UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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SUB-COMMISSION ON PROMOTION AND PROTECTION
OF HUMAN RIGHTS OPENS FIFTY-EIGHTH SESSION


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Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights
7 August 2006


The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights this morning began its fifty-eighth session. Subsequent to the election of the officers for the session, the Sub-Commission, after a discussion, decided to postpone the adoption of the agenda for the session, as amended with the insertion of a new item seven entitled “Implementation of Human Rights Council decision 2006/102 and other questions related to it”, and with the re-naming of agenda item 8. It then briefly debated whether to issue a Chairperson’s statement on the situation in Lebanon, but no decision was taken.

Mehr Khan-Williams, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Sub-Commission was meeting today at a critical moment in the historic transformation of the United Nations system. The Sub-Commission had made important contributions to the development of the United Nations human rights system. Since its inception, the body had devoted itself to research and discussion of new and challenging human rights issues. One of its advantages was its ability to consider human rights issues without being restricted by a particular treaty or mandate. The Sub-Commission did not hesitate to raise issues that were initially considered provocative or unwelcome but which essentially helped in shaping new thinking and action of the Commission on Human Rights.
Marc Bossuyt, who was elected as Chairperson of the Sub-Commission, said during its session, the Sub-Commission was to give priority to producing a paper containing its vision and recommendations with regards to its future support to the Council, and a detailed list on what studies were currently taking place, and a global round-up of its activities. This was a positive element, and Mr. Bossuyt was sure that the central United Nations body on human rights would continue to need the expertise of a subsidiary body made up of independent experts.

The outgoing Chairperson, Vladimir Kartashkin, said over the year that had elapsed since the previous session, many major events had occurred, and in many regions of the world, blood was being shed, and the innocent dying: in the course of the present session, these and other events would be discussed, and the Sub-Commission would have to take appropriate decisions. Mr. Kartashkin was deeply convinced that the work of the session should concentrate on the goals which derived from the resolution of the General Assembly establishing the Council.

Sub-Commission Expert Abdul Sattar also made a statement with regards to the situation in Lebanon, urging the Sub-Commission to request Mr. Bossuyt to issue a statement on behalf of the Sub-Commission and its experts in which it would express deep grief and outrage at the massive denial of human rights, extend its sympathies to the victims, and voice the hope that the Security Council, acting in discharge of its primary responsibility, would bring about cessation of the war without further delay, and promote an urgent settlement of the conflict in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.

Also speaking this morning were Committee Experts Abdul Sattar, Francoise Jane Hampson, Jose Bengoa, El-Hadji Guissé, Halima Embarek Warzazi, and Shiqiu Chen.

Mr. Bossuyt was elected by acclamation as Chairperson of the Sub-Commission. Chin-Sung Chung, Antoanella-Iulia Motoc, and Miguel Alfonso Martinez were elected by acclamation as Vice-Chairpersons, and Mohamed Habib Cherif was elected, also by acclamation, as Rapporteur for the session.

The Sub-Commission also held its annual minute of silence in memory of the victims of all forms of violations of human rights in all regions of the world.

The next meeting of the Sub-Commission will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will conclude its discussion on the organisation of its work.

Statements

Vladimir Kartashkin, Outgoing Chairperson of the Sub-Commission, said he congratulated the members of the new Human Rights Council on their election, and wished the body substantial and major success in its work. The Sub-Commission was extremely interested in resolving as soon as possible and in a productive way the problems linked to it. Close cooperation should be established with the Council, regardless of the way the future Expert Body would work. The Sub-Commission was counting on the assistance and support of the Council in its future work. The constant assistance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was also appreciated. This was a difficult period of transition, and decisions at the present session would be decisive with regards to the work of the future Expert Body.

A number of important and responsible decisions had been taken at the previous session. In the light of the discussions which had taken place with regards to reform, Mr. Kartashkin was convinced that there was a need to take up the discussion again, and for the Sub-Commission to adopt extensive recommendations for the Human Rights Council, including on the role and functions of the new Expert Body to be established by the Council, and he hoped they would be adopted in a constructive spirit. The new Body should take on the positive achievements of the Sub-Commission that had been attained over its existence. Over the year that had elapsed since the previous session, many major events had occurred, and in many regions of the world, blood was being shed, and the innocent dying: in the course of the present session, these and other events would be discussed, and the Sub-Commission would have to take appropriate decisions. Mr. Kartashkin was deeply convinced that the work of the session should concentrate on the goals which derived from the resolution of the General Assembly establishing the Council. The decisions taken at the session would be vital for determining the work the new Body would be undertaking.

MEHR KHAN WILLIAMS, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Sub-Commission was meeting today at a critical moment in the historic transformation of the United Nations system. This was an opportunity for the Sub-Commission to make a significant contribution to the important changes taking place. On 15 March 2006, the General Assembly had adopted resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council, which was the single most significant reform in the history of the UN on human rights. It underscored the growing recognition of the role of human rights in the work of the UN and created a stronger body better able to promote and protect human rights. The new Council was a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. It was empowered with an impressive set of functions and responsibilities and equipped with a variety of tools to enhance its ability to prevent or respond quickly to situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, as they emerged. The Council would have at its disposal such major innovative elements as the universal periodic review mechanism, which would review the record of all States in fulfilling their human rights obligations and commitments. It should help to overcome the perception of selectivity and ensure equal treatment of all States.

The establishment of the Council had raised high expectations of the reinvigorated system of human rights protection and promotion. The first session of the Council last June was conducted in a constructive spirit, which had enabled it to successfully strike a balance between adopting essential procedural decisions and addressing substantive human rights issues. By its first resolution, the Council adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Sub-Commission had initiated the drafting of that Convention. Another long-awaited new international instrument adopted by the new Council – the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – was also based on the draft text produced by the Sub-Commission in 1994. The Sub-Commission had made important contributions to the development of the UN human rights system. Since its inception, it had devoted itself to research and discussion of new and challenging human rights issues. One of its advantages was its ability to consider human rights issues without being restricted by a particular treaty or mandate. The Sub-Commission did not hesitate to raise issues that were initially considered provocative or unwelcome but which essentially helped in shaping new thinking and action of the Commission on Human Rights. The Sub-Commission had been a forum for the voice of civil society institutions. Those were important achievements.

MARC BOSSUYT, Incoming Chairperson of the Sub-Commission, said he was fully committed to the Sub-Commission, as he was convinced it was the most interesting United Nations body, as its members could act independently on a broad spectrum of matters. This was a time when the body was being heavily criticised, and it was likely that he would be the last Chair of the Sub-Commission, which was an honour he could do without. The criticism was nothing new, and Mr. Bossuyt said he had always tried to work towards a better understanding between the Sub-Commission and the Commission on Human Rights, promoting a better knowledge of the subsidiary body by its parent body. Much of the criticism had been based on a misunderstanding of the Sub-Commission, that it was not a tribunal made up of impartial judges, nor a club of human rights activists: it was a political body, made up of States, and it therefore reflected the political forces in the world today.

The Experts, who had shown their commitment towards improving their methods of work, were the best placed to proceed to, or to propose, efficient reforms that were not just cosmetic changes aimed at saving face. The new Human Rights Council had a higher place in the United Nations system. Its new schedule of meetings was very positive. The Sub-Commission was referred to as an advisory mechanism in General Assembly resolution 60/251 establishing the Council, in which there was no specific decision on how to move ahead with regards to the subsidiary bodies. The Sub-Commission had to give priority to producing a paper containing its vision and recommendations with regards to its future support to the Council, and a detailed list on what studies were currently taking place, and a global round-up of its activities. All of this appeared to be very positive, and was clearly differentiated from the new procedure in which the decision was taken to replace a body with another before actually knowing what would be the mandate, modalities, size, functions, composition and working methods of the new body. Mr. Bossuyt was positive that the central United Nations body on human rights would continue to need the expertise of a subsidiary body made up of independent experts.

ABDUL SATTAR, Sub-Commission Expert, urged the Sub-Commission to request Mr. Bossuyt to issue a statement on behalf of the Sub-Commission and its experts in which it would express deep grief and outrage at the massive denial of human rights, extend its sympathies to the victims, and voice the hope that the Security Council, acting in discharge of its primary responsibility, would bring about cessation of the war without further delay, and promote an urgent settlement of the conflict in conformity with the principles of justice and international law. The war was preoccupying the minds of millions of people in the world and had displaced thousands of persons.

FRANCOISE JANE HAMPSON, Sub-Commission Expert, said she was aware that there were restrictions on what the body could do, and that what the body did this year and how would shape the future of a collegial body. She shared the sentiments with regards to the situation referred to, but noted that recently much less had been heard about the situation in Gaza and in Iraq. This was a proposal of substance, and it should be considered under the substantive part of the agenda, notably agenda item two. It would be premature to act today on this issue.

JOSE BENGOA, Sub-Commission Expert, said he supported the proposal forwarded by Mr. Sattar and asked Ms. Hampson to rethink her position. The suggestion of Mr. Sattar was something that the Chairperson could accept.

EL-HADJI GUISSE, Sub-Commission Expert, said in the past some had said the Sub-Commission had taken decisions that did not fit with its function, but Mr. Sattar’s proposal fitted fully within the mandate of the Sub-Commission, which should take a position on the issue and situation in Lebanon.

HALIMA EMBAREK WARZAZI, Sub-Commission Expert, said she fully supported Mr. Sattar’s proposal. She had come to the meeting with a heavy heart as a result of the events. None should remain indifferent to what was happening in Lebanon.

SHIQIU CHEN, Sub-Commission Expert, said the issue raised by Mr. Sattar was very important, and all were concerned by what was happening in that area of the world. It would be inconceivable for the Sub-Commission to meet without taking a stance on the issue.
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