Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
19 February 2013
Debates Working Methods with Other Subsidiary Bodies of the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee today discussed issues relating to the integration of a gender perspective, the integration of the perspective of persons with disabilities, the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, and international cooperation in the field of human rights. It also debated working methods with other subsidiary bodies of the Human Rights Council including the Social Forum, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Forum on Minority Issues and the Forum on Business and Human Rights.
Violeta Neubauer, Vice Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), speaking about gender mainstreaming, said CEDAW was known for its interaction with human rights machinery that was extremely important for its overall work and it benefitted enormously from such cooperation. It was hoped that this would be equally useful for the Advisory Committee in implementing its mandate
The following Committee members spoke on this issue: Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, Cecelia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Mona Zulficar, Shigeki Sakamoto, and Dheerujlall Seetulsingh. Algeria also took the floor.
On the integration of the perspective of persons with disabilities, Committee Expert Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani said that persons with disabilities should be given attention and not treated as secondary citizens or in a degrading manner. Their rights should be respected and preserved.
Also speaking on this subject was Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing and the Council of Europe.
On the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Mona Zulficar, Rapporteur of the Working Group, said that the Working Group had worked for three years on a draft declaration on the right to peace. There was a growing consensus that the right to peace was not just negative but also positive and that it was undeniably the right of each individual, as intrinsically linked to the right to life and that therefore it was an enabling right. There was still, however, a huge divide.
The following Committee members took the floor: Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, and Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing. The Council of Europe also took the floor.
On the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Committee Expert, said that the seminar held on 15 February on international cooperation in the field of human rights had meant to build on the study already prepared by the Advisory Committee. Issues raised included conditionality, global migration, what contribution human rights education could make in the field of international cooperation and the role of national human rights institutions, the usefulness of economic sanctions and how they affected societies and whether it was the poorest sections of the populations that were affected, the post-2015 international cooperation and what would happen.
The following Committee members took the floor on this topic: Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, and Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing.
The Advisory Committee then went on to review the experience of the other Human Rights Council subsidiary bodies. The following speakers took the floor: Bat-Erdene Ayuush informing on the work of the Social Forum, Antti Korkeakivi informing on the work of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Karim Ghezraoui informing on the work of the Forum on Minority Issues, and Lene Wendland informing on the work of the Forum on Business and Human Rights Issues.
The following Committee members also spoke: Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Jose Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Ahmer Bilal Soofi and Chung Chinsung. North-South XXI also took the floor.
The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 20 February 2013, at 12 p.m., to discuss access to justice and the fight against corruption.
Standing Items: the Way Forward
Discussion on Integration of a Gender Perspective
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice Chairperson of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), said that last year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the CEDAW Committee. It had reviewed over 450 country reports and provided guidance on how to improve the situation of women in the countries concerned. In addition to its core reporting function, the Committee had also adopted to date 28 general recommendations aimed at providing clarification and promoting understanding of the Convention’s substance, content and the nature of discrimination against women. General recommendations were a rich source of legal and policy guidance and had addressed a number of core issues. Ms. Neubauer said she had introduced six proposed general recommendations on marriage and the economic consequences of their dissolution, on the protection of the human rights of women refugees, asylum seekers and stateless women, on women’s access to justice, on the rights of rural women, and the rights of women in conflict and post-conflict situations, and a joint general recommendation with the Committee on the Rights of the Child on harmful practices. The latter was different from the other five in that respect, setting a precedent among treaty bodies on joining efforts to prepare a general recommendation. In this case, the mandates overlapped.
CEDAW was known for its interaction with human rights machinery that was extremely important for its overall work and it benefitted enormously from such cooperation. It was hoped that this would be equally useful for the Advisory Committee in implementing its mandate. All adopted General Recommendations would not have been possible if CEDAW had not had the immense support of the various United Nations agencies.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, was curious to know what the experience of CEDAW had been with a different understanding of mainstreaming of human rights and what the obstacles were during deliberations on this. Had the Committee come across more systematic problems in its interaction with Governments? Were there any other recommendations on contributions to better mainstreaming that may be useful? It would be useful to know what work had been carried out thus far.
SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Committee Expert, said that the impact of social influences and the process of social development directly affected the successful implementation of gender policy. Societies and individuals determined their gender policies in a way that satisfied them. The aim should be focused on streamlining gender policies with human rights and so the Committee and CEDAW should look at these policies.
CECLIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, underlined that the term gender perspective was much larger than the rights of women and girls and included all implications for human rights that were impacted by gender, gender stereotypes and gender expectations and there were two genders, male and female. It was necessary to increase the involvement of men and boys in discussions on gender perspective. The point of intersectionality was very important and it was necessary to study how various human rights mechanisms and bodies had mainstreamed gender perspective in their work. An area that had struck her as needing greater work was access to effective remedies, which was a specific human rights obligation.
MONA ZULFICAR, Committee Expert, said that a recent study on rural women had been finalised and noted that CEDAW was also working on this subject. Ms. Zulficar hoped that there could be further cooperation, discussion and exchange on the subject. It was of concern that many countries made reservations on CEDAW, with several countries placing umbrellas reservations that depleted the ratification from all its meaning in a legal sense and which was contrary to international law. CEDAW was expected, through regular reviews, to address this issue. Was there a track record of success in doing this?
Algeria said that mainstreaming in all types of activities was essential in promoting gender equality and had to be enhanced with the participation of women in the decision making process. Coherence and coordination between various organs specialised in gender issues was of great importance. The work of those organs should be complementary and not repetitive. Legal and practical measures to ensure the full participation of women in public life had been made in Algeria. It had withdrawn a reservation to the Convention and now allowed the transmission of nationality from mother to child.
SHIGEKI SAKAMOTO, Committee Expert, with regards to the general recommendation on access to justice, said it was understood that the Committee considered that access to suitable and effective remedy was a first line of defence with respect to discriminatory acts against women. Women in many countries continued to face difficulties in protecting their rights through a competent national tribunal. What was the scope of the justice that the General Recommendation would be referring to?
DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, enquired about CEDAW’s procedure and whether experts were free to launch into any kind of research exercise on any topics concerning discrimination against women and whether any preliminary approval was needed.
VIOLETA NEUBAUER, Vice Chairperson of CEDAW, in concluding remarks said that of course mainstreaming gender perspective was something that CEDAW was constantly asking about. Certainly the understanding and the experience varied. Although there was so much theory and different tools, this remained mostly at the academic level and was not adequately transposed in the daily routine of policy making in individual countries. Although it had to be acknowledged that discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and other factors interlinked with these affecting all individuals regardless of their sex, CEDAW worked with women. The issue of access to remedy was constantly being addressed, and it would also be dealt with in the General Recommendation on access to justice because most often there was not much justice if remedy was not provided for.
On the Advisory Committee’s study on rural women, of course this would be conveyed to the Working Group and the invitation extended to exchange views on the subject was most welcome. On the removal of umbrella reservations such as Article 2 of the Convention, it was very clear in the General Recommendations that reservations to this article or its sub-paragraphs were in principle incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention and thus impermissible. Ms. Neubauer was very happy to have been informed about the removal of the reservation and other articles by some countries. On the scope of justice when referring to access to justice, all quasi judicial and other procedures that may lead to justice when women’s rights to non-discrimination were violated were studied, considered and adequately reflected in the General Recommendation. In response to the procedural question, each expert was free to bring to the attention of the Committee in closed sessions the interest to certain topics. It was not enough to present an initiative, but also an initial concept note or proposal.
In conclusion, Ms. Neubauer said she was particularly interested to explore all possible venues to further discuss this and find an appropriate approach and a more conducive way towards the utilisation of mainstreaming gender perspective in the work of the United Nations.
Discussion on the Integration of the Perspective of Persons with Disabilities
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Chairman of the Advisory Committee, opened the floor to experts and observers who wished to discuss the integration of the perspective of persons with disabilities.
Council of Europe said that the defence of the rights of persons with disabilities remained one of the Council of Europe’s priorities. The 47 Member States continued to implement the Action Plan, which extended over a ten-year period. In 2012, the Council of Europe had focused its efforts on the rights of children and young persons with disabilities.
In 2013 it would consider, among others, the cultural rights of persons. It strove to encourage its Member States to pursue recommendations relating to multiple forms of discrimination against women. Much had to be done and pooled efforts were required to assist persons with disabilities to live on an equal footing with other persons.
SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Committee Expert, said that persons with disabilities should be given attention and not treated as secondary citizens or in a degrading manner. Their rights should be respected and preserved. It was important to have a programme that would integrate persons with disabilities into society. The education of persons with disabilities should be given attention. False impressions surrounding persons with disabilities were the trend and this aegis should be fought if the rights of persons with disabilities were to be realised.
CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said while speaking of assistance to persons with disabilities, one thing that may have been neglected was the right to dignity and the right to participation. Families of persons with disabilities were also affected by the disability of one of their family members. What could be done to further develop the way persons affected by HIV/AIDS or by leprosy were considered? Women and girls with disabilities were more vulnerable to different kinds of human rights violations than men and boys, and that too should not be neglected by either of the treaty bodies.
Discussion on the Right to Peace and the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
MONA ZULFICAR, Rapporteur of the Working Group, said that the Working Group had worked for three years on a draft declaration on the right to peace. One of the main products that was extremely useful was the first progress report issued in 2011, which cited all reference materials, Human Rights Council decisions, treaties and the like on which basis the Group had accepted that the right to peace did in fact exist in various forms, including for groups and individuals. Tremendous challenges had been faced from academia, which had a lot of questions on the meaning and scope of the right to peace. Other challenges came from questions concerning the ability of the right as a norm of international law, as well as from the political background that showed that there was a divide. The Working Group had worked professionally and independently to come up with a draft declaration that was balanced, comprehensive but concise, focusing on the principal components of the right to peace in both the positive and negative sense. It had relied to a great extent on continuous consultations throughout its work, particularly with non-governmental organizations. There was a growing consensus that the right to peace was not just negative but also positive and that it was undeniably the right of each individual, as intrinsically linked to the right to life and that therefore it was an enabling right. There was still, however, a huge divide. Concerns generally related to the right to peace itself, whether it was an existing right, or whether it was not a right at all and just a target and aspiration. Another issue of concern was duplication. Ms. Zulficar had chosen to underline the notion of human security. It was still early days but Ms. Zulficar was hopeful that with time, negotiation and the constructive environment she had noticed in yesterday’s session of the Working Group, this issue would develop in a more positive manner.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that there had been support of the right to peace from the President of the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly, as well as from the General Assembly of the Latin American Institute for Ombudsman. At the end of January 2013 a meeting was held in Oslo between an interesting and qualified group of legal scholars and experts from Scandinavia, where the draft declaration was discussed in detail and proposals were made.
Discussion on the Enhancement of International Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said the Committee would now move on to discuss the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights. In Resolution 19/33 the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner to organise a seminar on the issue, which was held on 15 February 2013. Committee Experts Mr. Seetulsingh and Ms. Boisson de Chazournes attended this seminar.
DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said that the seminar had meant to build on the study already prepared by the Advisory Committee. It was quite a high-level seminar, opened by the Deputy High Commissioner, and the President of the Human Rights Council also spoke, among others. There was a good mix of speakers, including from the Committee itself, with good contributions. Issues raised included conditionality, global migration, what contribution human rights education could make in the field of international cooperation and the role of national human rights institutions, the usefulness of economic sanctions and how they affected societies and whether it was the poorest sections of the populations that were affected, the post-2015 international cooperation and what would happen, South-South cooperation, as well as what would happen if a country refused to present itself before the Universal Periodic Review as had happened earlier this year. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would submit the report of the Human Rights Council on deliberations held during the seminar, at its upcoming session. Although the study had been completed, the Human Rights Council would continue to consider the issue of international cooperation in the field of human rights during the course of the year.
SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Committee Expert, said that this was a very important issue and that the main goal for the enhancement of international cooperation was to assist all actors in the international arena to uphold human rights. Such cooperation should not be a pressure tool to arrive at political ends. Many countries were under consideration by the Human Rights Council but there were no achievements on the ground, on the contrary. Cooperation with concerned States should be pursued. It was interesting to note that more could be achieved with increased cooperation than with confrontation. Even States that boycotted human rights machinery should be approached and not excluded.
CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that it was important to continue considering this issue, which could certainly be counted as a major contribution to the work of the Council and the international human rights system. Ms. Quisumbing agreed with Mr. Al Faihani that international cooperation with an ulterior motive was not really international cooperation and not really for human rights. How much value was recognised in terms of South-South cooperation? The Philippines had many grants from many international actors, but in terms of activity and relevance, experts were sent with no knowledge of its national law. It had been observed that working, cooperating with and having technical exchanges with countries with similar contexts and challenges was more effective. One very difficult thing to do was finding the third actor that would provide funding, due to some institutional guidelines such as in the case of the European Union, where it was preferred to send its own experts.
Discussion on the Experience of Other Human Rights Council Subsidiary Bodies – the Social Forum, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Forum on Minority Issues, and the Forum on Business and Human Rights
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that the purpose of the review of methods of work and the experience of other Human Rights Council subsidiary bodies was to bring together representatives of various other subsidiary bodies to talk about their experience and their working methods. This was important, to further develop working methods and work in a more focused and effective way.
BAT-ERDENE AYUUSH, Chief of the Right to Development Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, informing the Advisory Committee about the work of the Social Forum, said that it met once every year for three working days. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified up to 10 experts to contribute to discussions of the Forum. It had proved to be a unique space for interactive and open dialogue among Member States, United Nations agencies, civil society and non-governmental organizations, all participating on an equal footing. The Chairperson was normally an ambassador based in Geneva and appointed by the Human Rights Council President. It was a forum where experts came to discuss various aspects of a theme chosen by the Human Rights Council. The Chairperson then presented the report to the Human Rights Council. There was criticism by civil society organizations that not much time was given to consider in detail the reports of the Social Forum. The link between this work and that of the Advisory Committee was extremely important.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that when talking about human rights there was normally either a country situation or a topic as the starting point, and then at a later stage ideas were raised on draft declarations or treaties, towards a legal stand. How could this be characterised in terms of the Social Forum? Were mainly general discussions held or were the discussions more specific? What was the outcome of the Social Forum?
BAT-ERDENE AYUUSH, Chief of the Right to Development Section within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that when the Human Rights Council considered a report and decided on a theme the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights proceeded with the preparation of the next Forum by engaging different stakeholders. Through that process of consultation and the communication coming from different stakeholders the High Commissioner’s report was prepared. It also helped identify specific aspects of particular human rights issues. The Social Forum relied much on input from stakeholders. It was not a standard-setting body but could make recommendations to the Human Rights Council such as in the case of the impact of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, when it was suggested that the Human Rights Council appoint a Special Rapporteur.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, enquired as to whether the selection of themes leaned more towards the elaboration of new norms or human rights generally. In a large discussion, there would inevitably be a spectrum of opinion. Who was doing the fine-tuning in that respect?
BAT-ERDENE AYUUSH, Chief of the Right to Development Section within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified up to 10 experts in order to frame the discussion but also to assist the Chair Rapporteur to guide it. The floor was opened to bring different views to the table. Towards the end of the third day experts were identified to help the Chair Rapporteur analyse the discussion and then include all views expressed in the Forum, in the report. Key areas were also identified and reflected in the recommendation and conclusion of the Forum.
JOSE ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said that the origin of the idea of the Forum was to establish or check that there were two worlds that were not in contact, of human rights and then the sphere of economists, managers, chief executive officers and the like, involved in the production processes, and get these two worlds to meet.
North-South XXI drew to the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Social Forum was not very well attended. Regarding a Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights, this was a call made unanimously by non-governmental organizations at the Social Forum but was never honoured. It felt that this voice was not heard.
BAT-ERDENE AYUUSH, Chief of the Right to Development Section within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Social Forum provided a very good opportunity to hear all voices and these were well reported. The challenge for the Forum was the extent to which the Human Rights Council took note of its voice.
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking on the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said that the mechanism was established in December 2007, a big year for indigenous peoples’ rights as it was the year the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly. It was a subsidiary body of the Council to provide thematic expertise in the manner and form requested by the Human Rights Council. It provided this mainly through research-based advice. Current work related to access to justice by indigenous peoples due to be submitted to the Human Rights Council in September this year. Every year a range of proposals was submitted to the September session sometimes going beyond the thematic issue at hand. In the resolution dealing with the Expert Mechanism, there would be five members and in the appointment process due attention would be given to their origin. There was close coordination between indigenous mandates and respective secretariats. The annual meetings took place in Geneva, usually in July, over a period of five days of discussions. It was also able to obtain participation of indigenous representatives through the Voluntary Fund. There was usually a workshop in March or April to discuss a preliminary draft of the report, to bring together different points of view.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that when it came to country experience, was it more the Special Rapporteur or the Expert Mechanism that looked at things on the ground, in terms of implementation or respect for the rights of indigenous peoples? What was the relation to the existing human rights document? Who was appointed to do the studies?
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Declaration was very much a key document when looking at good practices and advancing indigenous peoples’ rights, but the Expert Mechanism had no mandate to be a monitoring body. It could provide guidance. What was interesting was what the Mechanism had done and would continue to do, namely dialogue with human rights treaty bodies to make sure that they too were aware of the standards of the Declaration and raise awareness of the content of the studies. Unlike some other subsidiary bodies there was a small number of members appointed by the Human Rights Council, and they were the ones that were doing the bulk of the work.
CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that on paper it looked like there was quite a lot of activity going on in terms of indigenous peoples’ rights. Ms. Quisumbing would have liked to have heard an explanation of different mandates of different mechanisms to know how it avoided duplications and what gaps had happened anyway. In general, how would the response of the Council to the recommendations in the studies be rated?
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Expert Mechanism very much focused on human rights per se, in comparison to the Social Forum. One could look at the proposals made to the Human Rights Council and what was encouraging was that all proposals virtually were in one way or another considered. Positive reactions had been witnessed. Last year the Expert Mechanism highlighted in its report and study the importance of participation in decision making and participation within the United Nations system. The Human Rights Council requested the Secretary-General to prepare a study on that particular issue, which had now been prepared and had been submitted to the Human Rights Council provoking a good deal of discussion on the matter. This year the Expert Mechanism was compiling an overview of national level implementation of strategies put in place by States, to be submitted to the Human Rights Council.
LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said that the synergies between existing mechanisms for the protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples were important. She would have liked to hear more about lessons that could be drawn from those synergies. What good practices could be derived? Were there also negative aspects?
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the conscious effort to cooperate had had a positive impact. When it carried out its research with a view to preparing a study the Expert Mechanism consulted any related studies done by the Forum or by the Special Rapporteur and took that into account. In addition to that when it had a draft study, it would share it with those two mandates in particular and invite comments. In terms of challenges, they were trying to work in sync. Given that it had a mandate that partially overlapped with the Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism tried to inform on issues where there was no recent report available and tried to address gaps. Access to justice was something that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had not addressed in depth, for example. One risk was the risk of delay, but it had not been the case. By having direct involvement of the other two mechanisms, the process had actually facilitated the work.
JOSE ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said that he thought there was duplication in terms of the themes. Above all there was a fairly serious problem as the two spaces were not able to have the indigenous communities themselves bring to them their problems in a direct way. There was an undermining of human rights mechanisms, limited to very specific topics. It would be interesting to pick up some of the older subjects that were looked at and see whether the reform had had an effect.
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that although it was true that the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not a monitoring body, there were specific items devoted to the rights of indigenous persons opening up the discussion, to convey specific community experiences in terms of benefitting from the Declaration and its implementation. On duplication, for all mechanisms there were themes that all three had found so important that they had done work on, such as extractive industries.
Forum on Minority Issues
KARIM GHEZRAOUI, Chief of the Groups and Accountability Section, informing the Advisory Committee on the work of the Forum on Minority Issues, said that the Human Rights Council in 2007 decided that it was important to have a platform to discuss minority issues and rights, hence the Forum on Minorities, established five years ago. It had responded to the wish of the Council in that it had always between five and six hundred participants. When it came to choosing a theme, it was the role of the Independent Expert. Once the theme was picked then the Secretariat would contact a number of recognised experts in that field and start a discussion. There was a synergy between the Independent Expert and the Chair of the Forum as well. There were a lot of efforts to identify minority groups and individuals and have them come and share their experience. It was also open and it did make some efforts to invite other relevant mechanisms to contribute to the discussions. Recommendations were presented to the Human Rights Council for discussion and adoption.
WOLFGAN STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Council, said that there was the issue of human rights standards. Was there a role for the Forum to directly or indirectly to look more systematically at what happened to the various Declaration standards over time? Was there an initiative to create a new legal standard or update the Declaration?
KARIM GHEZRAOUI, Chief of the Groups and Accountability Section, said that the Independent Expert was tasked to lead the Forum, not only on the theme, but following on recommendations. When travelling, for example, the Independent Expert could also make an assessment and discuss findings with any Member State. It was not a standard-setting mechanism. During its fifth session there had been no discussion nor raising of such issues.
Forum on Business and Human Rights
LENE WENDLAND, Adviser on Business and Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Forum on Business and Human Rights was created by a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Human Rights Council had endorsed the set of Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It was a new normative text although derived and built on existing obligations. The next phase would be focused on implementation and thus the Expert Working Group was created, focused on the dissemination and implementation of the Guidelines, as well as the Forum on Business and Human Rights to support this work and discuss trends and challenges in the implementation and promoting dialogue and cooperation on business and human rights. The Forum was under the guidance of the Working Group. It was open to anyone that had a stake in the discussion. The Chair of the Forum was appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council on the basis of a regional rotation. There had only been one Forum in December 2012. In the preparation of the programme and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights there was concern that discussions should reflect the realities faced by stakeholders in terms of implementation, and not to have a centralised agenda-setting. One of the clear messages that came through in information received was that stakeholders were really seeking dialogue and exchange of experiences. There was extensive outreach work in terms of getting people to have input on what the Forum should discuss but also in terms of attendance. On outcome, there was no specific recommendation. The mandate required reflection but there was no expectation of a list of recommendations, which was both a strength but also a challenge in moving forward. It would be difficult to sustain the level of interest when it was not moving towards a particular direction.
KARIM GHEZRAOUI, Chief of the Groups and Accountability Section, enquired about the Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations. It was one of the most important reports. Was there a link with that report? Unfortunately, for some reason, the work was left in the hands of just one rapporteur? How could a link be made between the Special Rapporteur and a broader forum where victims could submit their complaints, and where there would be open discussion?
AHMER BILAL SOOFI, Committee Expert, enquired about the nature of the participants. Were they asserting violations on accounts of business practices or representing business houses and the like? Could this be clarified?
CHUNG CHINSUNG, Committee Expert, asked why the mandate did not require the development of recommendations. How were the newly established Forums differentiated from Global Compact? Were sessions held on transnational cooperation or on migrant workers?
LENE WENDLAND, Adviser on Business and Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on the Code of Conduct document, that when the document was presented to the Commission no action was taken on the document. The Human Rights Council decided to create the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to further explore the issue but it did not include specifically that the effort should be built on a sub-commission effort. The document of focus now was the United Nations Guiding Principles and trends in their implementation. Any person was allowed to register whether from a civil society organisation, trade unions, and business enterprises, among others. On the mandate, it was obviously a political decision negotiated by the Human Rights Council Members. In terms of monitoring the Guiding Principles, they did not by themselves create a monitoring mechanism. The Global Compact was complimentary, directly specifically at business enterprises. There had been a statement by the Global Compact and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the component was to be interpresented in line with the Guiding Principles.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that there were mechanisms related to some sort of monitoring in the wider sense, in terms of how standards were implemented? How topics were selected was noted as interesting, could additional comments be made? On dealing with stakeholders, it seemed in most cases that there were defined stakeholders while those of the Advisory Committee changed depending on the topic at hand. How were they attracted? How it did attract the attention of the Human Rights Council?
KARIM GHEZRAOUI, Chief of the Groups and Accountability Section, said that minorities were already a constituency. The difficult part of the challenge when it came to having them in attendance in Geneva was providing them with equal rights as other participants. There was no specific nomenclature in terms of taking the floor. It was important to also make sure that all information related to work and preparation and forum was updated and put on the web to facilitate the building of networks. Selection of the topic was up to the Independent Expert, the Forum was organised under this leadership but also based on a set of a number of criteria, including discussion with Member States and trying to find out what theme would create an interest and synergy in terms of discussion. The mandate also did not require an approval of the Human Rights Council, leaving some form of autonomy to the Independent Expert.
BAT-ERDENE AYUUSH, Chief of the Right to Development Section within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the other Forums had their own constituencies and had something to relate to. When it came to the Social Forum it could be about anything, a broad subject matter, and it was difficult to manage the wide range of aspects. The selection of themes was made through informal discussions between Member States. A challenge was how to make it more effective, attractive, more meaningful, and how to make it a body that would inform deliberations at the Human Rights Council.
ANTTI KORKEAKIVI, Chief of Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the selection of the theme was important, and it had to reflect key human rights concerns. In addition to the Human Rights Council follow-up it had tried to facilitate follow-up at the State level by placing it as part of its agenda. What the Expert Mechanism had tried to do was formulate proposals in a way that required a reaction from the Human Rights Council, so that they were not ignored, set aside or lightly acknowledged.
LENE WENDLAND, Adviser on Business and Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on selecting topics, an important process was reacting to the demands of the relevant stakeholders rather than deciding and assuming that persons would show up. There were also resource constraints. It should not be overlooked that there were a number of mechanisms and that there was competition for attention and resources. It was very important and a responsibility to look beyond constituencies and think creatively. On attracting the attention of the Human Rights Council, there was no easy or straight forward answer. If something was robust, relevant and the process had been inclusive, then it would be easier to attract that attention but again there was no guarantee.
CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that in terms of how a topic was chosen, the one thing that had been noticed was that treaty bodies won in terms of independence. It was interesting that the mandate of the Forum was not towards the work of the Council, but to contribute to the work of the Independent Expert, which was probably why the Council listened when the Independent Expert spoke. The Advisory Committee had not quite done what it could have.
WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, expressed his thanks to the experts, they had made excellent contributions. The Advisory Committee would start its next public meeting on Wednesday, 20 February at noon to discuss access to justice and the fight against corruption.
For use of the information media; not an official record