Top UN human rights body set to open 2003 session in Geneva

Top UN human rights body set to open 2003 session in Geneva

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights is set to open its annual six-week session in Geneva, which, for the first time in the panel's near 60-year history, will include a High-Level segment where top government officials will debate key human rights concerns.

The Commission's fifty-ninth session will begin on17 March and run through 25 April. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is expected to open the four-day High-Level segment on Monday afternoon, and through Friday, heads of government and intergovernmental organizations, and other dignitaries will address the Commission on a range of important issues related to the protection and promotion of human rights.

Composed of representatives of 53 States, the Commission will consider its long-established themes, including economic, social and cultural rights; civil and political rights, including the questions of torture and detention, disappearances and summary executions, freedom of expression; and the human rights of women, children, migrant workers, minorities and displaced persons. Typically, more than 3,000 delegates from member and observer States and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participate.

Along with examining the work of its Sub-Commission and relevant treaty-monitoring bodies, the panel will consider the work of national human rights institutions and advisory services, as well as international efforts to ensure technical cooperation in the field of human rights. As is its traditional practice, the Commission will take up the reports of its various individual experts and thematic Special Rapporteurs who examine specific issues or country situations.

Those discussions will be highlighted this year by the first report of the Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Another highlight will be the first report of the newly created Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which aims to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora.

The Commission is also set to tackle a number of issues and questions carried over from its last session, including a further review of its working methods. The panel will likely discuss ways to ensure - under new meeting allotment and resource guidelines in place throughout the UN - to allocate time for experts to adequately address their areas of specific interest, and also allow it to maintain and strengthen the very special and privileged relationship it has developed with civil society.

The worsening human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories dominated the discussions in Geneva last year - in terms of general and special debates, as well as in resolutions and decisions adopted. The Commission will look at this situation again this year, and examine other emerging issues such as access to medication in the context of pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, and the situation of Muslim and Arab peoples in various parts of the world in the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001.