A Human Rights Council’s statement

Linked with Elsie Monge – Ecuador, .

Found on this page of the World Council of Churches, see also their Homepage).

On May 19, 2006, the Executive committee statement on Human Rights Council stated as follows:

1. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) held its final session in Geneva on 27th March 2006. It was an ignominious end to a body that was established in 1946 at the first meeting of ECOSOC, as one of the first two “functional Commissions”. For over 60 years UNCHR played a unique role in developing universally accepted standards for promotion and defence of human rights. It was the highest global body responsible to oversee respect for human rights by national governments. One of its major tasks was to monitor violations around the world and act on them during its six-week annual session in Geneva.

2. The work of UNCHR peaked through the 1970s to 1990s. Amongst other achievements it established 30 special procedures and mechanisms that addressed specific country situations and thematic issues. The WCC through its Commission of Churches on International Affairs worked closely with the UNCHR particularly during the 1970s and 80s on issues of militarisation and national security in Latin America and its impact on human rights. The Council was amongst the first organisation to bring victims of human rights violations, human right defenders and church representatives from the regions to give live testimony before the UNCHR. Much of this work contributed to the setting up of safeguards against torture, disappearances, violence against women, arbitrary and extra-judicial killings.

3. Despite structural flaws, and problems of funding the UNCHR continued to work effectively for promotion and defence of human rights. The work of UNCHR in recent years however, was virtually paralysed by practices and policies of double standards and politicisation of human rights agenda by member states, including en-bloc voting by the regions.

4. Given the dissatisfaction at the functioning of the UNCHR a number of states called for reforms. It was not surprising that the Secretary General set up a High Level Panel whose task was to propose overall reforms of the United Nations including the UNCHR. The World Council of Churches strongly supported this call of the Secretary General. The Statement on UN Reform issued at the 9th General Assembly, 14-23 February 2006 Porto Alegre, Brazil, also focused on the reform of the Human Rights agenda in the following terms:

“h) Stresses that reform of the UN human rights architecture must result in an improvement of the capacity of the UN to engage with and make a practical positive difference in the lives of victims of injustice, discrimination and oppression around the world. The system of Special Procedures developed by the Commission on Human Rights, of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies as well as of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office should be actively supported, and their independence respected and their capacity substantially enhanced.

i) Urges member states to avoid politicising the composition of the new Human Rights Council and give it a status within the UN architecture that reflects the central importance of human rights as one of the three pillars of the UN system. Members of the UN Human Rights Council must demonstrate through their policies, actions and domestic and international human rights record a genuine commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights. Being a UN member state or even a permanent member of the UN Security Council does not by itself meet this criterion.”

5. On 15th March 2006 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution that created a new Human Rights Council. The resolution was adopted after some hard negotiations. It was welcomed by most member states, churches and human rights NGOs who while acknowledging its shortcomings considered it the best under the present circumstances. The elections for the new Human Rights Council took place on the 9th May, when the General Assembly elected 47 countries of 63 that were contesting for membership. The inaugural session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to take place in Geneva on 19th June 2006.

6. The General Assembly Resolution acknowledged that peace and security, development and human rights are not only interlinked and mutually reinforcing but also are the pillars of the United Nations system and the foundations for collective security and wellbeing. The Resolution recognised the work undertaken by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, over the years, and expressed the need to preserve and build on its achievements and to redress its shortcomings.

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 16-19 May 2006:

Recognises the contribution made by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, over a period of sixty years, for promotion and defence of human rights and expresses the need to preserve and build on its achievements by avoiding policies and practices of double standards, en-bloc voting and politicisation of the human rights agenda that were so prevalent at the UNCHR and were instrumental for bringing it into disrepute;

Encourages member states of the United Nations to recognise and accept the importance of the universality of human rights and to work for it in a spirit of cooperation across regional lines for the wellbeing of all the people around the world; and also recognise the increasing interaction between religion and politics in order to address tensions between the right to religious freedom and other fundamental rights;

Reiterates the need for the Human Rights Council to recognise the achievements and importance of the special mechanism of the UNCHR and to strengthen and build their capacities;

Emphasises strongly for the need to recognise the role and contribution of churches and civil society organisations in the promotion and defence of human rights and ensure them unhindered access to effectively participate in the debates and discourses at the forthcoming sessions of the Human Rights Council;

Urges member churches to continue to encourage and support the efforts of the United Nations in strengthening the links between peace and security, development and human rights and in this connection continue to work closely with the Human Rights Council for the promotion and defence of human rights, including monitoring and compliance by the states of internationally accepted human rights norms and standards;

Calls on member churches and ecumenical partners in context where religion interacts with politics in a way that causes polarisation and division with societies to deepen dialogue with people of other faiths, seek common approaches and develop common codes of conduct for promotion and defence of human rights of all people;

Calls also on all member states to provide full moral, material and human resources backing and support to ensure the successful functioning of the Human Rights Council. (Read all on this page of World Council of Churches).

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