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Human Rights Council Advisory Committee discusses impact of Human Rights Council review on Committee

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee
MORNING

20 January 2011

Concludes Discussion on Right of Peoples to Peace

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee this morning discussed the review of the Human Rights Council and its impact on the Advisory Committee after concluding its discussion on the right of peoples to peace.

Discussing the issue of the review of the Human Rights Council, with regard to the Advisory Committee, Advisory Committee Experts said that several countries inside the Council had expressed support for the Advisory Committee. However, other countries had expressed views against the mechanism. While this body was called a think-tank, it was hard to understand why it was deprived from expressing its thoughts in the form of propositions to the Council. An Expert compared the Advisory Committee to an abandoned car that had been stripped of its parts.

Other Experts said that the creation of the Advisory Committee had been an accident and that it was an unwanted child. This had resulted in the Committee being paralyzed. They could only act on order. They were told that they were independent experts. But when they were working on a subject they had several big brothers watching over them. The Experts of the Committee were just puppets. It could be possible that next year there would be a request to completely eliminate the Advisory Committee.

Another Expert noted that it was the Western Group which was quite aggressive against the Advisory Committee. Historically, it was the western world which was behind the invention of the concept of human rights. But it was exactly in the same group that one could find today’s most violent human rights violators. All the proposals to undermine the Committee were western in nature. Since in general the members of this group were democracies with a public opinion, the Governments violating human rights did not feel at ease and had to pass into silence any criticism. What they were witnessing was a western Government strategy; a political strategy dictated by States. The Committee should not take a low profile but go in the offensive, highlighting the fact that its work was important. They were a think-tank and it was their right to make proposals for mandates to the Council. Having this mechanism was highly valuable. Experts hoped that Member States would recognize the added value of the Committee.

Also speaking on the issue of the review of the Advisory Committee was the Philippines.

Concluding its discussion on the right of peoples to peace, the Advisory Committee listened to Observer States which said that the right of people to peace constituted an obligation of all States. They also highlighted the importance of cooperation to achieve the right to peace. The United States expressed serious reservations towards the approach that had been taken with regard to the right to peace in the Human Rights Council. In their view, all human rights belonged to individuals and were not collective. An Expert of the Advisory Committee also took the floor to highlight the fact that the members of the Committee should not be thrown into the role of soldiers, fighting for one camp or the other.

Wolfgang Stefan Heinz, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the drafting group on the right of peoples to peace, in concluding remarks said that the drafting group would now move towards a well-argued report. They would involve and engage all stakeholders in the process.

Speaking this morning on the issue of the right of peoples to peace were Morocco, Algeria, the United States and Cuba. Also speaking was the Indian Movement Tupaj Amaru.

The Advisory Committee will meet again this afternoon, after a short meeting in private, when it is scheduled to take up its agenda and annual programme of work, look at requests addressed to the Advisory Committee by the Human Rights Council resolutions, consider follow-up to reports of the Committee submitted to the Council and discuss the issue of human rights education and training.

Right to Peace

Concluding its discussion on the right of peoples to peace, the Advisory Committee listened to Observer States which said that they joined the views expressed by some of the Experts that had cautioned of any step that would politicize this issue. It was important to ensure that human rights remained universal and non-selective all throughout the work on this issue. They attached great importance to this theme. The right of peoples to peace constituted an obligation of all States. They also highlighted the importance of cooperation to achieve the right to peace. They strongly encouraged the Advisory Committee to further the work on the issue for the promotion of the right of peoples to peace. It should also be noted that the least powerful countries were often the victims of aggression by other countries.

The United States expressed serious reservations towards the approach that had been taken with regard to the right to peace in the Human Rights Council. Contrary to what was stated in the Advisory Committee’s study, there was no unequivocal recognition of the human right to peace. The United States had serious reservations about the way the draft report had characterized the right to peace. In their view, all human rights belonged to individuals and were not collective. The United States however recognized the importance of this issue and the fact that the Advisory Committee was mandated with this study.

Non-governmental organizations also took the floor and said that the entire history of the world had been written with blood and tears. The Advisory Committee should not lose sight of the need to analyze the question of peace. It had to take into account the events of the last decade, such as the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the United States.

Experts of the Advisory Committee also took the floor to highlight the fact that the members of the Committee should not be thrown into the role of soldiers, fighting for one camp or the other. In fact, the Committee had been tasked to work on an issue, which witnessed the opposition of certain groups, speaking with a single voice. The members of the Committee were Experts and their mission was to draw up standards.

WOLFGANG STEFAN HEINZ, Advisory Committee Expert and member of the drafting group on the right of peoples to peace, in concluding remarks, thanked all the speakers who had enriched the debate. It had helped him to broaden the issue. His understanding was that they had to briefly touch the Security Council in their study, because it had a tremendous influence all throughout the United Nations. It was especially responsible for the mandates of the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. The Committee should include some comments on the reform of and a fair distribution of power in the Security Council. If, at a later stage, Human Rights Council Member States or the General Assembly wanted to drop this issue from the document the Advisory Committee would submit to them, they were free to do so, but he felt that the Committee should include this issue. The drafting group would now move towards a well-argued report. They would involve and engage all stakeholders in the process.

Human Rights Council Review

Discussing the issue of the review of the Human Rights Council, with regard to the Advisory Committee, Advisory Committee Experts said that several countries inside the Council had expressed support for the Advisory Committee. However, other countries had expressed views against the mechanism. The Advisory Committee was a collegial body of experts coming from diverse backgrounds. They came together to advise the Council on thematic issues to advance human rights worldwide. Having this mechanism was highly valuable. Experts hoped that Member States would recognize the added value of the Committee.

While this body was called a think-tank, it was hard to understand why it was deprived from expressing its thoughts in the form of propositions to the Council. The Committee had the right to receive mandates, but not to express its views or make suggestions to the Council. This was inconsistent with the nature of a think-tank and a mechanism that was made to make proposals. Another Expert noted that the Committee, when mandated with a study, never received guidelines from the Council. The Committee often received only a resolution and the Experts had to work out by themselves what was behind the resolution or the proposal. However, the institution-building package document clearly stated that the Council should submit specific guidelines to the Committee when it was mandating it with specific work.

It should also be noted that with only ten days of effective work, the Committee had submitted eight studies in a little less than three years. An Expert noted that there were several alternatives that were being proposed by Member States that did not want to keep the Committee in its current state. Some wanted the Committee to disappear completely, others preferred to transform the Committee into a group of experts that could be called upon by the Council, when needed, to work on specific issues. An Expert said that the Committee was an irreplaceable link in the United Nations human rights system. The mix and diversity of the Experts’ background was very useful in the Committee’s work.

Another Expert noted that, while the Human Rights Council had taken onboard almost all of the aspects of the former Commission, and had even gotten new instruments, such as the Universal Periodic Review, it was quite different for the Advisory Committee. Most of the research and studies that had been undertaken in the Sub-commission had been proposed by the members of the Sub-commission themselves; this possibility had been done away with in the Committee. The working group on communications had also been done away with. The meeting time had further been cut down from four to two weeks. Also, while the Committee needed time to produce its studies and documents, the membership of the Committee had to change regularly, each member serving only for three years. New members then had to work through all the existing material before being able to fully play their role. All this complicated the work of the Advisory Committee. It was quite right to compare the Advisory Committee to an abandoned car that had been stripped of its parts. The Council needed to seriously think about how it could mobilize the work of the Council. The Advisory Committee could be a very strong human rights body.

One Expert thought that the creation of the Advisory Committee had been an accident and that it was an unwanted child. This had resulted in the Committee being paralyzed. They could only act on order. They were told that they were independent experts. But when they were working on a subject they had several big brothers watching over them. Thus, the interest of the non-governmental organizations, which had been heavily involved in the Sub-commission, had also faded away. The Experts of the Committee were just puppets. What could they possibly achieve in the few days that were allocated to them? Providing that they were not bound and criticized, this group could do very important work.

Experts also highlighted the fact that contrary to Special Procedures mandate holders or other working groups of the Human Rights Council, the Secretariat was not involved in the substantive work of the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee could benefit from the contributions of the experts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee should raise the issue of having its own Secretariat during its meeting with the President of the Human Rights Council.

The Committee had come out very badly from the review process, said one Expert. It could be possible that next year there would be a request to completely eliminate the Advisory Committee. The Western Group was quite aggressive against the Advisory Committee. In view of current events, the Council should try to strengthen the authority of the Advisory Committee and not the contrary. Historically, it was the western world which was behind the invention of the concept of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was nothing more than a copy of the declarations of independence of the United States and of France. It was exactly in the same group that one could find today’s most violent human rights violators. The United States had allegedly reintroduced torture under former President Bush and this was now continuing under President Obama in the Bagram Prison. Israel continued to maintain its illegal blockade over the Gaza Strip. Switzerland and Swiss companies were violating the right to food around the world. The Swiss Government could for example ask Nestle to respect the labour rights in Latin America. The question was why the west, the inventor of human rights, was against any strengthening of the Committee. All the proposals to undermine the Committee were western in nature. Since in general the members of this group were democracies with a public opinion, the Governments violating human rights did not feel at ease and had to pass into silence any criticism. What they were witnessing was a western government strategy. It was a political strategy dictated by States. The Committee should not take a low profile but go on the offensive, highlighting the fact that its work was important. They were a think-tank and it was their right to make proposals for mandates to the Council.

Observer States then took the floor to highlight the fact that the issues with which the Committee was being mandated with were often the most delicate ones. The Committee also needed to increasingly reach out to States. The room was only one quarters full; why was this so? Was it a question of scheduling? Or was it because they did not understand the work of the Committee? Another question was that of the election of the members of the Committee and whether national human rights institutions could also propose some members.

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For use of the information media; not an official record