United Nations Human Rights Council

United Nations Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council is an international body within the United Nations System. Its stated purpose is to address human rights violations. The Council is the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which was often criticized for the high-profile positions it gave to member states that did not guarantee the human rights of their own citizens.cite news
title=The Shame of the United Nations
publisher="New York Times"

The United Nations General Assembly established the Human Rights Council on 15 March 2006.UN document |docid=A-RES-60-251 |type=Resolution |body=General Assembly |session=60 |resolution_number=251 |accessdate=2007-09-19|date=15 March 2006] by a vote which was opposed only by United States, Marshall Islands and Palau (bound to the United States through Compacts of Free Association), and Israel. [ UN document |docid=A-60-PV.72 |body=General Assembly |type=Verbotim Report |session=60 |meeting=72 |page=5 |anchor=pg005-bk04 |date=March 16 2006 |meetingtime=11:00 |accessdate=2007-09-19 ] The United States explained its vote was due to there being not enough safeguards to keep human rights abusing nations off the council. Venezuela expressed serious objections to the certain paragraphs which it believed implicitly make it possible to find pretexts to intervene in the internal affairs of States [ UN document |docid=A-60-PV.72 |body=General Assembly |type=Verbotim Report |session=60 |meeting=72 |page=5 |anchor=pg005-bk02 |date=15 March 2006 |meetingtime=11:00 |speakername=Mr. Toro Jiménez | speakernation=Venezuela |accessdate=2007-09-19 ] and abstained.

The Human Rights Council has no authority or jurisdiction except to make recommendations to the UN General Assembly, which has no authority or jurisdiction under the United Nations Charter to take any action except to advise policies to the Security Council.

Council structure

The 47-seat Human Rights Council replaced the former 53-member Commission on Human Rights. The Commission was an independent body, but the Council has been elevated to the status of a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. The 47 seats in the Council are distributed among the UN's regional groups as follows: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, 6 for Eastern Europe, 8 for Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7 for the Western European and Others Group.

In an attempt to remedy problems of the former Commission, which was criticised among other actions for the election of Libya to its chairmanship in 2003, the resolution establishing the Council specified that "members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" and will be subject to periodic review. Each member nation of the Council must be approved individually and directly by a majority (96 of 191) of the members of the General Assembly, in a secret ballot (in contrast to the former Commission, voting for which took place within ECOSOC). Council membership is limited to two consecutive terms, and any Council member may be suspended by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly. The Commission concluded its work on 16 June 2006, making way for the first meeting of the Council which was held on 19 to 30 June 2006.


Members of the Council are elected to staggered three-year terms. The first election of members was held on 9 May 2006. [ [http://www.un.org/ga/60/elect/hrc/ Elections & Appointments] Human Rights Council 2006.] The current members, with the year that the mandate expires in parentheses, are the following, re-elected members are in "italics":

"2007 Group"Human Rights Council: [http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/groups.htm Membership by regional groups from 19 June 2006-18] June 2007.]
*African States: Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia.
*Asian States: Bahrain, India, Indonesia, and Philippines.
*Eastern European States: Czech Republic, and Poland.
*Latin American & Caribbean States: Argentina, and Ecuador.
*Western European & Other States: Finland, and the Netherlands.

"2008 Group"
*African States: Gabon, Ghana, Mali, and Zambia.
*Asian States: Japan, Pakistan, South Korea.
*Eastern European States: Romania, and the Ukraine.
*Latin American & Caribbean States: Brazil, Guatemala, and Peru.
*Western European & Other States: France, and the United Kingdom.

"2009 Group"
*African States: Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria, and Senegal.
*Asian States: Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.
*Eastern European States: Azerbaijan, and the Russian Federation.
*Latin American & Caribbean States: Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay.
*Western European & Other States: Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.

Their terms of office began on 19 June 2006. On 19 May it was announced that Mexico would serve as the Council's chair during its first year of existence.

The replacement for the "2007 Group", was duly elected by the General Assembly on 17 May 2007, known as the "2010 Group", the year when their terms expire.

"2010 Group" [UN General Assembly 61st Session: [http://www.un.org/ga/61/elect/hrc/ Human Rights Council Election 2007] Human Rights Council Election (17 May 2007).]
*African States: Madagascar, "South Africa", Angola, Egypt.
*Asian States: "India", "Indonesia", "Philippines", Qatar.
*Eastern European States: Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
*Latin American & Caribbean States: Nicaragua, Bolivia.
*Western European & Other States: "Netherlands", Italy.

The replacement for the "2008 Group", was duly elected by the General Assembly on 21 May 2008, known as the "2011 Group", the year when their terms expire.

"2011 Group" [UN General Assembly 62nd Session: [http://www.un.org/ga/62/elections/hrc_elections.shtml (21 May 2008)]
*African States: Burkina Faso, "Gabon", "Ghana", "Zambia".
*Asian States: "Bahrain", "Japan", "Pakistan", "South Korea".
*Eastern European States: Slovakia, "Ukraine".
*Latin American & Caribbean States: Argentina, "Brazil", Chile.
*Western European & Other States: "France", "United Kingdom".

ub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was the main subsidiary body of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Human Rights Council extended its mandate for one year until June 2007. It was composed of 26 elected human rights experts whose mandate was to conduct studies on discriminatory practices and make recommendations to ensure that racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities are protected by law.

The Human Rights Council assumed responsibility for the Sub-Commission when it replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2006. On 30 June 2006 the Council resolved to extend the Sub-Commission's mandate on an exceptional one-year basis and subject to the Council's subsequent review. The Sub-Commission met for the final time in August 2006; among the recommendations it adopted at that session was one for the creation of a Human Rights Consultative Committee as a standing body to assist the Human Rights Council.

The 26 members of the Sub-Commission divided their work between eight Working Groups which examined the following issues:

* Working Group on Administration of Justice
* Working Group on Communication
* Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
* Working Group on Indigenous Populations
* Working Group on Minorities
* The Social Forum
* Working Group on Transnational Corporations
* Working Group on Terrorism

In September 2007 the Human Rights Council decided to create a new Advisory Committee to provide the Council with expert advice.

pecial Procedures of the Human Rights Council

"Special procedures" is the name given to the mechanisms established by the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights and continued by the Human Rights Council to monitor human rights violations in specific countries or examine global human rights issues. Special procedures can be either individuals (called "Special Rapporteurs", "Special Representatives" or "Independent Experts") who are leading experts in a particular area of human rights, or working groups usually composed of five members. In order to preserve their independence they do not receive pay for their work.

Various activities can be undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation, and engaging in promotional activities. The special mechanisms are categorised according to thematic mandates and country mandates. Currently, there are 29 thematic and 13 country mandates under special procedures. [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/docs/13threport.AEV.pdf] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides staffing and logistical support to aid each mandate-holder in carrying out their work. During its first session (19-30 June 2006), the Human Rights Council decided to extend the special procedures mandates for one year, subject to further review. An intergovernmental working group has been established to assess the mandates and make recommendations for improving their effectiveness.

Special procedures also include Working Groups made up of legal experts who monitor and investigate specific human rights concerns. There are currently four such groups:

* Working Group on people of African descent
* Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
* Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
* Working Group on the use of mercenaries to impede the right of peoples to self-determination

Controversial country-specific rapporteurs

The UN Human Rights Council has been meeting to determine some of the fundamental procedures that will be used by the body in years to come. It is proposed that "country-specific “special procedures”—the special experts, representatives and rapporteurs who investigate human rights abuses in particular countries—be abolished, particularly those assigned to Cuba, Belarus, Burma and North Korea." [http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=512 Human rights violators must not be allowed to further weaken UN human rights protections] Freedom House 11 June 2007.] Another issue being considered is "whether outside experts and nongovernmental organizations will be able to play a key role in the review; currently, documents provided by the state in question appear to comprise the bulk of the evidence used for the review."

pecial Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

A amendment to the duties of the [http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/7/b/expression/ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression] , passed by the Human Rights Council on 28 March 2008, has given rise to sharp criticism from western countries and human rights NGO's. The additional duty is phrased thus::"(d) To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account articles 19 (3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression"(quoted from p. 67 in the official draft recordHuman Rights Council: [http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/7session/A-HRC-7-L11.doc. Session 7, draft report, addendum 1] Published 2008-03-28, accessed 2008-06-06.] of the council). The amendment was proposed by Egypt and Pakistan [http://www.lloyds.com/CmsPhoenix/DowJonesArticle.aspx?id=386537 US, Europeans: Islamic Nations Want To Limit Free Speech At UN] , "Dow Jones Newswires", published 2008-04-01, accessed 2008-04-04.] and passed by 27 votes to 15 against, with three abstentions with the support of other members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, China, Russia and Cuba. [http://www.iheu.org/node/3123 Vote on freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights] , "International Humanist and Ethical Union, published 2008-03-30, accessed 2008-04-04.] As a result of the amendment over 20 of the original 53 co-sponsors of the main resolution - to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur - withdrew their support, although the resolution was carried by 32 votes to 0, with 15 abstentions. "Inter alia" the delegates from India and Canada protested that the Special Rapporteur now has as his/her duty to report not only infringements of the rights to freedom of expression, but in some cases also employment of the rights, which "turns the special rapporteur's mandate on its head".

Outside the UN, the amendment was criticised by organizations including Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, all of whom share the view that the amendment threatens freedom of expression.

In terms of the finally cast votes, this was far from the most controversial of the 36 resolutions adapted by the 7'th session of the Council. The highest dissents concerned combating defamation of religions, with 21 votes for, 10 against, and 14 abstentions (resolution 19, pp. 91-97), and the continued severe condemnation of and appointment of a Special Rapporteur for North Korea, with votes 22-7 and 18 abstentions (resolution 15, pp. 78-80)Human Rights Council: [http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/7session/A-HRC-7-L11.doc Session 7, draft report, A/HRC/7/L.11/] Published 2008-03-28, accessed 2008-06-06.] . There were also varying degrees of dissent for most of the various reports criticising Israel; while on the other hand a large number of resolutions were taken unanimously without voting, including the rather severe criticism of Myanmar (resolutions 31 and 32). [http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/G08/123/07/PDF/G0812307.pdf?OpenElement Session 7, draft report,] Published 2008-03-28, accessed 2008-04-11] , and the somewhat less severe on Sudan (resolution 16).

Position of the United States

In regard to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the position of the United States is: "human rights have been a cornerstone of American values since the country's birth and the United States is committed to support the work of the UN Commission in promoting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [US Department of State: [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/hr/unchr/ UN Commission on Human Rights] ] U.S. President George W. Bush declared that the United States would not seek a seat on the Council, saying it would be more effective from the outside. He did pledge, however, to support the Council financially. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We will work closely with partners in the international community to encourage the council to address serious cases of human rights abuse in countries such as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea."

The U.S. State Department said on 5 March 2007 that, for the second year in a row, the United States has decided not to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council, asserting the body had lost its credibility with repeated attacks on Israel and a failure to confront other rights abusers. [US Department of State: [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2007/mar/81471.htm Daily Press Briefing] March 6] ] Spokesman Sean McCormack said the council has had a “singular focus” on Israel, while countries such as Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea have been spared scrutiny. He said that though the United States will have only an observer role, it will continue to shine a spotlight on human rights issues. The most senior Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, supported the administration decision. “Rather than standing as a strong defender of fundamental human rights, the Human Rights Council has faltered as a weak voice subject to gross political manipulation,” she said.

Upon passage of UNHRC's June 2007 institution building package, the U.S. restated its condemnation of bias in the institution's agenda. Spokesman Sean McCormack again criticised the Commission for focusing on Israel in light of many more pressing human rights issues around the world, such as Sudan or Myanmar, and went on to criticise the termination of Special Rapporteurs to Cuba and Belarus, as well as procedural irregularities that prevented member-states from voting on the issues; a similar critique was issued by the Canadian representative. [cite news |url=http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1181813077343&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull |title=US slams UNHRC's singling out of Israel |author=Staff, Tovah Lazaroff & AP|publisher=The Jerusalem Post |date=20 June 2007] On September 2007, The US Senate voted to cut off funding to the council [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1200572487688&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull] .

The United States joined with Australia, Canada, Israel, and three other countries in opposing the UNHRC's draft resolution on working rules citing continuing misplaced focus on Israel at the expense of action against countries with poor human-rights records. The resolution passed 154-7 in a rare vote forced by Israel including the support of France, the United Kingdom, and China, although it is usually approved through consensus. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke about the "council's relentless focus during the year on a single country - Israel," contrasting that with failure "to address serious human rights violations taking place in other countries such as Zimbabwe, DPRK (North Korea), Iran, Belarus and Cuba." Khalilzad said that aside from condemnation of the crackdown of the Burmese anti-government protests, the council's past year was "very bad" and it "had failed to fulfill our hopes." [cite news| url=http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1195127524546&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull| title=US attacks UN Human Rights Council| author=Associated Press| publisher=The Jerusalem Post| date=November 17, 2007| accessdate=2007-11-18]

On June 6, 2008, Human Rights Tribune announced that the United States had withdrawn entirely from the UNHRC [cite news|url=http://www.humanrights-geneva.info/US-quits-Human-Rights-Council,3184|title=US quits Human Rights Council|author=Carole Vann/Juan Gasparini/Human Rights Tribune|publisher=Human Rights Tribune|date=June 6, 2008|accessdate=2008-06-07] , as its mission to the UNHRC had resigned his observer status. Although the US did not hold a seat on the UNHRC, it had held observer status and been involved in the review of other nations' human rights records. As of June 7th, the US has not formally confirmed or denied this report.

Council's position on Israel

The UN Human Rights Council, like its predecessor the UN Human Rights Commission, has been criticised by mainly Western countries for focusing too much on Israel. [ [http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hCB46LeoIDiLNzQYVOkRaPwS354A Human Rights Council slams Israel over Gaza; EU abstains] AFP 24 January 2008] By April 2007, the Council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel, the only country which it had specifically condemned."A Shadow on the Human Rights Movement", By Jackson Diehl, June 25, 2007; Page A19, [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/24/AR2007062401373.html www.washingtonpost.com] ] [ [http://www.eyeontheun.org/browse-un.asp?ya=1&sa=1&u=344&un_s=0&ul=1&tp=1&tpn=Resolution Compilation of UNCHR resolution, 2006-2007] from Eye on the UN] By comparison, toward Sudan, a country with severe human rights abuses in Darfur as documented by the Council's work groups, it has only expressed "deep concern."cite news
title=Bad counsel
publisher="The Economist"

Other observers disagree with criticism of the UN Human Rights Council. Richard Falk finds the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to be unprecedented in international experience and has produced immense suffering for Palestinians. He believes that it would not be forgivable if the Human Rights Council overlooked charges of Israeli violation of international humanitarian law. He notes that the HRC has appointed special rapporteurs for other situations, including the DPRK and Myanmar. Falk says that his experience suggests that the Council gives complete freedom to its special rapporteurs to report on a situation and adhere to impartiality. [ [http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080630/mamoun Linda Mamoun, "A Conversation with Richard Falk The Nation", 17 June 2008] ] Other observers took the view that the Human Rights Council's has to condemn Israel's violations of international law because the basic mission of the Council is to safeguard human rights. [ [http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/5ba47a5c6cef541b802563e000493b8c/d86f6768478327a785257408004a13c2!OpenDocument HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CALLS FOR CESSATION OF ISRAELI MILITARY ATTACKS IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES AND OF FIRING OF CRUDE ROCKETS, 6 March 2008] ]

The council voted on 30 June 2006 to make a review of possible human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of every council session. The Council’s special rapporteur on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is its only expert mandate with no year of expiry. The resolution, which was sponsored by Organization of the Islamic Conference, passed by a vote of 29 to 12 with five abstentions. Human Rights Watch urged it to look at international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by Palestinian armed groups as well. Human Rights Watch called on the council to avoid the selectivity that discredited its predecessor and urged it to hold special sessions on other urgent situations, such as Darfur. [ [http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/06/30/global13685.htm U.N.: Mixed Start for New Human Rights Council] Human Rights Watch, 30-6-2006]

The Human Rights Council has now passed 60 per cent of its resolutions on Israel alone and nothing, for example, on China and Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia, according to human rights academic Professor Anne Bayefsky.

[ [http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2008/s2301643.htm PM - Academic criticises UN human rights record ] ]

Professor Bayefsky has served as the director of York's Centre for Refugee Studies, project director for the university's Human Rights Treaty Study; member of Canadian delegations to international meetings, such as the UN Human Rights Commissions 1993-1996, the UN General Assembly in 1984 and 1989, the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and in 1995, a delegate of the American Society of International Law to the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.

At its Second Special Session in August 2006, the Council announced the establishment of a High-Level Commission of Inquiry charged with probing allegations that Israel systematically targeted and killed Lebanese civilians during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. [ [http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/5B9DECECFE9A68A6C12571CA0026386B?opendocument Second Special Session of Human Rights Council Decides to Establish High-level Iinquiry Commission For Lebanon] UN Press release 11 August 2006.] The resolution was passed by a vote of 27 in favour to 11 against, with 8 abstentions. Before and after the vote several member states and NGOs objected that by targeting the resolution solely at Israel and failing to address Hezbollah attacks on Israeli civilians, the Council risked damaging its credibility. The members of the Commission of Inquiry, as announced on 1 September 2006, are Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, and Stelios Perrakis of Greece. The Commission noted that its report on the conflict would be incomplete without fully investigating both sides, but that "the Commission is not entitled, even if it had wished, to construe [its charter] as equally authorizing the investigation of the actions by Hezbollah in Israel," [cite web | url=http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/specialsession/A.HRC.3.2.pdf | title=Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-2/1* | last=Human Rights Council|format=PDF] as the Council had explicitly prohibited it from investigating the actions of Hezbollah.

On 29 November 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised the Human Rights Council for "disproportionate focus on violations by Israel" while neglecting other parts of the world such as Darfur, which had what he termed "graver" crises. [ [http://www.irishexaminer.com/breaking/story.asp?j=86691818&p=8669zyzx&n=86692198 Darfur crisis 'graver than Middle East'] "Irish Examiner" 29 November 2006.] The UN Secretary-General: [http://hrw.org/un/pdfs/annan_address120806.pdf Address to Mark International Human Rights Day] 8 December 2006.]

Annan reiterated this position in his formal address on 8 December 2006 (International Human Rights Day), noting the Commission's "disproportionate focus on violations by Israel. Not that Israel should be given a free pass. Absolutely not. But the Council should give the same attention to grave violations committed by other states as well.

On 20 June 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined Western nations in criticising the world body's own Human Rights Council for picking on Israel as part of an agreement on its working rules. A UN statement said, "The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world." The European Union, Canada and the United States attacked the singling-out of Israel's role in the Palestinian territories for continued special investigation, under the deal reached in Geneva two days earlier.

The Geneva meeting aroused further controversy after Cuba and Belarus, both accused of abuses, were removed from a list of nine special mandates, which included North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan, carried forward from the defunct Commission. [ [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120156891659323879.html The U.N.'s Human-Rights Sham - WSJ.com ] ]

The Council's charter preserves the watchdog's right to appoint special investigators for countries whose human rights records are of particular concern, something many developing states have long opposed. Commenting on Cuba and Belarus, the UN statement said Ban noted "that not having a Special Rapporteur assigned to a particular country does not absolve that country from its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." The United States said a day before the UN statement that the Council deal raised serious questions about whether the new body could be unbiased. Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of "a pathological obsession with Israel" and also denounced its action on Cuba and Belarus. "I think the record is starting to speak for itself," he told journalists. [ [http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3415619,00.html UN's Ban faults rights council over Israel] Ynet 21 June 2007.] [ [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070621.wcomment0621/BNStory/International/home Why single out Israel?] "The Globe and Mail" 21 June 2007.]

The UNHRC President Doru Costea responded that: "I agree with him. The functioning of the Council must be constantly improved." He added that the Council must examine the behaviour of all parties involved in complex disputes and not place just one state under the magnifying glass. [ [http://www.swissinfo.org/eng/front/detail/Human_Rights_Council_president_wants_reform.html?siteSect=105&sid=8265630&cKey=1191080216000&ty=st www.swissinfo.org Human Rights Council president wants reform] SwissInfo.sc September 29, 2007.] [Steven Edwards: [http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=88cdec73-c6c9-4858-a95c-f2e8cbfe45dc&k=11105 Controversial changes to UN rights body passes] CanWest News Service/National Post November 16, 2007.] .

Speaking at the IDC's Herzliya Conference in Israel in January 2008, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen criticized the actions of the Human Rights Council actions against Israel. "At the United Nations, censuring Israel has become something of a habit, while Hamas's terror is referred to in coded language or not at all. The Netherlands believes the record should be set straight, both in New York and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva," Verhagen said.

As of January 24, 2008, Israel has been condemned 15 times in less than two years since the council was established. Myanmar (formerly Burma), has also been condemned by the council.

January 2008 decree

The council released a statement calling on Israel to stop its military operations in the Gaza Strip and to open the Strip's borders to allow the entry of food, fuel and medicine. The council adopted the resolution by a vote of 30 to 1 that had been tabled by Pakistan and Syria on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Canada cast the lone opposing vote, while a total of 15 other states (7 from the European Union) abstained.

"Unfortunately, neither this resolution nor the current session addressed the role of both parties. It was regretful that the current draft resolution did not condemn the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians," said Canada's representative Terry Cormier, the lone voter against.

The United States and Israel boycotted the session. US ambassador Warren Tichenor said the Council's unbalanced approach had "squandered its credibility" by failing to address continued rocket attacks against Israel. "Today's actions do nothing to help the Palestinian people, in whose name the supporters of this session claim to act," he said in a statement. "Supporters of a Palestinian state must avoid the kind of inflammatory rhetoric and actions that this session represents, which only stoke tensions and erode the chances for peace," he added. [http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hCB46LeoIDiLNzQYVOkRaPwS354A]

"We believe that this council should deplore the fact that innocent civilians on both sides are suffering," Slovenian Ambassador Andrej Logar said on behalf of the seven EU states on the council.

At a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded when asked about its special session on Gaza, that "I appreciate that the council is looking in depth into this particular situation. And it is rightly doing so. I would also appreciate it if the council will be looking with the same level of attention and urgency at all other matters around the world. There are still many areas where human rights are abused and not properly protected," he said. [ [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1201070783680&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull UNHRC slams Israel's actions in Gaza] "Jerusalem Post" 24 January 2008.]

Resolution concerning religion

The Council has sparked concern from free speech and human rights groups [May 2, 2008. The U.S. Is Right to Shun the U.N. Human Rights Council. Access 9/13/2008. http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/wm1910.cfmby Brett D. Schaefer] over a proposed resolution, introduced by Pakistan, that would prevent "defamation of religions." Human Rights Watch noted that passing a resolution concerned with religion, rather than individual freedoms, could result in a mandate to stifle freedom of expression and thought in countries around the world. Freedom House said that the resolution went against what the Human Rights Council should stand for, protecting human rights and freedom of speech, calling it “a perversion of the language and institutions hitherto used to protect human rights”. The resolution itself at first calls for freedom of religion, but then goes on to say that people must speak “with responsibility”, and freedoms of speech may be limited in areas regarding “public health and morals” or “respect for religions and beliefs”. Of the Council's members from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, 16 of 17 voted for the resolution, along with China, Russia, and South Africa. The 14 members that voted against included all of the European Union, Japan, Ukraine and South Korea. Nine developing countries abstained from the vote.

Muslim countries have won a battle to prevent Islam from being criticised during debates by the UN Human Rights Council. Religions deserve special protection because any debate about faith is bound to be “very complex, very sensitive and very intense”, council President Doru-Romulus Costea said Wednesday. The United Nations Human Rights Council says only religious scholars should be allowed to discuss matters of faith. [ DailyTimes. Thursday, June 19, 2008 http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008/06/19/story_19-6-2008_pg7_6]

Periodic reviews of member states

A key component of the Council consists in a periodic review of all 192 UN member states, called Universal Periodic Review (UPR). [ [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/ List of countries on UN Human rights council Webpage] ]

The new mechanism will be based on reports coming from different sources, one of them being based on contributions from NGOs. Each country's situation will be examined during a three-hour debate. [ Main points : [http://www.humanrights-geneva.info/article.php3?id_article=2248 Universal periodic review launched] , retrieved on nov 1st 2007] , [ More details on : [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/upr/noteNGO_041007.htm Information note for NGOs regarding the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (as of 16 October 2007) ] , retrieved on nov 1st 2007]

First session (7–18 April 2008): Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, South Africa, Bahrain, Indonesia, India, Philippines, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic.

Second session (5–16 May 2008): Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, France, Tonga, Romania, and Mali.

Third session (1–12 December 2008): Botswana, Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein, Serbia, Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, and Tuvalu.

The remainder of the first 192 reviews will take until 2011.

See also

* Community of Democracies
*Global Governance Watch


External links

* [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/ UN Human Rights Council] - official website
* [http://www.unwatch.org UN Watch] A NGO based in Geneva monitoring the work of the Human Rights Council
* [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/A.RES.60.251_En.pdf UN Resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights council]
* [http://www.hrcouncil.info/ Human Rights Council Orientation Page] - links to all the top documents, both official and NGO
* [http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council]
* [http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/currentawareness/unhumanrightscouncil.php UN Human Rights Council legal news and resources]
* [http://www.innercitypress.com/icg050906.html Report on election of Human Rights Council members] from [http://www.innercitypress.com/ InnerCityPress.com] accredited media at UN
* Includes voting results
* [http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/10/06/global14354.htm UN: Rights Council Disappoints Again] , Human Rights Watch, 6 October 2006
* [http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3381839,00.html UN is human rights nightmare] ,
* [http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1313923&ct=3698367 The must-see speech at the Human Rights Council] ,
* [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120156891659323879.html The U.N.'s Human-Rights Sham] ," Ronan Farrow, "Wall Street Journal, 29 January 2008
* [http://unelections.org/?q=node/720 HRC Elections] .

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