UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OPENS
SIXTY-FIRST SESSION

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Commission on Human Rights
MORNING
14 March 2005


High Commissioner for Human Rights Says Commission is One Embodiment
of Collective Responsibility to Promote and Protect Human Rights



The Commission on Human Rights this morning opened its sixty-first session, hearing the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights state that the Commission was one embodiment of the collective responsibility to promote and protect all human rights for everyone.

High Commissioner Louise Arbour said that States should remain the primary actors and the key conduits through which respect for rights should be realised. The obligation to respect and enforce human rights rested on States, and therefore State capacity should be strengthened and acknowledged. Consequently, the Secretary-General’s Action II reform initiative sought to strengthen national systems for the protection of human rights.

In situations of crisis where the lives of many were in immediate peril and where governments were unwilling or unable to protect persons within their jurisdiction or control, the collective responsibilities became more pressing, Mrs. Arbour said. The Commission was one embodiment of the collective responsibility to promote and protect all human rights for everyone. This responsibility took many forms, including action by the United Nations, initiatives by regional organizations, scrutiny by the media and civil society, and ultimately, and perhaps increasingly, through the establishment of appropriate mechanisms of accountability.

Makarim Wibisono, the Chairman of the sixty-first session of the Commission, affirmed that the Commission had a unique role to play through constructive debate on various human rights issues ranging from religious intolerance and racism, to the right to development and women’s and children’s issues, among others. The Commission’s fundamental goal remained the achievement of genuine international cooperation among States, and one of its most effective means of addressing specific human rights situations continued to be found in strengthening international cooperation, not engaging in condemnation. Everyone participating in the present session should refrain from defamatory statements and references, and should recognize that those present were here because they subscribed unreservedly to the cause of human rights and to its advancement.

Also addressing the Commission was Mike Smith, the Chairman of the sixtieth session of the Commission, who said the greatest challenge faced by the Commission was maximizing its impact in improving the quality of people’s enjoyment of human rights. Adopting resolutions and drafting new standards, no matter how elegantly phrased, did not automatically do that. Appointing Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts helped, but without resources and support on the ground, the impact of the special mechanisms remained limited.

The Commission adopted its agenda and also heard statements from the Republic of Korea on behalf of the Asian Group, Pakistan, Egypt, China on behalf of the Like-Minded Group, and Cuba under its agenda item on the organization of work of the Commission. The speakers raised issues concerning the need to restore the credibility of the Commission and stop the politicization, double standards and finger-pointing practices.

The Commission will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to begin the high-level segment of its 2005 session during which it will hear from Ministers and other high-level dignitaries.

Opening statements

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia), Chairman of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights, noted that the Commission had often opened under the pall of tragedy in recent years. At the start of the present session, the destruction and devastation wrought by the violence of nature, through last December’s tsunami, remained very much in the minds and hearts of everyone. Welcoming the honour of his appointment to chair the Commission, he paid tribute to his predecessor, and to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The world had increasingly been challenged by conflict and disaster over recent years, Mr. Wibisono continued. Destruction and violence, whether through acts of nature or man, affected victims’ exercise of their fundamental human rights directly and indirectly, and made it more important than ever to intensify the spirit of dialogue and cooperation among nations. Thus, the recent positive developments witnessed in the Middle East were heartening, but would require determination, goodwill, and support from all stakeholders to carry through. Moreover, the threat of terrorism, which showed no signs of abating, must continue to be fought in full conformity with the core tenets of human rights. There must be a continuing dialogue among nations, and the Commission had a unique role to play through constructive debate on various human rights issues - ranging from religious intolerance and racism, to the right to development and women’s and children’s issues, among others.

The Commission had made remarkable achievements and continued to face enormous challenges, he added. The areas of standard setting, enhancement of protection systems, and capacity building had seen constant progress. Yet, fulfilling the Commission’s mandate remained a never-ending process to make the world a more peaceful and dignified place to live in for all humankind. That process also gave rise to different perspectives with regard to certain human rights issues, and to the way in which those rights should be implemented. Those differences should be considered a source of inspiration, not an obstacle, in the search for appropriate solutions, with the fundamental goal remaining the achievement of genuine international cooperation among States.

Mr. Wibisono said one of the most effective ways of addressing specific human rights situations lay in strengthening international cooperation, not engaging in condemnation. Moreover, the debate and resolutions of this body must have an impact outside Geneva, and must be translated into action throughout the world. Thus, as the Commission remained an intergovernmental body, whose deliberations in the past had not always been free from controversy or politicization, the appeal to refrain from defamatory statements and references must be reiterated. All the countries present were here because they subscribed unreservedly to the cause of human rights and its advancement, he concluded. Each should agree to respect one another, and to make allowances for differences, as well as for the individual challenges faced in quickening the pace of progress in respective countries.

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the past 60 years had seen the establishment of a wide-ranging, broadly encompassing normative framework in which many human rights had been clearly articulated and enshrined as universal legal entitlements. This process had been one of the truly monumental achievements of the international community since the end of the Second World War. It had been a process in which the Commission, starting with the creation of the Universal Declaration, had been pivotal. In tandem with the development of this framework had been the increasing understanding and the use of the language of human rights. Social and economic development, the improvement in individual and collective welfare and security and the framework for peace could not be attained or sustained without full respect for human rights. States, collectively and individually, should fulfil their responsibilities in this regard. States should remain the primary actors, the key conduits through which respect for rights should be realised. The obligation to respect and enforce human rights rested on States, and therefore State capacity should be strengthened and acknowledged.

Consequently, the Secretary-General’s Action II reform initiative sought to strengthen national systems for the protection of human rights, Mrs. Arbour said. Together with its UN partners, the Office of the High Commissioner was determined to respond swiftly and effectively to the needs of Member States in this regard. This support was aimed, simply, at assisting States in meeting their own commitments with regard to human rights. Sometimes, however, such assistance was insufficient. In situations of crisis where the lives of many were in immediate peril and where governments are unwilling or unable to protect persons within their jurisdiction or control, the collective responsibilities become more pressing. The Commission was one embodiment of the collective responsibility to promote and protect all human rights for everyone. This responsibility took on many forms, including action by the United Nations, initiatives by regional organizations, scrutiny by the media and civil society, and ultimately, and perhaps increasingly, through the establishment of appropriate mechanisms of accountability.

The progress made in meeting the challenges posed by large-scale, gross human rights abuses should be assessed, Mrs. Arbour said. A consensus should rapidly emerge that much remained to be done to prevent the most horrific manifestations of man’s inhumanity to man. Between States working determinedly towards the realisation of the full spectrum of human rights, and those in situations of near collapse, there was a category of States in which human rights problems were chronic. Whether facing acute or chronic human rights violations, the approach to human rights diplomacy, both bilateral and multilateral, remained unsatisfactory, sporadic, and selective. The Commission should take the lead in developing more effective approaches that allowed for dispassionate analysis and focused, contextualised calls for action, together with sustained, constructive attention, in order to help resolve issues that were of collective concern and responsibility. The realisation of all human rights obligations required no more and no less than reasonable efforts within the maximum extent that resource constraints could permit, with priorities determined through inclusive democratic processes, and with an overriding concern for the empowerment of the most disadvantaged.

The United Nations was no stranger to talk of change, as it was a body that reflected many diverse constituencies, voicing many diverse priorities, needs and hopes. When talking of the United Nations, there was talk both of a reality and an aspiration: of how, in a perfect world, the global society should function. It was this aspirational dimension that provided the permanent impetus for change. In no area was this more so than with human rights. And at no time, perhaps, had change been more discussed than now - and it was hoped that the Commission would honour the need to ensure that the rights of all were reflected in the realities of their lives.

MIKE SMITH, (Australia), Chairman of the Sixtieth Session of the Commission on Human Rights, said each Commission had its special character, its particular tensions, its unexpected challenges and the sixtieth had been no different. Looking back, however, he thought that most delegations would agree it was a little easier and a little less confrontational than recent sessions. As he had already noted, the Commission was perennially under time pressure and as a result, reform of its working methods was almost always on its agenda, officially or unofficially. With a growing number of special procedures to be heard in interactive dialogues, a steady increase in observers who wished to make their views known and new and important human rights issues to be addressed, one needed constantly to look at options for ensuring that the Commission had sufficient time to deal with the full range of issues.

The greatest challenge the Commission faced was how to maximize its impact in improving the quality of people’s enjoyment of human rights, Mr. Smith said. Adopting resolutions and drafting new standards, no matter how elegantly phrased, did not automatically do that. Appointing Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts helped, but again without resources and support on the ground, the impact of the special mechanisms was limited. What one needed to do was provide the tools, the know-how and the moral support at the country level so that universal human rights standards could be promoted there in ways that were appropriate to the culture and social circumstance of each country. The work of national human rights institutions, of independent judiciaries and of reformers within Government bureaucracies should be supported. The only way in the long term that human rights goals would be steadily advanced on a broad front was if human rights considerations were part of the work of every United Nations body.

Statements on organisation of work

CHOI HYUCK (Republic of Korea), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said that enhancing the effectiveness of the work of the Commission should be treated as an ongoing process that required persistent efforts, and, within the broader context of reform initiated by the Secretary-General, the Asian Group hoped that further progress could be made during the session. Dialogue, consultation and consensus-building were emphasised as means of enhancing the effectiveness of the Commission and avoiding counter-productive politicisation of its work. By pursuing consensus, greater compliance and cooperation could be expected from Member States, and thus human rights would be better promoted and protected. There should also be more organised, transparent and wider consultations on all draft resolutions before their introduction.

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said respect for all religions was critical. In that context, Islamic countries were perturbed at the increasing trend in the last few years of defamatory statements against Islam and Muslims at human rights fora, including the Commission on Human Rights and the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. The increasing politicization of the Commission was of serious concern to Islamic countries. The most insidious example of confrontation at the Commission was the abuse of agenda 9 for country specific resolutions.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) rejected that practice of targeting developing countries, including Islamic countries, through country-specific resolutions. Those resolutions were often politically motivated and did not help in the promotion and protection of human rights. Serious efforts should be required for promoting consensus and harmony to enable the Commission to fulfil its mandate effectively. The OIC Group in Geneva had already conveyed its preliminary views on the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel’s report to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The actual problem of the Commission was the politicization of the system and the use of double standards, issues which needed to be addressed. The OIC believed that the problems confronting the human rights system were not rooted in the membership of the Commission, or the need of an advisory body or lack of reports by the High Commissioner.

MAHY ABDEL LATIF (Egypt) said the work of the Commission should take place in an enabling environment which was conducive to effectiveness and seriousness, and which was conducted through constructive dialogue among the Commission’s members and its groups. That work should be free from defamatory and negative references, which undermined the objective of protecting and promoting the human rights of people all over the world. With respect to the participation of non-governmental organizations, no individual should represent more than one organization, and the speaking limits should be respected without manipulation. The contributions of non-governmental organizations to the Commission's work should be provided in three languages at least one week before the relevant debate, and a code of conduct should be established to govern those organizations which did not respect the resolutions of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), particularly with respect to religious tolerance and the elimination of racial discrimination. Moreover, the Commission should strive to avoid parallel and simultaneous negotiations on draft resolutions, and should hold inclusive negotiations early in the session. The interactive dialogues between States and mandate holders should also be continued.

SHA ZUKANG (China) speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Group, said over the past 60 years, the world had undergone tremendous changes in every field, including in the area of human rights. These changes called for a corresponding adjustment of the United Nations human rights system, as well as the way that Member States behaved in it. The Commission was confronted with a credibility problem, and it could not be credible if it was seen to be maintaining double standards in addressing human rights concerns. Human rights progress in certain parts of the world could be bloated beyond proportion in order to fulfil hidden political agendas. For the same reason, serious human rights violations could also be ignored on purpose. The record of the Commission’s meetings over the last few years showed that there were factors that had contributed to the intense politicisation and confrontation of the Commission, and to the loss of its objectivity, credibility and impartiality. It was time that members of the Commission did more to promote dialogue instead of confrontation, and had more soul-searching instead of finger-pointing.

JUAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ-PALACIOS (Cuba) said the Commission was a sinking boat, wrecked because of its growing lack of credibility and prestige; sinking as a result of political manipulation and its double standards. Its sinking was marked by its inconsistencies and the impunity enjoyed by a privileged few, who benefited from the irrational world order in which everyone had to live. It was not the poor and marginalized developing countries that were responsible for this state of affairs. They had always been the defendants in the forum, turned into an inquisition tribunal for the rich.

The Commission on Human Rights could not be half-reformed, it had to be re-founded from its own foundations. The problems were not organizational or technical. Its legitimacy was undermined by the membership of a superpower which trampled upon human rights and curtailed liberties. The problems of the Commission were fundamentally marked by political manipulation, and the organizational deficiencies were an expression of that manipulation. A true reform should begin by eliminating the pernicious practice of imposing unjust resolutions against countries, putting an end to double standards and to the impunity of the most powerful, reorienting the work through dialogue and cooperation, and devoting more time and allocating more resources to the effective realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and particularly the always postponed right to development.

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For use of the information media; not an official record