May 25

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Human Rights Council – Beginnings and Outcomes

History of the United Nations (Deactivated) Human Rights Committee:

Human Rights Committee is the highest human rights body in the world. It is the leading body in charge of policymaking in the realm of human rights within the United Nations. Established in 1946, it took over investigating human rights violations, checking individual protests implying being victims of anti-human-rights actions, originating new human-rights-related norms through declarations and conventions, and providing support and consultation services to nations that need help in protecting human rights. After establishment, its first task was to formulate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved in 1948, as its greatest achievement and a turning point in the history of human rights.

The Committee first had had 18 member states, a number that increased several times until it reached as many as 53 states. Members are elected for a term of three years based on geographical site. The Human Rights Committee holds one annual six-week meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, from mid-March to late April. That meeting is the biggest annual gathering of major and minor countries, governmental and nongovernmental organization, as well as human rights advocates from every continent of the world. Every year, over the 6 week period, about 3,000 participants attend that forum. The Committee addresses the conditions of human rights everywhere in the world, and examines information received from states, nongovernmental organizations, and other resources.

During its periodical session, the Committee makes resolutions and gives a presidential statement inviting concerned governments to take tangible actions, creating work groups to develop a new convention or international treaty, or specifying an official worker to look at certain issue or nation. The network of special officials, experts and representatives, assigned personally by the Committee to voluntarily and part-time help in its work throughout the year by studying some case or nation, all are called special procedures.

Overview on the Main Problems of Human Rights Committee:

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is highly criticized for inadequate performance, lacking credibility, and inability to cope with real challenges faced today by the world in the field of human rights. Criticisms come from every member and nonmember state, nongovernmental organizations, and even the diplomats of the United Nations itself. They are arisen by both developed and less-developed countries. The primary shortcomings of the Committee that caused its current problems can be briefly summarized in the following points:

  • Membership

The Committee includes as its members some of the worst governments all over the world in relation to respecting human rights domestically. Those states worked hard to have permanent membership of the Committee for them to enjoy the right to vote, which guarantees them protection against censure. Thereupon, membership of the Committee has turned from a group representing most of the United Nations member states with the purpose of defending and promoting human rights by utilizing the Committee’s procedures into being a list of governments solely concerned with protecting themselves from any type of supervision over their human rights agendas, hindering any discussion of the most important and serious issues of human rights, and disempowering the Committee to prevent violations from taking place or to effectively stop them after they are committed. It is relevant to mention that the Human Rights Committee has a procedure that is usually called ‘naming and shaming’. Although the Committee’s resolutions are political ones that have no legal obligation and consequently no specific enforcement procedure, the image of a state censured by the Human Rights Committee’s annual meeting is largely affected.

  • Political Prejudice, Selectivity and Inequality

Among the results of the Committee’s membership complication is that political considerations began to prevail most of the Committee’s proceedings and resolutions, leaving little concern for the values of human rights, and giving second priority to protecting victims of severe violations to human rights. Therefore, those states whose practices are under tight check are only the minor states which do not have geopolitical power enough to negotiate with other members into overlooking its actions. It has become usual that the Committee fails for several years to approve or pass resolutions concerning human rights. Also, it is no longer surprising that some states use procedural tricks to stop discussions about the most substantial issues of human rights. Criteria by which a state is supervised or censured differ not by the state’s list of violations, but by its weight and power.

  • Inefficiency:

In addition to the abovementioned problems, the Human Rights Committee suffers from structural problems that reduce its effectiveness in dealing with challenges facing it. One real problem was the limited time it had. Assembling only once a year, the Committee had to discuss in the period of 6 weeks an increasingly huge number of human rights issues scheduled for discussions. As a result, the time available for each of these important issues is never enough to make a serious, extensive discussion about them. Moreover, being absent all through the year except for 6 weeks in March and April, the Committee cannot respond to emergencies that may occur while it is unassembled and need its immediate intervention.

The Committee gathers information and handles claims about violations over the year via independent experts named by the Committee to voluntarily contribute to its efforts beside their basic duties in their states. Financing the experts’ activities and providing academic and human support to them is done by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Commissioner, however, has severe inefficiency of financial resources, which reduces its ability to support the experts. Financial shortfall impairs procedures of keeping track of that the recommendations given by the independent experts are implemented by the states. Reports, meetings and activities which the Human Rights Committee asks the High Commissioner to prepare and finance are also a heavy burden on the (already limited) budget of the High Commissioner, which is less than 2 percent of the United Nations budget, despite the weight given to human rights in the United Nations Charter.

Those chronic problems and increasing criticisms directed to the Committee every year caused a loss of trust, which sabotage the credibility of the Committee. Everyone realized that the situation can no longer go this way. Various parties introduced different proposals to reform and modify the status of the Committee. These efforts resulted in the inactivation of the Human Rights Committee, which was replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2006, pursuing resolution A/RES/60/251 approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006.

Negative Attitudes Towards Reform

  • Combat Against Protective and Monitoring Functions of the Human Rights Council:

As protecting human rights against violation and implementing vows taken by the world states relating to human rights are becoming of first priority for human rights efforts, after achievements of the second half of the twentieth century in standardizing and formulating human rights as conventions imposing legal obligations on the signing states, there have been naturally several parties which have concerns about such a new trend that moves human rights from moral promises and made-up conventions to protection and securing help. Those groups take the establishment of the recent Council as an act of confirming that concern-arising approach. So they try to give the council the same role as that of the previous Human Rights Committee, to disable the Council’s work, to prevent it from undertaking protective and supervisory functions, and to limit its role to publishing values of human rights, providing technical assistance and making formal deliberations on human rights issues without addressing the reality. Therefore, the important international body would have no power to check for or prevent human rights violations.

  • Attempts to Restrain Participation of Nongovernmental Organizations:

Nongovernmental organizations interested in human rights have a constructive role to play in protecting human rights, discovering violations and enforcing international human rights conventions. They also have a substantial role of enhancing the human rights system in the United Nations and launching the Human Rights Council.

Many parties strive to get rid of the disturbance made by independent human rights organizations, preferring that less-independent entities participate in the Council’s sessions.

In Focus

Criticisms have been directed to the new Council. For some, the beginning was humble. They show concern that political conditions and international relationships may affect negatively the Council and its resolutions. They are anxious that the Council may be turned to a “Wise Council” that holds discussions and produces recommendations with no guarantees for putting them into effect. Also, they maintain, if the current changes are just superficial, insubstantial ones, then chances are that the whole human rights system is truly liable to a relapse. On the other hand, some points of view expect the Council to reinforce its power and to stand for hopes pinned on them.


Information are derived from several sources on the Web: BBC, SWISS INFO, UN, AMNESTY


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