UN Promise of Human Rights Reform in Peril, Ban ki-Moon Urged to Intervene


Geneva, June 4, 2007 —  A reform proposal released today by the UN’s top human rights body is a setback and a cause for alarm, while UN promises made last year for reform are in peril, according to a letter sent today by UN Watch to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging him to intervene.

One week before the UN Human Rights Council holds a session to wrap up a year of reform negotiations, the Geneva-based human rights monitoring group said that the UN is about to break several key promises that it made last year. Contrary to express assurances given by the world body’s highest officials, as encapsulated in a UN document entitled “Commission on Human Rights vs. Human Rights Council: Key Differences ,” investigators of human rights violations are about to be eliminated, new procedures will make it harder to scrutinize and name abusers, and the council’s agenda will entrench double standards by instituting a special item to place Israel under permanent indictment.

The full text of today’s UN Watch letter follows below. Click also for “President’s Text” released today by UN Human Rights Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba.


His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon
The Secretary-General
The United Nations
New York, NY 10017

June 4, 2007

Dear Secretary-General Ban,

The Human Rights Council is in danger.  As a year of reform negotiations now enters its final week, the spoilers of reform, and their campaign to eviscerate the existing mechanisms of human rights protection, are ascendant.  We appeal for your urgent intervention to rescue the very credibility and effectiveness of the Council.  Human rights victims worldwide now look to your leadership, to the moral weight and prestige of your office, to keep alive and uphold the promise of reform.

Excellency, when the UN presented the reform package last year, promises were made that the new Council would be a significant improvement over its discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  Now these promises are about to be broken.

Such promises were made, for example, in the enclosed UN document from early March 2006, “Commission on Human Rights vs. Human Rights Council: Key Differences,” and relied upon by member states as they considered and then voted to support the reform proposal.  The UN again published these promises in the enclosed press release, issued on the day that the GA resolution was adopted, March 15, 2006.

In these documents, as on other occasions, the UN promised, inter alia, that:

  1. Under the new Council “all members must stand for real elections,” to be chosen based on their “contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights.”   In fact, though the repressive government of Belarus was fortunately defeated, the vast majority of candidates, both this year and last, have been elected by pre-determined slates involving no competition whatsoever.  The UN promised that each candidate would be subject to criteria that would weigh its “contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights.”  Yet in the recent elections, countries that systematically violate human rights—such as Angola, Egypt and Qatar—won with overwhelming numbers, joining existing members such as China, Cuba and Russia.  Moreover, many of the other countries that won seats consistently vote at the UN to oppose initiatives that promote human rights.  We urge you to call upon such countries to abandon their opposition to measures and mechanisms that hold governments accountable through scrutiny of their human rights records.
  2. The new Council would “improve” the special mechanisms one year after its first session.  In fact, the Council is now expected to erode, undermine and even eliminate key mechanisms.  First, the “Code of Conduct” for the independent human rights experts, proposed by Algeria on behalf of the African Group, threatens, in the words of the experts themselves, to “undermine the essential principles of independence, competence, objectivity, impartiality and good faith upon which the system has been constructed.”  Second, all of the rapporteurs who investigate human rights violations by specific countries (the Item 9 mandates) are on the chopping block.  The experts charged with investigating abuses in Belarus and Cuba are likely to be scrapped, as are the investigators of violations in Burma and North Korea.  We cannot remain silent as the crown jewels of the UN human rights apparatus are simply thrust aside.  Third, there are proposals circulating to block or obstruct the creation of new mechanisms to investigate specific countries, or to require onerous, super-majority requirements for resolutions that hold countries to account.  The adoption of such measures in whole or in part will constitute a major setback for the Council.
  3. The new Council would embrace equality over selectivity and follow a “clean slate” agenda.   The stated purpose of last year’s reform package was to end the politicization and double standards that paralyzed and ultimately destroyed the old Commission.  In the enclosed documents, the UN cited the most extreme example of this selectivity and politicization, the “Agenda Item 8 targeting Israel.”  The UN promised that the new Council would, by contrast, offer a “clean slate,” with no country singled out.  Yet every indication from Geneva is that the Council is about to adopt an agenda featuring a special item to single out Israel for permanent indictment, as reflected in the proposal released today.  This is separate and additional to the Council’s expected action of anomalously renewing, without a regular review procedure, of a mandate to investigate only one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Israel will be a priori presumed guilty of violations.  Excellency, if the Council allows selectivity to be entrenched into its very agenda, the new body will be crippled from the start.

Accordingly, as devoted activists for the cause of a credible and effective Council, we urge you to intervene immediately to uphold the promise of reform upon which the Council was established.  The reputation of the United Nations as a whole is at stake.  At this critical stage, only your leadership can make a difference.


Hillel C. Neuer

Executive Director

UN Watch

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