Monday, March 20, 2006

The Human Rights Council

A post from a guest blogger: Georg Sommeregger. The author is currently working as Human rights advisor at the Austrian permant mission to the United Nations in Geneva. All opinions expressed are of the author in his private capacity only"

"Pax vobis,

This is a short message to draw your attention to an exciting development in the international human rights field currently on-going at United Nations level in New York and Geneva.

Last Wednesday, March 15, 11am New Yorker and 17pm Geneva time, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted and adopted by 170 votes in favour and four against Resolution A/60/L.48 establishing the Human Rights Council. This new body was created in order to replace the 60 year old Commission on Human Rights, which had been under heavy criticism in the last years.

This vote, immediately qualified as historic, was the culminating point of a months-long series of negotiations for the establishment of this new organ. Negotiations were tough and until the last day it looked as if the United States would stick to their negative evaluation of the draft resolution proposed on 23 Feb by General Assembly President Eliasson (Sweden). The EU had struggled but managed to find a common, positive position on the draft. Because of the US opposition, personified by US Ambassador to the UN, M. Bolton, it was not sure whether President Eliasson would proceed to a vote on the resolution at all. So the last three weeks were intense diplomatic efforts to make the US shift position. In the end, United States still voted no, but declared their readiness to cooperate and participate in the workings of the new Council. As A. Clapham framed it in a first reaction, this can be seen as a "soft no" (in contrast e.g. to the US position on the International Criminal Court).

The proceedings in New York, from December through to March, had of course an impact on the preparations and actual form of the planned 62nd session of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), scheduled to start in Geneva on March 13, for six weeks. It was common opinion that the creation of the Human Rights Council (HRC) would take away the reason for having a substantial six-weeks long CHR, and only make a procedural session necessary, in which most importantly transfer of mandate would be taken care of. (There is different opinions on that, to this later). This seems to be the state we are at now.

Last Monday, the CHR opened with its shortest convention in history: after a three minutes statement by Chair Rodríguez Cuadros (Perou), the Armenian ambassador introduced rule 48 of the rules of procedures suspending the session for one week. This modus operandi had been agreed on in the days before (Cuba needed to be lengthily convinced that it does not introduce any other procedural step in opposition to that), and after 7 minutes the session was over.

Today, Monday 20, the session will resume.

As to the new HRC: negotiations as to who will be the new members, and how the rules of procedures are going to be, are starting as of now, the first session of the Council to be foreseen for June of this year already. Election of members is scheduled for May.

Here are some links which can fuel other debate - I hope we will have one!

Presse on the vote of March 15.

Info on the human rights council.

Current Commission on Human Rights.


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