Stephane Bussard/Le Temps – “Money is the only power one never discusses.” While it might have displeased Alexandre Dumas, the subject is nevertheless a major preoccupation for all member states of the UN Human Rights Council. Meeting in Geneva for one week beginning Monday, (Dec. 10) for its 6th session, the subsidiary of the UN General Assembly, created in 2006, could find itself lacking the necessary means to conduct its mission. At present, the Council has no budget to undertake Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the main innovation of the new Council from the previous Human Rights Commission. Thus a conflict is brewing between New York and Geneva.

The Periodic Review evaluation which must be undertaken by a troika of peer states, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs has an estimated cost of more than 13 million dollars. A source close to the Council confirms that “it will take many round-trips between Geneva and New York to try and persuade the 5th Commission of the General Assembly to release the necessary funds”.

For one diplomat based in Geneva, the transatlantic conflict reveals a North-South cleavage. “Certain countries in the South put development before human rights and prefer that the UN release resources for this priority”. A true paradox as some UN member states, close to schizophrenia, approve decisions taken in Geneva in favor of human rights while refusing, in New York, to allocate the financial means to apply them. It is all the more bothersome because it was the UN General Assembly that agreed to make the Human Rights Council a permanent organ and approved the principle of Universal Periodic Review.

One European ambassador fumed: “If New York does not grant the resources that the Council needs, the General Assembly will be reversing itself. This would be serious because the UN made the Human Rights Council one of its three pillars”. Since the adoption by the General Assembly of the resolution validating the creation of the Human Rights Council, things have evolved more or less smoothly. One example: the resolution calling for the Council to meet for at least ten weeks (a year). As for the Universal Periodic Review, a source close to the High Commissioner speaks of 23 to 30 weeks. A budgetary explosion is guaranteed. Moreover, between next April and May, more than 30 evaluations must be produced.

For strategic reasons, UN budgetary authorities in New York have pushed for a separate budget for the Human Rights Council and to not include it in the regular budget of the organization. Today this strategy reveals its limits because in New York, one tends to consider the Council as one UN institution among others.

The budgetary difficulties of the Council affect not only the Universal Periodic Review but also services such as the webcast: the live transmission of Council sessions, a service that could appear at first glance as a gimmick but is in reality essential for NGOs that don’t have the means to travel to Geneva and can thus follow all Council debates.
Cannot the High Commission for Human Rights, whose budget was doubled under UN reform last year, come to the Council’s aid?

To ask this question is to put the finger on the sometimes strained relations between the Palais Wilson and the Council. “The High Commission for Human Rights has already enough to do to completely spend its budget to fulfill the General Assembly mandate”. Its chief Louise Arbour, functions as assistant secretary general for human rights as well as executive secretary of the Council. Moreover, the High Commission undertakes numerous activities on the ground, meaning there is not much left for the Council to do.”

At present, no one wants to believe in cataclysm. In New York, the UN budget should be adopted before the end of the year. The member states of the Council have a brief window of opportunity to persuade those holding the purse strings. If the Council fails to receive its much-needed resources, concluded a Council delegate “I will really understand nothing about UN policy toward human rights.”