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Human Rights Council Advisory Committee discusses right to peace

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
18 January 2011

Concludes Discussion on Missing Persons

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee this morning started to look at the issue of a draft declaration on the right of peoples to peace after concluding its discussion on best practices in the matter of missing persons.

Mona Zulficar, Advisory Committee Expert and Chairperson of the drafting group on the right to peace, said that one could maybe think that working on the human right to peace, which was a universally supported issue and one of the objectives of the United Nations Charter, would not be controversial. But it was a very complicated issue. There were a lot of controversies and legal dimensions to the issue. The product the drafting group was presenting today was a progress report. The drafting group was still working on the draft document, which was still an evolving document. Consultations with other stakeholders were already underway.

Wolfgang Heinz, Advisory Committee Expert and Rapporteur of the drafting group on the right to peace, said that the issue was rather broad and one had to define its borders and to look at which human rights principles to include or exclude in this work. On the global level, there were many declarations and other statements clearly affirming that peace was the most important objective for the United Nations. It was however less clear which specific policies were being recommended to enhance the ability of the United Nations and Member States to attain this crucial objective. There were different basic approaches to develop a draft declaration on the right of peoples to peace. The drafting group mostly focused on the standards linked to peace and security. But they had also included some elements in their considerations such as education, environment and development. They had further looked at the right to peace as a collective right but also as an individual right.

The Committee today also invited Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, Chairperson Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries, to share his thoughts on the question. He noted that in December 2010, the World Social Forum on Education for Peace had adopted the Santiago Declaration on the Human Right to Peace. This Declaration was a unique attempt to unite universal values from different cultures. The Declaration proposed a holistic approach to peace, eliminating all types of violence: armed, structural or cultural and contained a number of fundamental norms necessary to achieve the human right to peace. Further, with the widespread outsourcing of inherently State functions to the private sector, such as military and security activities, it became primordial that the security industry be regulated, monitored and controlled.

Speaking this morning in the discussion on the right to peace were the non-governmental organizations Conscience and Peace Tax International and the Institute for Planetary Synthesis.

Speaking this morning on the issue of missing persons were Algeria and the National Commission of Human Rights of the Philippines.

This afternoon the Advisory Committee will split up to allow it’s drafting groups to meet. The next public meeting of the Advisory Committee will be on Wednesday, 19 January at 10 a.m., when it will resume its discussion on the right to peace, before taking up the issue of the right to food.

Discussion on Missing Persons

Resuming yesterday’s discussion on best practices in the matter of missing persons, observer States took the floor to thank the Advisory Committee for the presentation of the study on missing persons. Contrary to the initial mandate, which requested the Committee to deal with best practices, the document had too much forward-looking language. Further, they should not seek to integrate a new mechanism, as it would duplicate the work of other existing mechanisms.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations also took the floor to thank the drafting group for its hard work on missing persons. Many human rights issues had overlaps. For example, one could not separate the rights of women from economic and social rights. Therefore they did not think that the overlap witnessed in the drafting group’s study was a problem.

Members of the Advisory Committee then took the floor to discuss the role played by national human rights institutions to the Committee’s work on this subject, how these could better contribute to the study and how the Committee could better reach out to them.

Discussion on the Draft Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace

Documentation

The progress report on the right of peoples to peace (A/HRC/AC/6/CRP.3) is a progress report of the drafting group on the right to peace. It looks at, inter alia, the right to peace in international law and practice, disarmament, human security, the resistance to oppression, peacekeeping, the right to conscientious objection, the issue of military and security companies, education and development, victims of vulnerable groups, the obligation of States and possible monitoring and implementation of the peoples right to peace.

Presentation

MONA ZULFICAR, Advisory Committee Expert and Chairperson of the Drafting Group on the Right to Peace, summarized what the drafting group had been doing since they had received their mandate from the Council. One could maybe think that working on the human right to peace, which was a universally supported issue and one of the objectives of the United Nations Charter, would not be controversial. But it was a very complicated issue, just as it was the case with every other human rights topic. There were a lot of controversies and legal dimensions to the issue.

Ms. Zulficar said that the drafting group had mostly consulted and worked in the inter-sessional period. The product they were presenting to the Committee today was a progress report. The drafting group was still working on the draft document, which was still an evolving document. Consultations with other stakeholders were already underway. Several members of the drafting group had also participated in conferences on the subject.

WOLFGANG HEINZ, Advisory Committee Expert and Rapporteur of the Drafting Group on the Right to Peace, said that the issue was rather broad and one had to define its borders and to look at which human rights principles to include or exclude in this work. The Advisory Committee suggested conceiving peace as both the absence of organized violence within a country or between countries, as well as the comprehensive and effective protection of human rights, gender equality and social justice, economic well-being and free and widespread expression of different cultural values, without discrimination and restraints.

Mr. Heinz highlighted the fact that the document they were presenting today was a working paper; a progress report. On the global level, there were many declarations and other statements clearly affirming that peace was the most important objective for the United Nations. It was however less clear which specific policies were being recommended to enhance the ability of the United Nations and Member States to attain this crucial objective.

Looking at the history of the right to peace, Mr. Heinz noted that the General Assembly had, in 1978, first proclaimed a right of peoples to peace in its resolution on a Declaration on the Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace. In 1984, after reaffirming that the principal aim of the United Nations was the maintenance of international peace and security, the General Assembly, inter alia, solemnly proclaimed that the peoples of our planet had a sacred right to peace and that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constituted a fundamental obligation for each State.

Mr. Heinz said that there were different basic approaches to develop a draft declaration on the rights of peoples to peace. The drafting group mostly focused on the standards linked to peace and security. But they had also included some elements in their considerations such as education, environment and development. They had further looked at the right to peace as a collective right but also as an individual right. They had also dealt with obligations of States and had looked at the question on whether a draft declaration would be accepted by the General Assembly. They had also further looked at possible monitoring mechanisms.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts said that the authors of the document had touched upon an impressive number of issues. Experts recognized the quality of the document and the efforts made by the drafting group. The drafting group should further look at existing standards of international law, soft standards of international law and also at other standards that could be developed. The declaration should also be made up of realistic standards so that these could be accepted by States. While the right to peace had never been achieved in history, one could hope that it could happen in the future.

Experts also took up the issue of the definition given in the report of private security and military companies. Experts wondered whether those should be seen as combatant forces or private companies, whether their personnel should be considered as civilians or as combatants and whether there was a difference between mercenaries and members of private security and military companies.

Concerning the issue of general and complete disarmament, an Expert noted that the document was talking about full disarmament, which obviously was not only limited to nuclear disarmament. This was very ambitious. The drafting group should also think about including an element on the control of arms trade in the document. Not only arms trade between countries but also by merchants of death.

For the Experts, a declaration on the right to peace should be general, practicable and brief. They were not the Security Council, nor the General Assembly or the Conference on Disarmament. They were a subsidiary body of a subsidiary body. Thus they had to remain quite general in their considerations.

Experts also discussed what could have driven those Human Rights Council Member States which had voted against the resolution requesting the Advisory Committee to prepare a draft declaration on the right of peoples to peace. While all countries should be in favour of peace, why would some vote against this resolution? While some Experts wondered whether they should take this fact into account in their considerations, others felt that the Advisory Committee had a mission and that, whether it may not suit to some countries, the Committee had to deal with this issue.

JOSE LUIS GOMEZ DEL PRADO, Chairperson Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, sharing his thoughts on the question, said that the document they were discussing today comprised nine fundamental blocs constituting the basic dimensions that would serve to elaborate the international norms of an international or universal declaration of the right to peace. He also said that he had been struck by the conservative position of some of the members of the Advisory Committee on this topic.

Mr. Gomez del Prado said that in December 2010, the World Social Forum on Education for Peace had adopted the Santiago Declaration on the Human Right to Peace. This Declaration was a unique attempt to unite universal values from different cultures. It had the support of more than 800 non-governmental organizations. This initiative was noteworthy for its deliberate effort to seek universal values by drawing upon local and international law from all legal traditions. The Declaration proposed a holistic approach to peace, eliminating all types of violence: armed, structural or cultural. It further advocated replacing the present culture of violence by a culture of peace. The world could no continue spending US$ 1.5 trillion every year in the armament race.

The Declaration contained a number of fundamental norms necessary to achieve the human right to peace, such as the right to education on and for peace and the construction of democratic, egalitarian and multicultural societies, among others. The establishment of an international observatory on the human right to peace had also been adopted at Santiago. The Declaration further consolidated the human right to peace in its double dimension - individual and collective – as a means to foster the right to self determination of peoples and all human rights, including the right to development, said Mr. Gomez del Prado.

Further, with the widespread outsourcing of inherently State functions to the private sector, such as military and security activities, it became primordial that the security industry be regulated, monitored and controlled, said Mr. Gomez del Prado.

In the ensuing discussion between the Advisory Committee Experts and Mr. Gomez del Prado, Experts wondered how the Advisory Committee’s study could contribute to the topic and how they should take into account the fact that countries had voted against the resolution.

Mr. Gomez del Prado said that they had encountered the same kind of problems as the Advisory Committee inside the Working Group. The Group had always encountered the reluctance of the European and Western Groups. There was a vacuum in international law in the regulation of private security companies, as these did not fall under the definition of mercenaries. These companies were mostly based in Western countries, thus it was also these countries that were making money in this industry.

Non-governmental organizations then took the floor and welcomed the drafting group’s interim report and said they looked forward to respond in detail to the proposed questionnaire. They also expressed the hope that the issue of conscientious objection and the right to refuse illegal orders would be included without any reservations in the future declaration and that it could be adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council. The Advisory Committee should also take into account the aspects of the Santiago Declaration, especially the human right to peace in its double dimension: individual and collective.

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