Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia


[ Special Issues for the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights]

Embargoed for 9 March 2005
Review: CHR61/63/05
61st session of the CHR: Time for substantive debate
Office of the United Nations in Geneva

The cease-fire between Palestine and Israel and holding of elections in Iraq are unlikely to make the West Asia the hot issue of the 61st session of United Nations Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Rather, exigencies such as nuclearisation of Iran and the Democratic Republic of Korea are likely to have its influence on the proceedings of the 61st session.

Killing the Special Procedures:

When the 61st session opens on 14 March 2005, the intervention of the Like Minded Group (LMG) under Agenda item 3 on organisation of work should not come as “shocking”. The LMG has been refining its proposals on destroying the Special Procedures of the CHR. It is reliably learnt that LMG will propose that the mandate holders of the Special Procedures must have no association with non-governmental organisations in order to maintain their independence, in addition to the earlier proposals like nominating the Special Procedures through election, adoption

of a code of conduct for the Special Procedures and development of criteria for admissibility of the complaints as the case with regard to 1503 Confidential Procedure.

Independent experts on human rights without any association with NGOs are an extinct community in the South. The Asian bloc which has a dubious distinction of not having any regional human rights mechanism leads the LMG and they are likely to nominate security experts, defence analysts and police officers as experts on human rights. In the past, many States included human rights violators in their delegation during examination of periodic reports by the treaty bodies. With the effectiveness of the High Level Segment increasingly being measured in terms of how many dignitaries make interventions, international human rights mechanisms are being systematically eroded.

Country situations: Back to no action motions

“No action motion” is no longer a monopoly of China. Many States including Belarus have exercised this extraordinary procedural mechanism that prevents any discussion on the country concerned. At the 60th session, the Republic of Congo as the Coordinator of the African Group moved the no action motion against the resolution on the situation of human rights in Zimbabwe. With the visit of Cuban Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abelardo Morento to Kathmandu recently, Nepal might as well have learnt a few tricks to use the “No action motion” aided by China and Pakistan. With the United States and United Kingdom reportedly hesitating to sponsor a country resolution on Nepal, Cuba might well move the “No Action Motion” on behalf of Nepal. The draft resolutions on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Burundi, Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Nepal, the Russian Federation (Chechnya), Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran and Côte d'Ivoire are likely to face the “no action motions”.

Thematic issues: Ignoring the substance

In the post September 11th period, due process of law has been seriously undermined. For the first time, there is a serious effort at the 61st session to sponsor a draft resolution on the status of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and other locations. It remains to be seen whether European Union stands up for the rule of law and due process of law – which it promotes as its core value. Though the House of Lords shot down the draconian anti-terror law in the United Kingdom on 8 March 2005, it is unlikely that UK would support such a resolution. Should such a resolution be adopted, the United States may indeed be in the same league as Cuba for not cooperating with the UN Special Procedures.

A draft resolution on the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and other locations is likely to have impact over the future of the independent expert on Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism who was given one year mandate at the 60th session. In her report (E/CN.4/2005/100) to the 61st session, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made an excellent case for creation of a Special Procedure with necessary “mandates, processes and resources” because of the inadequacy of the existing mechanisms. While Special Procedures focus on specific issues, counter-terrorism measures are often implemented as a legal package, implicating a wide range of rights. Therefore, the existing special procedures have been unable to provide a coherent and integrated analysis of the compatibility of national counter-terrorism measures with international human rights obligations. Similarly, the capacity of the treaty monitoring bodies to address national counter-terrorism measures is limited by several factors including non-ratification of the treaties, long overdue of the periodic reports and ability to examine only a few periodic reports in a year.

It is unlikely that Mexico will sponsor the draft resolution on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Killing the OHCHR: In Samba style

The delegations of Brazil and Thailand have been promoting the reports of the High Level Panels of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Asian Centre for Human Rights unequivocally stated that the efforts of the Secretary General to reform the UN human rights mechanisms have been disastrous.

Yet, Brazil is reportedly considering to sponsor a draft resolution on the recommendation of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change” to authorise the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare an annual report on the human rights situation worldwide. With 2% budgetary allocations from the regular budget of the UN, OHCHR does not have human and financial resources to prepare such a report. With no field staff and pressure from the governments, such report is likely to contain the lowest common denominators. If such an annual report to be prepared by OHCHR fails to reflect the actual human rights situations, the credibility of the OHCHR will be at stake before the victims of human rights violations. If it does, most governments would like to undermine independence of OHCHR and appoint their Foreign Ministry official as desk officer at the OHCHR.  A report on human rights situation worldwide is simply not another Human Development Report!

Standard Setting: NGO fundamentalists

The ostrich like attitude of the largest democratic country, India, is likely to be in full display at the 61st session of the CHR. While Indian delegation managed to keep the issue of work and descent from the Durban Declaration and Programme of the Action of the Third World Conference Against Racism, the CHR might be its Waterloo. India will attempt to oppose the draft resolution from the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (Sub-Commission resolution 2004/17) to the 61st session of the CHR proposing a study on discrimination based on work and descent, and the development of a draft set of principles and guidelines for the elimination of caste-based discrimination in a comprehensive response to a massive and systematic human rights problem that affects the lives of an estimated 260 million people around the world.

While the CHR will examine the report of the inter-sessional open-ended working group to elaborate a draft legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, a few indigenous representatives may resort to hunger strike at the CHR to enforce the adoption of the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and add little spice to the mundane debates on standard setting. It never happened in the history of the United Nations where the CHR adopted a text adopted by the Sub-Commission without any changes. The failure to adopt the Draft Declaration has become the scandal of standard setting at the United Nations. The fundamentalists – both from the government and indigenous delegations – contributed to the scandal. The show must go on.

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