When the General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in 2006, it decided that the Council would review its work and functioning after five years and report back to the General Assembly. It also decided that the General Assembly would review the Council’s status within five years. After months of intense negotiations, the Council in Geneva has concluded its work on the review and the General Assembly must now embark on its work in earnest.
Under the guidance of two facilitators – the Permanent Representatives of Liechtenstein and Morocco – the General Assembly has two jobs:
• To receive, and consider, the report from the Human Rights Council on its work and functioning; and
• To conduct its own review on the status of the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council currently holds the status of a ‘subsidiary organ’ of the General Assembly. The General Assembly will need to decide whether it should remain as such, or whether its status should be elevated to that of a ‘principal organ’. But there are a number of other matters tied up in consideration of ‘status’: how the Council relates to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, how decisions of the Council are funded and other aspects relevant to the status of the Council at the time of its establishment.
Of particular importance will be discussions on membership of the Human Rights Council. The Council does not have universal membership, and GA resolution 60/251 makes it clear that membership carries with it human rights responsibilities. When electing members of the Council, Member States are expected to take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights. All Council members are expected to uphold the highest standards in promotion and protection of human rights. And, ultimately, the General Assembly can suspend the rights of membership of any member committing gross and systematic violations of human rights, as it did with Libya (GA resolution 65/265). But the UK believes that more must be done to better implement these requirements, and hold both candidates and members accountable against these broad principles.
The Human Rights Council in Geneva is an international intergovernmental body within the UN system. It has 47 members. The UK was re-elected to the Council in 2008 and will serve until June this year. We will run for re-election in 2013.
The Council was established by GA resolution 60/251 to replace the Commission on Human Rights which many felt was failing to address human rights in an adequate way. Its purpose is to promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights, and to address situations of human rights violations. Since its creation there have been sixteen regular sessions to provide members of the Council with the opportunity to review and consider thematic and country-specific human rights issues. Additionally, fifteen special sessions have been convened to address emergency of urgent situations. Special sessions can be called at anytime by members with the support of one-third of the Council – the most recent addressed the situation in Libya and established a Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations in the country.
No country has a perfect approach to human rights or a spotless human rights record, and nor should any country escape international scrutiny. The Human Rights Council established a new peer-review process, the Universal Periodic Review, whereby the human rights record of every UN member states will be reviewed. The UK was one of the first countries to undergo this process in April 2008.