New, strengthened UN Human Rights Council holds first session on Monday

15 June 2006

United Nations efforts to promote and protect fundamental freedoms around the world gain added momentum next Monday with the formal inauguration in Geneva of the new, strengthened Human Rights Council to replace the much-criticized UN Human Rights Commission, seen by many as ineffective.

United Nations efforts to promote and protect fundamental freedoms around the world gain added momentum next Monday with the formal inauguration in Geneva of the new, strengthened Human Rights Council to replace the much-criticized UN Human Rights Commission, seen by many as ineffective.

Both Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called for the new body last year in his landmark report on reform In Larger Freedom, and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who oversaw the intense negotiations that led to its creation in March, are expected to attend the opening ceremony.

This inaugural session, set to last until 30 June, will bring together high-level representatives from over 100 countries and see delegates begin concrete work to allow the Council to flesh out the features that make it a stronger and more effective human rights body than its predecessor.

These features include its higher status as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, its increased number of meetings throughout the year, equitable geographical representation, and an examination of the human rights records of its own members.

However despite these improvements, the United States has said that the 47-member Council does not go far enough and it was among the four that voted against setting it up in March, although the General Assembly resolution was adopted by a vote of 170 in favour, with only 4 against and 3 abstentions.

Among US objections was the election process in which only a simple majority is required to become a Council member, instead of the two-thirds vote which Mr. Annan himself had also recommended.

Despite its ‘no’ vote, however, Mr. Annan has welcomed US pledges to work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as effective as possible.

“I am confident that the Council will open a new chapter in the history of the UN’s work to promote and protect human rights, and I urge everyone to join in the effort to make that happen,” Mr. Annan said ahead of Monday’s session.

Mr. Eliasson noted that the Council’s creation showed that Member States can overcome differences and deliver outcomes relevant to the people of the world. “I expect the members of the Council to address the challenges before them with the same constructive spirit and commitment. We must show the world that the Council means a fresh start in the United Nations’ work for human rights,” he said.

At this session and over the coming year, the Council will tackle a heavy workload, including establishing the format of the universal periodic review, the groundbreaking mechanism that will allow it to scrutinize the human rights records of all countries.

It will also set in motion the process of reviewing all mandates and responsibilities of the previous Commission on Human Rights and defining other aspects of the Council’s work, such as the system of special procedures, encompassing over 40 independent experts and groups who investigate issues relating to civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights or monitor the situation in specific countries.

 

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