Human Rights Commission concludes its work, hands over to new Council

27 March 2006

The much-criticized United Nations Human Rights Commission ended its last meeting today after adopting a resolution to transfer all its work to the recently created and stronger Human Rights Council, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting on 19 June in Geneva after the U.N. General Assembly votes on its members in May.

Addressing the 62nd and final session of the Commission, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the overwhelming General Assembly vote on 15 March to set up the 47-member Human Rights Council marked “a major stride forward” for the UN’s human rights system, although she said there was still much to do.

“While we can say for sure that the decision taken in New York was one of historical significance, its actual impact on people’s lives is still to be determined. Much will rest on the profound culture shift that must accompany this institutional reform,” Ms. Arbour said.

“The protection of human rights will thrive in a rigorous, frank and cooperative environment. Progress cannot be made in an atmosphere of distrust and disrespect and through the pursuit of narrow self-interest.”

Ms. Arbour went on to say that it was important for the new Council to “quickly find a way to deal with its substantive mandate,” adding that its credibility “requires quick action on matters of substance,” although she added that people should not forget some of the achievements of the 60 years of human rights work performed by the Commission.

In particular, she highlighted the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the Commission drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

However despite these successes, the Commission – which meets just yearly in Geneva – has come in for increasing criticism over the years as being ineffective and not accountable, and so the idea of the Council was put forward by Secretary-General Kofi Annan a year ago.

The Council has several elements making it a stronger body than the Commission, including its higher status as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, its increased number of meetings throughout the year, equitable geographical representation and also the voting rights associated with membership.

However despite these improvements, the United States has said that the Council does not go far enough and it was among the four that voted against setting up the body earlier this month, although the resolution was adopted by a vote of 170 in favour, with only 4 against and 3 abstentions.

Despite its ‘no’ vote however, Mr. Annan has said that US Ambassador John Bolton has pledged that Washington will work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as effective as possible.