The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday held a panel on panels. “We now open our panel discussion on panels,” said the president, in what will perhaps rank as the most memorable quote of the current session. The U.N.’s official summary follows.
Source: UN Office in Geneva
Introduction to Panel Discussion on the Objectives and Modalities of Panels
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Human Rights Council, said it was his belief that this modality was useful, and could be utilized more often than was the case in the Council’s regular sessions. By the end of this session, the Council would have had five panel discussions. The provision for the use of panels as an instrument of furthering the work in the Council was made in paragraph 115 of the institution-building package.
A careful look at the paragraph could lead to the conclusion that panels, as well as the other work methods mentioned therein, were characterized by two main objectives: the enhancement of dialogue; and the purpose to achieve mutual understanding. The participation of panellists, therefore, would aim at providing the elements of the discussion, with a view to facilitate, in the future, an informed mutual understanding. Panels were an intermediate work format between a seminar and round table.
The ideal outcome of a panel was to enhance mutual understanding of an issue/subject. It did not necessarily lead to the adoption of a formal document with an agreed text. The absence of the need to negotiate, reach compromise and make proposals on the basis of a concrete text were elements which gave the desired flexibility to this working method. However, it should be noted that the limits of panels as a working method in the Council were also mentioned in the institution-building text.
Questions that could arise included: could the Council decide to convene panels outside regular sessions; could the Council decide to convene a panel on the specific human rights situations which were not urgent and did not constitute consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms; could a certain State propose a resolution to convene a panel on its own internal situation of human rights; and could there be any follow-up on the discussions held during a panel.
In the discussion on the work format of panels, speakers wished for a more innovative organization of panels so that real interaction would be possible. Speakers observed that the number of panels was increasing and noted that maintaining a manageable amount of panels during one term was necessary. There was a need to ensure equitable regional and gender-balanced representation of panels. Panels were convened to give more visibility to one issue but the results were mixed: some panels received much attention with long speakers’ lists and others less. Therefore, the criteria of the convening of panels should be reviewed. The guiding principle on the convening of panels should be the broadening of the understanding of a specific issue and should not be a precursor to future action. Two years from now, when the Council would revise the institution-building text, it would define what issues would be debated and who should be chosen as a panelist. Speakers suggested that since there was no singular method for the organization of panels, each panel should be organized as was best for the discussion of the subject at hand.
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Council, in concluding remarks on the panel discussion, said as was mentioned by some delegations, this debate could be considered a first step towards the improvement of this mechanism in 2011, in the context of the review of the institution-building text. Panels were an important tool – all agreed on the importance of panels and on the need to continue to utilize them as an instrument to provide detailed information, build consensus and provide action-oriented solutions to the challenges faced by the Council in the protection and promotion of human rights.