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Advisory Committee discusses access to justice and corruption, local governments and human rights, and globalization

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee 

20 February 2013

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee today discussed proposals for studies it could recommend to the Human Rights Council on access to justice and the fight against corruption, local governments and human rights, and globalization, human rights and youth.

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Committee Expert, introducing the proposal on access to justice and corruption, said that access to justice and the fight against corruption was a question that had climbed up the ladder in terms of international important topics.  When looking at the link between the two, it was noted that it entailed violations of social, civil and political rights, at the core of human rights violations.  Access to justice was a way of bolstering accountability and public participation was something that should be reflected in any note dealing with this issue as well.

The following Committee members took the floor on this topic: Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, José Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Latif Hüseynov, and Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing.  The Council of Europe also took the floor.

Chung Chinsun, Committee Expert, introducing the draft proposal for a study on local governments and human rights, said that the purpose of this proposed study was to research legal obligations of local governments, especially cities, in relation to the human rights of their citizens and non-citizens, including irregular migrants.  There was a growing awareness of the obligations of local governments and it was time for a thorough study.

The following Committee members took the floor on this proposal:  Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Chun Chinsung, Imeru Tamrat Yigezu, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Latif Hüseynov, Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Mario L. Coriolano, Anantonia Reyes Prado, and Dheerujlall Seetulsingh.

Anantonia Reyes Prado, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, introducing the draft proposal on a study on globalization, human rights and youth, said that the world was increasingly young, particularly in certain continents, and it was important to address this issue.  One of the areas put forward for study was education and gender, complying with the recommendation to incorporate gender perspective into studies.  Many young people suffered from major violations of their civil, political and cultural rights and young women were even more vulnerable in that regard.  Other issues included violence, political participation, and employment.  In many countries young people were being victimised and were victims.

The following Committee members took the floor on this topic:  Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, José Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Mohamed Saeed Al Faihani, Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, and Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing.

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee will resume its public meeting on Thursday, 21 February at 10 a.m., to discuss human rights and humanitarian action, before proceeding to discuss the model law on equal opportunities and non-discrimination. 

Discussion on Proposal on Access to Justice and the Fight against Corruption

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that today the Advisory Committee would discuss topics proposed to the Human Rights Council, including access to justice and the fight against corruption, local governments and human rights, and globalisation, human rights and youth.  They would now proceed with discussing a proposal on access to justice and the fight against corruption, one of the five topics proposed to the Human Rights Council.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, introducing the proposal, said that access to justice and the fight against corruption was a question that had climbed up the ladder in terms of international important topics.  Looking at what had been done in the area, she had looked more closely at the fight against corruption and international human rights to better frame the subject.  When looking at the link between the two, it was noted that it entailed violations of social, civil and political rights, at the core of human rights violations.  It was interesting to look at the different bodies and organizations under the heading of the United Nations also working in the area.  A number of mechanisms had been set up under the aegis of the United Nations to counter corruption, some of them institutional, and they had come up with different measures and standard-settings or legal standards such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and the United Nations Global Compact.  On implementation, essentially nothing had been done and it had been left to the discretion of the States parties to the Convention to do this.  There was a whole host of mechanisms that could be taken into account to counter corruption.  It was also important in light of the emergence of new international standards, such as accountability.  Access to justice was a way of bolstering accountability.  Public participation was something that should be reflected in any note dealing with this issue as well.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said it seemed the proposal covered a large number of different issues on different levels and there could be a question on how it could be more focused.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, asked if a fresh proposal was made, would it go to the June session of the Human Rights Council or in the report of the September session of the Human Rights Council?  Why was there a need to wait for the September session to submit a proposal?  Regarding the topic at hand, many bodies were looking at it and they had to see whether the mandate should be narrowed down, or whether more specific aspects to address should be looked into.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said regarding proposals, the formal situation was that there was one official formal contact point with the Human Rights Council, and that was September and October, which was too late for the present process of obtaining mandates.  Mr. Heinz was against engaging in any new fresh mandates as it was complicated.  The Committee had presented five titles to the Human Rights Council.  Mr. Heinz proposed to let it move and be discussed by the Human Rights Council.  He expected that at the outcome of the next Council session perhaps there would be two or three mandates and there would be a better idea of what the Council was interested in or not.

Council of Europe said that since 1999, it had found that corruption was meaningful for all three of its pillars.  From the Council of Europe’s perspective of the Advisory Committee, the European experience extended at the level of 47 Member States could be quite meaningful.  Corruption was a serious threat to the functioning of democratic institutions and an affront to human rights.  The Council of Europe welcomed that society at large was becoming increasingly reluctant to accepting this. The experts of the Council of Europe would be glad to cooperate with the Committee on this matter. 

SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Committee Expert, said that the justice system in any country should serve as an important instrument in respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Situations could be faced where a justice system was not functioning properly due to corruption or due to material gain or familiar relations.  In some cases reform was easy but in others it was faced with resistance.  Either way the world could not tolerate such a situation.  He believed a study on this topic should be carried out by the Committee.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, spoke about focusing on the topic and how it had to be a feasible one.  He encouraged Ms. Boisson de Chazournes to maybe elaborate in concluding remarks on what direction the study could take, perhaps legal, or based more on practical experiences, and to identify good or bad practices, or also develop recommendations.  Would it be a mapping study?  Would it be covered as an issue of State organizations, or also take up the private sector?

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Committee Expert, asked if the proposals between now and June had to come from States and how was the Committee going to restrict topics?  Given the long cycle of proposals and consideration, it would perhaps be a good idea to get as many proposals in between now and August.  On how to narrow the topic, Mr. Okafor was not sure that the proposal as conceptualised by Ms. Boisson de Chazournes was actually broad.  

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that what the Committee could do was to contact regional coordinators to find out what was going on.  The educated guess was that two or three mandates could be obtained from the Council, but that an inflation of mandates was unlikely.  Of course, what was happening with the regional coordinators and the Council bureau had to be closely followed.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said that by proposing the note she had not intended to take up what other bodies had done.  The real idea had been to take a more limited approach and to focus on the practices at the national level and look at what could happen and all the new mechanisms set up to settle corruption issues.  On the matter of content, the aim was to flag what had been done, to draw lessons and issue recommendations.  There was a need to restrict the topic to individuals and access to justice and this would be rectified in the proposal.  There would be a panel on the adverse effects of corruption on human rights and she wondered whether perhaps ideas from this panel should be waited for. 

JOSE ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said they needed to pay attention to what Mr. Heinz had said as well as Switzerland and Ecuador, that a broad range of topics should be presented and that a number of topics should be put forward.  He fully endorsed a study on access to justice and corruption.  

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that the Committee would meet again at 3 p.m. to continue to discuss access to justice and the fight against corruption if there were any more speakers, and then move on to discuss local government and human rights.

Discussion on Local Governments and Human Rights

CHUNG CHINSUNG, Committee Expert, introducing the draft proposal for a study on local governments and human rights, said that a study on current international human rights law saw that a central government was responsible for fulfilling human rights obligations.  The purpose of this proposed study was to research legal obligations of local governments, especially cities, in relation to the human rights of their citizens and non-citizens, including irregular migrants.  There was growing awareness of local government obligations and it was time for a thorough study.  Efforts should be made to bring this issue to the Human Rights Council and to search for Governments that would submit a draft resolution to the Council on this issue.

WOLFGAN STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, enquired as to whether there was definite support for this proposal, with one or more Governments having considered proposing it?

CHUNG CHINSUNG, Committee Expert, said that all possible efforts were underway to ensure support.

IMERU TAMRAT YIGEZU, Committee Expert, agreed with this proposed study.  Was its scope relevant, especially in the context of developing countries?  The focus of the study was on cities, the urban context, but in many developing countries the situation was quite different and it was mostly in rural areas that human rights violations occurred.   If it were to be focused on rural areas, there would likely be more support for the proposal. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that the idea was to not add topic upon topic, but to do studies where the scope was realistic.  This did not exclude the continuation of a major title.  There were a number of big countries, both from the North and the South, that were Federal States, where there were two levels of responsibility.  Had there had been time to give attention to the issue of such States?  Could that perhaps be an interesting dimension?

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Rapporteur of the Advisory Committee, said that the situation was similar in Nigeria, and was a serious and perennial problem.  There was increasing realisation of that problem in Nigeria.  Having looked at the proposal closely, it actually was already framed in a way that could accommodate the notion of rural areas, as local government was used.

LATIF HUSEYNOV, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said in response to the point on Federal States that this was interesting but not in the context of this study, which should focus on the local, municipal level, issues of local democracy and not just urban but indeed also rural areas.  States were primarily responsible for the implementation of international human rights standards enshrined in international instruments, but responsibility extended to all levels of government, including local governments.   They were in a better position to tackle issues closely linked to citizens’ livelihoods.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said the proposal further developed the idea of responsible actors that had the obligation to promote, protect and fulfil as well as respect for human rights and had an important role because of what they controlled at the local level.  On Federal States it was an important question but if there was a focus on the provincial and the municipal level there was already so much to cover.  Perhaps that way some middle-ground could be found, with a paragraph or two mentioning the Federal level in some countries and set the stage for a further study.  It was also important to recognise that there were different forms of local governments that may be worth mentioning.  Ms. Quisumbing also urged for the role of national institutions to be addressed.

MARIO L. CORIOLANO, Committee Expert, said that there were differences between Federal States.  The core idea of the proposal was based on the local, municipal, city government, quite different from the State level Government.  The local municipal level was to be focused on, not the State or Federal level.

ANANTONIA REYES PRADO, Vice Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, highlighted the importance of the study.  In Central American countries a number of decentralisation policies had been put in place, setting up the importance of municipalities in the respect of human rights.  Their role could be tied to that of national human rights institutions.  The study was relevant if carried out at the local level.

CHUNG CHINSUNG, Committee Expert, said that if an Uruguayan resolution was passed at the next session of the Human Rights Council was there a need to wait until the next session for work to begin on this proposal?  This was of interest to her as the August session of the Committee would be her last. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that the Advisory Committee did not have many possibilities to meet further and make decisions.  In the practical work if one to three mandates were obtained, there was no problem that the person that had pushed it would write to colleagues and see who would be interested to work in the drafting group, and start to further develop the concept paper and make specific proposals.  However the formal decision was taken during meetings and not through other forms of communications such as electronic communication.

CHUNG CHINSUNG, Committee Expert, said that in the study the definition of local governments should cover local governments and central governments, and that federal governments and their role should at least be discussed.  The concept note spoke much of cities, but of course both urban and rural governments should be covered.  The role of national human rights institutions at the local level was also very important.  She was pleased to note that several States had expressed their support for the proposal.

DHEERJULALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said if there was any good prospect that the proposal may be accepted by the Council, could work on it start already.  Otherwise in August, the Committee would meet and still have nothing to discuss.

LATIF HUSEYNOV, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said that nothing prevented them from being flexible and asking and encouraging members to carry out studies, especially if there was a mandate from the Council, even informally.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, was glad with the thinking outside the box, but wished to find some middle ground.  There should be creative action while still using wording used by the Council.  Rather than initiating a preliminary study, it could perhaps be said that the Committee had decided to further inform itself on the topic, designating a resource person and then take note of expressions of interest from other members that were interested in the topic.

STEFAN WOLFGANG HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said an action point would be formulated on this procedural matter.  He had just been informed by the Secretariat that August would be the last meeting for seven members and new members would be selected in September and October and this should be taken into consideration.

Access to Justice and the Fight against Corruption

LATIF HUSEYNOV, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, returning to the proposed study on access to justice and the fight against corruption, said that there had been some misinterpretations regarding the scope of the topic to be investigated.  Going by the title, this had not been studied by the Sub-Commission.  The upcoming panel at the Council would also be different.  Access to justice could be affected by different factors and corruption was just one of them.  The focus of the study appeared to be on corruption. 

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said that the origin of the proposal reflected some concerns of Mr. Huseynov.  The very idea of the proposal was that it should be complementary to what was being done elsewhere.  The question of the integrity of the judiciary was a fundamental component.  There should be some restrictions placed, or they would be drowning in all the different components and questions related to corruption. 

STEFAN WOLFGANG HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, as a point of information said that the last report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to the General Assembly had focused on judicial corruption.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that this was a topic that would be developing on an aspect to which not so much attention had been paid, namely effective remedy.  Would the scope also include persons wrongfully accused or convicted, as corruption could lead to such situations?  Building-in the gender perspective, there was also corruption in terms of sex.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said that at this moment in time it seemed proposals concerning local governments and human rights and humanitarian action had some chance of getting through, but there was uncertainty about support of this proposal.  There was perhaps pre-empting at present on this topic. 

STEFAN WOLFGANG HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said there was no formal support from a State although interest had been heard.  There was however a process going on.   If it did not get stronger, then it may have to be reconsidered at a later stage.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said she was very willing to work with the Committee if it was willing to move forward.  The major challenge faced was implementation.  Implementation mechanisms that were national in nature could be thought about, but perhaps the subject was not mature enough.

Globalization, Human Rights and Youth

ANANTONIA REYES PRADO, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, introducing the draft proposal on a study on globalization, human rights and youth, said that the world was increasingly young, particularly in certain continents, and it was important to address this issue.  One of the areas put forward for study was education and gender, complying with the recommendation to incorporate gender perspective into studies.  Many young people suffered from major violations of their civil, political and cultural rights and young women were even more vulnerable in that regard.  Other issues included violence, political participation, and employment.  In many countries young people were being victimised.  Many States said there was a need to reduce the age for criminal liability, but this was not the solution to problems that had their root in equality. 

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said he had found that the paper had already reached certain conclusions about globalization and its negative effect, so it would become a controversial issue.  Knowing the division that existed at the level of the Human Rights Council on the scope of the Committee’s work it was likely to be met with some kind of opposition that globalization had caused all those evil consequences, and not bad governance for example.  There should perhaps be a rephrasing of objectives to say that a study would be carried out, and come to conclusions that would be substantiated.

JOSE ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, said that the topic of youth had not been dealt with on many occasions within the human rights system.  This was a good but initial study, which drew people’s attention to different issues.  It was important to include quality information and data.

MOHAMED SAEED AL FAIHANI, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said that globalization brought with it competition and labour exploitation including child labour, and compelled nations to open up their economies to industrialised countries, also minimising the role of nation States.  There was a need to study the phenomenon in all its aspects. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, supported the proposal but was concerned about the broad scope of issues.  Gender should be taken into account in all chapters.  Was there a possibility to have more of an idea of which areas should be focused on to carry out a feasible study?  Should the United Nations, youth and work section be selected as one of the main issues covered?  It was always important to focus on human rights aspects of the topics.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that while there had been studies on young people, she found that children had a tendency to gain more focus.  The combination of globalization and youth was quite understudied.  These would be things of the future and the effect of this phenomenon on those that would eventually become leaders.  Indeed it was a very large area and so perhaps the proposal should be narrowed down, with education and employment as the issues easier to sell.  They were very clear rights under several international instruments.

DHEERUJLAL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, enquired as to what would happen now.  Would there be a redrafting?  Would the conclusions on the negative impact of globalization be deleted?  Perhaps certain members of the Human Rights Council had been alienated, looking at the state of this proposal. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said that he had no doubt that a number of States and civil society organizations would agree with the criticism included.  It was on the table and it was now up to States to take it up.  Concept papers were not set in stone.  If it was not taken up at the Human Rights Council, then a more revised version could be worked on.

ANANTONIA REYES PRADO, Vice-Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said that a lot of literature had been consulted but she had taken note of the need to look at all of this in more depth.  Indeed the issues should be separated and the gender perspective included in other areas as had been mentioned by Mr. Heinz.  She would take comments into account and if Committee members agreed she would redraft the proposal before submitting it for consideration. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, enquired as to whether Ms. Quisumbing could at this point share some information on the topic of human rights and humanitarian action? 

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said this would be more appropriate for a private meeting. 

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, President of the Advisory Committee, said the deadline for the submission of draft action was tomorrow, Thursday, at noon.  The Advisory Committee would reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to discuss human rights and humanitarian action, before proceeding to discuss the model law on equal opportunities and non-discrimination.  The Committee would now briefly meet in private. 

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