could be created to hold governments
accountable for the basic preconditions for human dignity was, and
remains, an inspired and courageous innovation in national and global
The Commission ultimately proved itself (despite recent impressions
to the contrary) to be creative and adaptable in responding to the
voices of victims of human rights violations. Although always hobbled
by the prevailing international political environment, the Commission
exceeded the vision and expectations of its founders by creating
a system of “special procedures” to monitor, report
and make recommendations on specific human rights issues and situations.
Moreover, the Commission and its subsidiary bodies established practices
with regard to the participation of non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) that now provide models of best practice in UN-civil society
Of course, what the Commission was able to achieve in terms of
practical implementation of the standards it had worked to create
was, by common consensus, too little and often too late. An increased
focus on effective implementation of these standards is not only
desirable, but essential. On paper, the Human Rights Council may
have some additional potential in this regard. Whether it realizes
this potential will be judged by the extent to which it actually
increases the chances for life in dignity and in sustainable communities
for people suffering discrimination, deprivation, oppression and
The system of special procedures established by the Commission
on Human Rights has become a key vehicle for promoting the implementation
of international human rights standards. General Assembly resolution
60/251, operational paragraph 6, appropriately identifies “a
system of special procedures” as the first aspect of the acquis
inherited from the Commission on Human Rights to be maintained by
the Council. The co-sponsors of this statement wish to underline
their support for a strong, independent and adequately resourced
system of special procedures. The special procedures brought the
work of the Commission on Human Rights closest to the grassroots,
and - together with NGOs participating in the Commission’s
sessions - brought the grassroots most directly into the deliberations
of the Commission. However, the Commission failed to adequately
respect its own special procedures, and did not provide either sufficient
resources for the mandates or sufficient time for the proper consideration
of their reports and recommendations. Those shortcomings must be
addressed by the Council in its review of the system of special
procedures it has inherited. Steps had been taken by the Commission
towards improved consideration of the reports of special procedures,
through the vehicle of “interactive dialogue”. This
approach should be further enhanced by the Council, including by
providing for NGO inputs in such dialogues.
We hope that during its first session the Council will extend for
at least one year all of the mandates inherited from the Commission,
in order to avoid “protection gaps” and procedural lapses
during the review period. In will also be important for the Council
to consider and act upon the pending reports of the Commission’s
five intergovernmental working groups, and to adopt the draft international
convention on enforced disappearances and also the draft declaration
on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. This would bring to a successful
conclusion the pending standard-setting initiatives of the Commission,
and give an early and clear sign of the Councilís commitment
to the effective advancement of human rights around the world.
The introduction of a “universal periodic review” process
promises to eliminate any valid complaints of “selectivity”
and therefore it is a welcome innovation. On the one hand, it is
important for the credibility and efficacy of this process that
it be more than a superficial token of a review. On the other hand,
the process must not overwhelm the Council’s time and capacity.
Accordingly modalities should be established whereby as much as
possible of the preparation for and follow-up of reviews pursuant
to this process be undertaken by a subsidiary body or bodies, ideally
composed of independent experts. The direct role of the Human Rights
Council should be focused on the adoption of recommendations prepared
for the Council’s consideration by such subsidiary body/ies.
Clearly, relevant recommendations/observations by special procedures
and treaty bodies should provide part of the basis for such reviews.
Provision should also be made for NGOs to contribute to the review
process. In addition, the implementation of voluntary pledges and
commitments made by countries in the context of elections to the
Human Rights Council could provide a useful basis for review, regardless
of whether the country concerned was elected.
The practice of making voluntary pledges and commitments was universally
adopted by candidate countries during the first election to the
Human Rights Council. We welcome the establishment of this precedent,
which bodes well for the culture of the new body and the accountability
of its members. We hope that it will continue to be universally
followed in all future elections to the Council. The election process
itself has created a new dynamic of accountability, through the
separate and individual election of each member of the Council.
We are more optimistic, in the light of these developments, about
the emergence of a new and more positive culture in this new body.
We commit ourselves to working with the new Human Rights Council
as a key international instrument for the promotion of justice and
human dignity. We expect that the Human Rights Council will reciprocate
this commitment, and offer a truly open space for NGOs and for the
voices of the victims of human rights violations, the poorest and
the most vulnerable. The Commission had established important precedents
through its practices with regard to NGO participation. These practices
and the formal arrangements on which they are based set a baseline
that we hope that Human Rights Council will surpass.
In conclusion, we pray that the first session of the Human Rights
Council will indeed usher in a new era in the promotion and protection
of human rights, which builds on the achievements of the past and
addresses past failings. We pray that the driving force in the Human
Rights Council will be people, not politics and its chief and genuine
objective respect for the inherent human dignity of all.
Dominicans for Justice and Peace, who joined other
faith-based groups in this statement, said that they hope that the
new body will "usher in a new era in the promotion and protection
of human rights, which builds on the achievements of the past and
addresses past failings."
The former Human Rights Commission of the United Nations has been
replaced with a newly formed entity: the UN Human Rights
The criticism of the old system was well deserved, in
that efforts at relieving crisis situations were ineffective and member
nations included blatant offender nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Remaking the former Human Rights Commission was one of the
major reforms the United States has been pushing for the United
Nations, but U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States
"did not have sufficient confidence to say ... the Human Rights
Council will be better than its predecessor."
Despite its no vote, Bolton said, the United States would work
to support the new body.
Unlike its predecessor, the Human Rights Council will have fewer
members. They must be elected by direct vote and can be suspended
for human rights violations.
There is a mixed optimism that the new body will avoid previous
problems and find new credibility in the fight for meaningful advocacy
of justice and human rights around the world.