Human Rights Council Intergovernmental Working Group - October 2010
From 25 to 29 October 2010, the First Working Group on the Review of the Work and Functioning of the Human Rights Council (HRC) began. During its opening session, delegations urged the HRC to better address human rights challenges and uphold its responsibilities by engaging in a "pragmatic and active way". The European Union proposed a systematic follow-up to recommendations and that the HRC become more accountable to human rights abuses in the world. The African Group, urged the Council to embrace objectivity, non-discrimination, urgency, flexibility, transparency, and increase dialogue between the Council and the "real world". The OIC, as well as NAM, stressed the need to preserve the IB package and only improve the Council, not reform it. Delegations stressed the need for better monitoring, an increased focus on victims, greater participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and better cooperation among delegations within the Council. NGOs urged the Council to become more action oriented and refrain from prolonged discussions of "technical nonsense".
On 26 October, during the discussion of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), delegations representing the NAM, the African Group, and the OIC proposed an increase in timeframe from four to five years, with a one-year gap between the 1st and 2nd cycle. Delegations including Norway proposed that there be mid-term reports on the implementation of accepted recommendations, while the Brazilian and Azerbaijan delegations proposed the midterm reports be voluntary, but encouraged. In addition, the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions proposed that national human rights institutions from the State under review be included in the process. Finally, there was a strong consensus that the UPR voluntary trust fund be strengthened to allow for more technical and financial support.
Delegations under Item 4.2, Special Procedures (SP), proposed a more geographic and gender equal election of mandate holders. Among others, the Iranian, Venezuelan and Yemen delegations urged for a more transparent and neutral selection of mandate holders with equal funding for all SPs from all regions. Delegations, including those from the U.S., Austria, and the Czech Republic proposed the establishment of membership thresholds to the HRC based on levels of cooperation from states. Another proposal was to create public records of the level of cooperation from states, including the status of standing invitations and the number of denials of SP visits.
On 27 and 28 October, the Council discussed their opinions on Item 4.3, the Advisory Committee and Complaint Procedures. While the delegations representing the OIC, NAM, the African group and GRULAC were hesitant to any changes in the IB package, the EU was disappointed that the Advisory Committee has not fulfilled its role as a "think tank of the Council". The EU called for the replacement of the Advisory Committee by a roster of individual experts, a more transparent process for the selection of qualified members, and a clearer mandate to be provided by the Council. The delegation of the United States went as far as recommending that the Council, "Abolish the Advisory Committee, which is an expensive and duplicative effort." NGOs called for increased communication between the Advisory Committee and the HRC, its increase of allotted time during sessions, greater support and funding from the Council, and a better appointment process.
Turning to the Complaints procedure, the representatives of the NAM, OIC, the African group and some GRULAC states called for the preservation of the two Working Groups. To no surprise was the EU's critical view on the Complaint procedure. Echoing the delegations of Switzerland, the United States, Argentina, and Canada, the EU recommended that the scope of the procedure be expanded and that it be merged into one, more effective, system. NGOs called for a transparent and public Complaints procedure with greater voices given to victims of human rights violations.
On 29 of October, the Council discussed Item 4.4, the Agenda and Framework for the Program of Work. The NAM, OIC, and the African Group recommended that the agenda be maintained with its 10-item agenda structure. The EU and U.S. delegation proposed a grouping of items 4, 7, 10 as well as items 3 and 9. Similarly to previous sessions, Israel recommended that Item 7 be removed from the Agenda, which received support from the U.S. delegation.
When discussing the Program of Work (POW), delegations and NGOs agreed that the POW needed to be rationalized, reduced, and have a more predictable nature. Regarding the Calendar of Sessions, different proposals were made regarding the duration of annual meetings. For example, Egypt on behalf of the NAM recommended that three sessions of 10 weeks be made. This would include a 1st session of 5 weeks, a 2nd session of 3 weeks and a 3rd session of 2 weeks. Other delegations hoped to see 2 "substantive sessions" a year to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of the Council. Those who proposed this recommended that a 3rd meeting be convened which focuses solely on UPR reports. NGOs had various recommendations such as organizing a yearly session outside Geneva at a U.N. regional center.
For the Methods of Work and Rules of Procedure, the NAM proposed holding a half-day panel, at least once a year, to interact with Heads of U.N. agencies on specific human rights themes. Regarding Special Sessions, delegations such as Canada, the U.S., and Belgium on behalf of the EU agreed that a better system could be created. According to these delegations, faster reaction time is necessary in order to maintain the credibility of the Council. On the other hand, the OIC and the African group called for the maintaining of modalities for convening Special Sessions. When the HRC discussed the Presidency and the Bureau, the OIC, NAM and the African Group would like to see the President's role remain procedural and organizational in nature. On the other hand, the EU recommended that the President have his own permanent team of advisors.
Turning to the relationship between the HRC and the OHCHR, member states had varying opinions. While the OIC and NAM believe the High Commissioner should only report to the HRC once a year, EU stated stated that no change was necessary. Regarding its relation with the General Assembly (GA), delegations hoped to see an increase of communication between the President of the HRC and the GA in general. The NAM is hopeful that the President of the HRC will consult with the President of the GA to address financial implications.
At the end of the Working Group Review, the Secretariat circulated a compilation of all proposals made by States and stakeholders in two separate pamphlets. There will be continued dialogue on this matter during the Bangkok retreat (8-10 December 2010), and Council members are optimistic this Review will lead to improvements of the Council.