Ten years after the UN Human Rights Council was created under the promise of reform, frivolous resolutions by dictatorships at the March session—and efforts to stymie any attempts at positive action—shows that little has changed.
Even a mild suggestion for improving efficiency was immediately shot down by governments seeking not to promote human rights, but to undermine them.
Speaking shortly before the month-long meeting, council president Choi Kyong-lim noted the “need to improve the working methods of the Human Rights Council [and the Universal Periodic Review system], within the parameters of the existing legal framework.”
The need to rationalize the Council’s work and improve efficiency is obvious to anyone who has seen the Council’s workload balloon over recent years, to the point where the latest session included no scheduled lunch breaks and numerous evening sessions. Proceedings on the penultimate day of the council ended at midnight.
Yet his innocuous observation provoked a litany of objections from countries who have nothing to gain from efficient action on human rights.
“We would like to caution you, said Russia, “against abrupt steps and once again emphasize that the Russian delegation is not prepared to open a new reform process, even if you call it informal.”
“Any process to review or improve the working methods of the Human Rights Council should be mandated, consensual and comprehensive,” said Egypt. “These elements have constituted the founding basis for the establishment of the Human Rights Council and they should continue to govern any process related to reviewing its method of work.”
“We work on improving the working methods of this Council,” said Saudi Arabia, “and if we really aim to achieve this we should adhere to the consensus and the agreement of states and there has not been such a consensus in the Asia-Pacific Group.”
“Any future discussion on improving the working methods and the efficiency of the work done by the Council,” said Cuba, “needs to fully respect the Institutional Building Package […] We’re not engaged in review of Council because there is no mandate for it.”
“We must adhere to the principles of inclusiveness and transparency,” said China, “as well as other principles. Concerning the specific working method of the Council, a principle mentioned by Russia is very important – that is to say, all delegations should exercise self-discipline.”
“We need to stick to the institutional package that was approved by the Council and the General Assembly, said Venezuela, “and we don’t believe it is appropriate at this stage to start embarking on a review process in the terms set out by the President and certainly not when this process is neither inclusive nor transparent.”
These governments’ true purpose, however, was to nip in the bud any attempt to make the UNHRC better at doing its job of protecting human rights.
The United Kingdom summed the situation up well: “What you have outlined today has the potential to benefit all Human Rights Council members. Of course, previous speakers are right that any formal process would require a formal review. But that is not what you have proposed today. Therefore we support your proposal for informal consultations which seems a practical, sensible and efficient way forward.”