Testimony at the UN
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, 61ST SESSION
GENEVA, 22 NOVEMBER 2005
Civil Society Proposal for the Human Rights Council
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Joint NGO Statement Delivered by Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director, UN Watch
African Services Committee
Anglican Consultative Council
Arab Organization for Human Rights
B’nai B’rith International
BrahmaKumaris World Spiritual University
Center for Development of International Law
Center for Women’s Global Leadership
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations (CBJO)
Covenant House/Casa Alianza
Environment Liaison Centre International (ELCI)
Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS)
FIAN International (Foodfirst Information and Action Network)
Forum Maghrebin Pour l’Environnement et le Developpement
International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW)
International Council of Women
International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)
International Institute of Humanitarian Law
International League for Human Rights
International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization (IMSCO)
International Volunteerism Organization for Women Education and Development
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
INTERSOS Humanitarian Aid Organization
Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic
Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
Pax Christi International
Penal Reform International
Socialist International Women
Transnational Radical Party
United Town Agency for Cooperation Nord-Sud
Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO)
World Association for the School as an Instrument of Peace (EIP)
World Federalist Movement
World Student Christian Federation
(Received after 21 November, or not ECOSOC-accredited):
Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
Center for Environment and Population Activities
Civil Rights Program Kosovo
Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF)
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Mauritius African League of Human and People’s Rights
Mauritius NGOs Forum
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Thai Catholic Commission on Migration
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
I make this statement on behalf of UN Watch, along with the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the African Services Committee, Freedom House, the Transnational Radical Party, the World Federalist Movement, World YWCA,and 31 other NGOs, representing a broad and diverse spectrum of international civil society.
Many of us here today were present in this hall in April when Secretary-General Kofi Annan inspired us with his vision of a new Human Rights Council: “a society of the committed,” comprised of member states with “a solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards.”
The Secretary-General shared the conclusions of the High Level Panel and many others in finding that the Commission was terminally infected by politicization and selectivity. “We have reached a point,” he said, “at which the Commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough.”
We agree. Creation of the new Council must be more than a change in name. The UN human rights machinery needs serious and meaningful reform. Accordingly, consistent with the Civil Society statement submitted to the President of the General Assembly on 1 November 2005, and aiming to strengthen the Options Paper of 3 November, we respectfully offer the following proposals concerning the new Council.
Status: The Council should be elevated to principal organ status within five years, while transitionally serving as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly.
Mandate: The Council should address any matters relating to the protection and promotion of human rights, including specific situations of gross, systematic, continuing or urgent violations. The Council should be empowered to make recommendations and report on all such matters to member states and bodies within the UN system, including to the Security Council and the General Assembly.
Composition: States seeking election to the Human Rights Council should be required to demonstrate, in the words of the Secretary-General, “a solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards”; undertake to cooperate fully with the Council; and put forward a platform describing what they seek to accomplish during their term of membership.
Elections Members of the Council should be elected by an individual and direct vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly. Regional groups should be required to put forward more candidates than the number of seats allocated to their region. When establishing membership, due consideration should be given to the contribution of Member States to the protection and promotion of human rights.
Methods of Work: The Council should be a standing body which meets regularly throughout the year and is able to respond in a timely fashion to any matters involving the protection and promotion of human rights. Meetings of the Council in addition to the regular sessions could be called by one-third of Council members, its Chair, the Secretary-General, or the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Agenda: The Council should rationalize the items of its agenda based on the principle that every Member State is entitled to equality before the law.
Special Procedures: The system of special procedures should be transferred to the Council with enhanced coherence and support, as well as greater participation in Council meetings.
NGO Participation: The Council should ensure a level of participation by NGOs at least as high as that at the Commission on Human Rights by retaining the existing rules and practices.
Conclusion: Only by incorporating each of these elements will the Human Rights Council fulfill the UN’s promise of reform, and meet the legitimate hopes and expectations of the world’s rights-bearing citizens. Failure to secure any of these key and interrelated points would compromise the entire effort.
We look forward to continuing to work with the President and the Co-Chairs to support the establishment of an effective, credible, and authoritative Human Rights Council that will genuinely provide help to those who need it. Thank you.