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Human Rights Council opens its 16th session

“Vigilance over rights that are at risk and responsiveness to the cries of the victims continue to be responsibilities of the tallest order for this Council,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the 16th regular session of the key UN human rights intergovernmental body on 28 February.

The Human Rights Council opens its 16th session in Geneva. © UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre“I underscore once again that the recent protests have been sparked by harsh economic conditions, a suffocating political environment, lack of justice, and a sense of hopelessness,” she said.

The High Commissioner referred to the “principled stand” taken by the Human Rights Council in a special session last Friday that recommended the UN General Assembly suspend Libya’s Council membership and established an independent enquiry to investigate human rights violations in that country.

Joseph Deiss, President of the General Assembly, announced that the General Assembly would meet urgently on 1 March in New York to follow up on the Council’s recommendation.

“The situation in Libya is deeply shocking,” said Deiss in Geneva as he addressed the Human Rights Council. A failure to act would mean a great loss of credibility for both the Council and the United Nations, he added.

In the context of the current review of the Council’s work, High Commissioner Pillay called for “greater accountability for action on human rights.”

“It is important to recall that this body commands credibility through action—nothing else.  Dialogue and collaboration beyond political considerations and partisanship are crucial. You must close the gap between pledging rhetoric and willingness to actually deliver,” she said.

The current session of the Human Rights council began with a High Level Segment where over 80 dignitaries took the floor. Among them were the President of Switzerland Micheline Calmy-Rey, Vice President of Colombia Angelino Garzón, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The President of the Human Rights Council Sihasak Phuangketkeow said their presence underscored the importance of the Council mandates and the UN human rights agenda as a whole.

“We need to ensure that our pronouncement in this chamber, however eloquent, the resolutions that we pass, regardless of the number, will be translated into concrete actions that have meaningful impacts on the ground and make real differences on the lives of peoples,” he said.

The 16th session of the Human Rights Council takes place from 28 February to 25 March at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. More information is available on the webpage of the session, which is also webcast live.

28 February 2011