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Human Rights Council Advisory Committee discusses new priorities and research initiatives

15 August 2013

Also discusses ways of enhancing procedural efficiency

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee this afternoon discussed ways of enhancing its procedural efficiency. The Committee also discussed new priorities and research initiatives, looking at a proposal to create a world human rights court, and citizen safety and human rights.

Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Committee Chairperson, made a statement in which he spoke about the relationship between the Advisory Committee and the Human Rights Council and emphasised on the issue of the generation and management of mandates in order to enhance the procedural efficiency of the Committee, among other issues.

In the following discussion experts highlighted the challenge and need to strengthen interaction with the Human Rights Council, as well as the need to consider attendance by Committee Members at relevant meetings in order to increase the visibility of the Committee’s work. Experts also discussed ways of making the selection process of new committee members more efficient and transparent.

The following Committee members spoke in the discussion: Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Latif Huseynov, Mona Zulficar and Katharina Pabel. A representative from the Secretariat also spoke in the discussion.

The Committee later this afternoon discussed new priorities and research initiatives.

Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, introduced a research proposal for a world court of human rights. In June 2013 the Vienna +20: Advancing the Protection of Human Rights conference recommended supporting the establishment of a world court of human rights as an additional tool of international human rights protection alongside the United Nations treaty body system and the regional human rights mechanisms. The idea should be discussed in the Human Rights Council and the Advisory Committee could assist the Council by preparing a basic study.

In the ensuing discussion experts said proposals for a world court of human rights had been ongoing since 1947. Challenges would be agreeing on what jurisdiction such a court might have, and experts discussed ways of presenting the issue to the Human Rights Council. One speaker said it was likely the Council would not accept the proposal and consider it as something that went beyond the Advisory Committee’s mandate.

Mario L. Coriolano, Committee Expert, introduced a proposal on citizen safety and human rights. The global reality of rising social and institutional violence required new ways of thinking and acting; a new and alternative model focusing on human rights was a possible ways of breaking the vicious cycle.


In the discussion, experts said it was important to re-think various dimensions of the right to security which was subject to new forms of hazards and threats. Speakers also noted the need to perhaps find a term other than ‘citizen’ safety, which ran the risk of excluding non-citizens who were often the most vulnerable, and highlighted then need to focus on young people.

The following Committee members spoke in the discussion on new priorities and research initiatives: Vladimir Kartashkin, Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Shigeki Sakamoto, Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, Mario L. Coriolano, Mona Zulficar, Jose Antonio Bengoa Cabello, Anantonia Reyes Prado, Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, and Chung Chinsung.

During the meeting the Committee elected four new members of the Working Group on Communications. Ms. Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing, Mr. Latif Huseynov, Mr. Mario L. Coriolano and Ms. Katharina Pabel. The Committee was also briefed by the drafting groups who gave updates on their work.

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee will resume its public meeting tomorrow morning, Friday, 16 August, at 11 a.m. when it will adopt the draft text and report of its eleventh session.

Discussion on Working Methods

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said that the Committee would today review its methods of work, focusing on ways of enhancing the Advisory Committee’s procedural efficiency. Approximately one third of the Committee Members would be leaving so the issue of the management and generation of mandates was pertinent. The relationship between the Advisory Committee and the Human Rights Council was another crucial topic. In the last two to three years the Committee had been able to meet with the Council’s Bureau almost every session, and in February it started to meet with regional coordinators and regional groups. Was the Committee’s interaction with the Council efficient enough and should the Committee consider the extent of its presence at meetings? Another issue to consider was how the Committee organized intersessional work and enhanced good exchanges between members.

SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, said the Committee’s relation with the Human Rights Council should be strengthened. Unfortunately the Committee had been able to meet the Council’s Bureau as most of the staff were on annual leave. That problem could be rectified by changing the dates of the Committee’s August session.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said September was the only contact point with the Council.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that around two years ago the Committee had faced great challenges in interacting with the Council, and had had to be very aggressive. The result was that the February session was brought closer to the Council’s session (in March). The idea of moving the Committee’s August session to later in the month made sense.

A representative of the Secretariat said that the fact that the session in February took place immediately before the Council was an outcome of a review by the Council. The August session used to take place a little earlier in the year but there were technical constraints and not much leeway. The Working Group on Communications also had to be coordinated with. August had a limited number of weeks and unfortunately nothing could be done unless the Council wished to change the calendar of sessions.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said that at the opening of the session last Monday, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was represented by the Chief of the Special Procedures Branch, who delivered an address and made interesting remarks and suggestions about new priorities. That was the first time that the Committee had had clear indications from the Office of the High Commissioner suggesting new priorities, and was welcomed.

SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, said that the session could be moved to a week later in August. The problem in Geneva was that it was difficult to obtain accommodation at this time of year. Moving the session ahead would also allow for the Communication Committee to meet. He would appreciate the Secretariat examining that possibility.

A representative of the Secretariat said by way of clarification that the remarks made by the Chief of Special Procedures Branch could not be construed as official or formal proposals for the Committee to take up. Her statement drew the Committee’s attention to emerging issues and studies that may be worth considering.

LATIF HÜSEYNOV, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, asked the Secretariat to remind the Committee of the procedure for selecting Committee Members, and whether improvements had been considered. He wondered whether the Committee’s entitlement to make procedural proposals to the Council could be made use of, in order to make the selection procedure as transparent and effective as possible.

A representative of the Secretariat spoke about the procedure for selecting Committee Members. When there were vacancies, regional coordinators or regional members of the group nominated candidates. In most cases, when the number of candidates corresponded to the number of vacant seats, the requirement for a secret ballot was dispensed with and the candidates endorsed. In terms of criteria, States were required to give consideration to gender balance and appropriate representation, and geographic distribution of seats. Members should also have competent experience and be impartial, in addition to other requirements. There should be no conflict of interest and no accumulation of human rights functions. Those were the criteria that the Council would take into consideration when electing new members of the Committee.

LATIF HÜSEYNOV, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, said that his point was more about selection, rather than election.

A representative of the Secretariat said that selection was done by States. The Secretariat or the Committee themselves had no role in the selection process.

MONA ZULFICAR, Committee Expert, said that the motivation behind the thinking was that she would soon be completing her second term. She had great affinity for the Committee as a mechanism that should hopefully be effecting in reinforcing human rights and bridging the gap between documents and the everyday life of ordinary people the world over. The Committee was a mechanism that had been struggling to prove that it was worthy of existence, and gain support. Would it be possible to ask Governments to pay more attention to details of selection, so that people with more time, research capabilities and specialization could be selected? Could the Committee propose detailed selection criteria to make that proposal more effective, and circulate the criteria to States? Ms. Zulficar also said the complaint procedure should be reviewed and regularly assessed, in order to improve efficiency.

KATHARINA PABEL, Committee Expert, said the presence of the Advisory Committee in relevant meetings should be strengthened to allow for more information to be obtained and make the Committee’s work more visible.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, said that she would have liked to see the Chairperson, heads of groups and Committee Members invited to Council meetings on issues included on the Committee’s agenda.

New research initiatives for the Advisory Committee

World Court of Human Rights

SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee introduced a research proposal for a World Court of Human Rights. He said that the human rights machinery needed to boost its ability to address human rights situations around the world. Regional human rights courts were being created in Europe, the Americas and Africa. In June 2013 the Vienna +20: Advancing the Protection of Human Rights conference recommended supporting the establishment of a World Court of Human Rights as an additional tool of international human rights protection alongside the United Nations treaty body system and the regional human rights mechanisms. It was incumbent upon the Council to support the trend to strengthen the human rights cause. The idea should be discussed in the Council, and the Advisory Committee could assist the Council with the expertise of its members through preparing a basic study or report for further discussions. The existing human rights protection regime was arguably weak. By creating a world court the protection system would be strengthened. The study would not be binding but would help the Council in its efforts to strengthen the universal human rights system, and enable other international bodies to determine their position towards the idea of such a court.

VLADIMIR KARTASHKIN, Committee Expert, said that the proposal was a very interesting one that had been under discussion for about seventy years. Several similar proposals had been made. Today, there was a whole system of courts. One problem related to the competency or mandate of a world court. Would it look at questions of systematic and mass violations of human rights, consider individual cases, or be an appeals court? The most important thing related to the request that would be made to the Human Rights Council. It was likely the Council would not accept the proposal and consider it as something that went beyond the Advisory Committee’s mandate. At the same time it was an interesting proposal that needed to be studied. In order to ensure that the Council accepted the proposal it was suggested that the Council mechanism look at the question in the light of a study related to the strengthening of mechanisms in the area of protection of human rights.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, suggested that criteria should be considered on a more general level. Three elements which could be important were that a proposal to study a subject should be relatively specific and manageable in scope and work. It should be checked whether the topic was already being taken up, to avoid duplication. The proposal should come from within and refer to discussions within the Human Rights Council, to guide future discussions of the Council. Specific focus should be on weaknesses in the judicial system for human rights. The research proposal should be rephrased, for example, in a way that went along the lines of an evaluation or overview of experience with judicial bodies. Such a study could have different phases, which could also include looking at possibilities, requirements and challenges of setting up an international human rights court.

OBIORA CHINEDU OKAFOR, Rapporteur of the Advisory Committee asked for clarification as to what type was court was being envisioned.

SAEED MOHAMED AL FAIHANI, Vice-President of the Advisory Committee, said he was not directly proposing to establish a world court, but to ask the Human Rights Council to delegate the Committee to conduct a preliminary study. The issue had to be studied, and it was not possible to envisage jurisdiction before approval to carry out the study had been obtained. The Committee’s role was to carry out studies for the Council. It may not agree on the issue, but at least the idea had to be advanced. Many rights of people were at stake and such a court was needed. The court could work as an appeal body after all other regional court systems had been exhausted.

SHIGEKI SAKAMOTO, Committee Expert, said the idea of a universal human rights court was certainly interesting but he had a feeling that such a court was an idea whose time had not yet come. The proposal of a universal human rights court had historical roots, as early as 1947. It was true that the proposal might be helpful in identifying some of the major challenges that confronted the building of a more effective international human rights regime. The basic reasoning underlying the proposal seemed to reflect the assumptions that it was desirable that there should be a comprehensive, universal and binding scheme for ensuring rights for all individuals and that existing international mechanisms were highly selective. Mr. Sakamoto had concerns about such a court. Any efforts to create a new set of comprehensive global standards would likely result in a de-routed set of norms.

CECILIA RACHEL V. QUISUMBING, Committee Expert, said that it was certainly a very interesting and important proposal, whether its time had come or not. If it led to a discussion of universal norms, it would be difficult. On the other hand, why not throw the idea out and see what the discussion would be like at the Council because even just the discussion would be informative, not only to the Committee but to the world in general. The time may not be right now, but the time may right to hear people’s thoughts on the idea.

VLADIMIR KARTASHKIN, Committee Expert, believed that if the study was said to be on ways and means of strengthening of human rights protection system, then it would be acceptable to the Council.

LAURENCE BOISSON DE CHAZOURNES, Committee Expert, echoed colleagues that wished to submit a proposal on the strengthening of the protection system to the Human Rights Council. It was high time that, as a think tank, the Committee thought and reflected on the profile and jurisdiction of such a court.

DHEERUJLALL SEETULSINGH, Committee Expert, said they had to bear in mind, when making that formal proposal, that regional courts existed and the question of ratification was important. Ultimately, when submitting such a proposal to the Human Rights Council, objections that might be raised would be that such regional courts existed and they should be well equipped to deal with breaches at regional levels. He noted that the International Criminal Court had been criticized for pinpointing violations of human rights on one particular continent and not others.

MARIO L. CORIOLANO, Committee Expert, said that in the Americas region there was a system for the protection of human rights. The Committee had to take into account how the proposal was regarded, and how such an international court would be complemented by regional courts, to avoid duplication.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, said there was support for the proposal, but they should consider redrafting it. He suggested that those who wished to comment on it do so by e-mail. The proposer would then be responsible to develop a brief concept paper.

Citizen safety and human rights

MARIO L. CORIOLANO, Committee Expert, introduced a proposal on citizen safety and human rights. He said the topic was linked to carrying out a human rights-based approach. The global reality of rising social and institutional violence required new ways of thinking and acting; a new and alternative model focusing on human rights was a possible ways of breaking the vicious cycle. On one hand, social violence and its economic, political and cultural causes, which deepened marginalization and exclusion of the most vulnerable, called for comprehensive preventive public policies that built on civil, political, economic and social rights. On the other hand there was institutional violence. Political and judicial institutions had an impact on the rise of institutional violence with high levels of impunity for abuse of power. Police, judicial and penitentiary prison reforms in recent years had not taken into consideration a human rights-based perspective. On the contrary, they had drawn on so-called efficiency. It was reiterated that the rise in social and institutional violence called for a study. There were many international norms and standards and recommendations issued by treaty bodies and special rapporteurs which were not complied with. If the Council so wished, an investigation report would allow it to move forward in a resolution to set up basic principles to ensure citizen safety.

MONA ZULFICAR, Committee Expert, said it was important to re-think the right to security, which was a core human right and had now become subject to new forms of hazards and threats. Ms. Zulficar agreed that there were other dimensions that were important to analyse, such as religious extremism or terrorism. In many parts of the world religious extremism or terrorism had begun to take the form of institutional violence within informal organizations that were not recognised by the law and gave themselves the power to try to control the lives of others by imposing their own type of justice, their own way of holding people accountable, or their own lifestyle, thus restricting the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

JOSE ANTONIO BENGOA CABELLO, Committee Expert, endorsed the proposed topic and said that it was one of the most important issues today. During a seminar held in Chile on police ethics with the Chilean police and academia the issue of human rights in the work of the police force was raised for the first time and was held to be very important by the police officers themselves. It was extremely important to address that issue and it was hoped that countries would give it their support in order for the Human Rights Council to allow the Advisory Committee to explore the topic in detail.

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For use of the information media; not an official record