We wish to convey our preoccupation regarding the decision of the United States of America to oppose the adoption of the current draft resolution for the proposed UN Human Rights Council presented by the President of the General Assembly, Ambassador Jan Elliasson.

While not perfect, if adopted, the current draft text will provide a sound basis to strengthen the UN’s human rights machinery. For this reason, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, the principal human rights NGO (FIDH, together with Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and hundreds of our local members and partners in all regions) have called for the adoption of the text.

Better equipped

The proposed Human Rights Council will be better equipped than the existing Commission on Human Rights to address urgent, serious and long-running human rights situations wherever they occur. It will hold more frequent meetings throughout the year instead of only one. More competitive election procedures will encourage a membership that is more dedicated to the protection of human rights. Instead of slates being adopted by acclamation, members must be elected individually and a higher threshold of votes applies - at least 96 individual votes out of 191 members. A country’s human rights record will be taken into account by those voting and those committing gross violations of human rights can be suspended from the body. All members must fully cooperate with the Council and they will undergo a review of their human rights record through a new universal review system that will apply to all countries.

We further believe that following the adoption of the resolution, we will have the opportunity to address the issue of pledges requested from States that would be candidates to the Council, and require commitments to, inter alia,

  • ratify and implement the main international human rights treaties and their protocols, lift reservations that are contrary to the objectives and principles of these conventions,
  • fully cooperate with the Council’s mechanims, in particular invite the special procedures at their request and following their terms of reference, respond to letters of allegations and implement the procedures’ recommendations,
  • abide by the peer review procedure and act, within the peer review procedure, in line with UN human rights mechanisms’ recommandations,
  • ensure that the Council provides an adequate response to Human rights crises, when they occur, in line with UN human rights mechanisms’ recommandations,
  • ensure that the Council provides a sustainable investment of the international community in situations where human rights crises persist,
  • ensure that the Council promotes the development of human rights norms where required and relevant.

Hence, we would like to call on the USA to reconsider its position in order to ensure that the draft resolution is adopted by consensus in the General Assembly. Proposing amendments at this stage. To do so would indeed seriously jeopardize the carefully balanced agreement that we have before us.

Not ideal, yet...

The text proposed by Ambassador Elliasson is not ideal. Yet, for those of us who are engaged in the daily defense of victims of the gravest human rights violations, it offers notable potential improvements in a number of fields. Consequently, we wish to respectfully call on your Government to join our efforts and withdraw its opposition to the text, and work with us for the implementation of the resolution in the spirit of the UN reform.

Sidiki Kaba is president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Founded in 1922, FIDH is an international NGO which federates 141 independant human rights organisations from 92 countries.

Shirin Ebadi is head of the Iranian Defenders Human Rights Centre, an FIDH partner. She won the Nobel peace price in 2003.