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The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (before 1999, known as the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities)[1] was the main subsidiary body of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.[2] It was wound up in late August, 2006.[3]

With the dissolution of the Commission on Human Rights and its replacement by the Human Rights Council in 2006, responsibility for the Sub-Commission passed from the former to the latter.[4] 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;[5] 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.[6]

The Sub-Commission was first formed in 1947, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Its primary mandate is described as:

Other functions and tasks could also be assigned to it by ECOSOC or the Commission on Human Rights.

It was composed of 26 human rights experts, each with an alternate and each elected for a term of four years, with half of the posts up for election every two years. Membership was selected from amongst the eligible candidates from United Nations member states in such a way as to result in roughly equal and proportional representation from each of the continents.

As of 2004, the breakdown of membership was:

The Sub-Commission had eight working groups, which conduct studies on discriminatory practices and make recommendations to ensure that racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities are protected by law.

  • 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
  • Working Group on Social Forum
  • Working Group on Transnational Corporations
  • Working Group on Terrorism



By the middle of the 1970s the Genocide Convention had not been ratified by all of the members of the security council and appeared to be moribund after 20 years of inaction. Members of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities decided to investigate the subject and over the next decade launched a number of initiatives.[7] which included publication of the Ruhashyankiko report in 1978 and the Whitaker report in 1985.


Ruhashyankiko Report

Nicodène Ruhashyankiko was appointed as a special Rapporteur in 1973 and produced a report The Study on the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocde, that was approved by the Sub-Commission at its thirty first session (E/CN.4/Sub.2/416, 4 July 1979.[8] The report was forwarded to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) with a recommendation that it be given the wides possible distribution, and the UNCHR made a decision to do so.[9]

Much of Ruhashyankiko's report was not found by the sub-committee to be controversial, for example he suggested suggested that the crime of genocide (as is piracy) should become an issue covered by universal jurisdiction,[10] and that an international criminal court be set up to try those accused of genocide.[11]

However in his review of historical genocide ignited a political debate, Ruhashyankiko took a conservative line arguing that it was impossible to draw up an exhaustive list, and to attempt to do so could reignite old quarrels and would not be acceptable to all of the member states of the United Nations. This drew the criticism of one member of the Sub-Commission who complained that genocide of the Palestinians had been omitted. But most of the criticism was for a change that Ruhashyankiko made between the draft of the report and the final draft. In his initial draft Ruhashyankiko included a mention of the Armenian genocide which occurred during World War I. But he deleted it from the final version of the report due to pressure from Turkey.[12] An omission that was supported by only two members. Ruhashyankiko justified his omission of the Armemian genocide and the inclusion of Jewish the Holocaust, by explaining that the Holocaust was universally recognised while the Armenian genocide one was not.[11] In the end the Sub-Commission sent the report with some amendments resulting from the debate within the Sub-Commission to the (UNCHR) with a recommendations that it should be widely distributed. The UNCHR accepted the recommendation and passed the resolution to enable its distribution.[9][13]

Mitsue Inazumi draws the conclusion from the political debate that the Ruhashyankiko report started, that it was evocative of how divisive the dispute over historical genocides and alleged historical genocides are, while William Schabas draws the conclusion that Ruhashyankiko backed down in naming the Armenian massacres as a genocide under the pressure from the Turkish state, and that "Ruhashyankiko's unpardonable wavering on the Armenian genocide cast a shadow over what was otherwise an extremely helpful and well-researched report."[11]

Whitaker Report

Benjamin Whitaker was appointed as a special Rapporteur in 1983 and produced a Revised and Updated Report on the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[12] It was noted by the Sub-Commission in a resolution at its thirty-eighth session in 1885, (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6, 2 July 1985).[14][15]

In 1983 due to the disagreements over the Ruhashyankiko Report the Sub-Commission asked the UNCHR to request the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESC) to request that the report be revised and updated. In the same year to facilitate this request the UNESC appointed Whitaker as a new Special Rapporteur, to produce a revised and updated study.[16]

The report was delivered in 1985. It consisted of a Forward, an Introduction, an Appendix, and four parts: Part I: Historical, Part II, Part III Future progress: Possible ways forward, and Part IV: List of conclusions. It made a number of controversial proposals including recommendations that the Genocide Convention should be altered to include protection of group based on politics and sexual orientation. Also "advertent omission" should become a crime and the defence of obeying superior orders should be removed. The report also suggested that consideration should be given to ecocide, ethnocide and cultural genocide.[17]

The report created further controversy,[18] because in paragraph 24 it stated that

The Nazi aberration has unfortunately not been the only case of genocide in the twentieth century. Among other examples which can be cited as qualifying are the German massacre of Hereros in 1904, the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915-1916, the Ukrainian pogrom of Jews in 1919, the Tutsi massacre of Hutu in Burundi in 1965 and 1972, the Paraguayan massacre of Ache Indians prior to 1974, the Khmer Rouge massacre in Kampuchea between 1975 and 1978, and the contemporary [1985] Iranian killings of Baha'is.
Whitaker Report, (paragraph 24).[19]

In the debates over whether to accept the report the Sub-Commissions final report stated:

According to various speakers, the Special Rapporteur had correctly interpreted his mandate in referring, for instance in paragraph 24 of his report, to specific cases of allegations of genocide in past. The lessons of history were indispensable to keep the conscience of the world alive, and prevent the recurrence of that odious crime. Other participants felt that the Special Rapporteur should have dealt exclusively with the problem of preventing future genocides, without referring to past events which were difficult or impossible to investigate.[20]

Turning specifically to the question of the massacre of the Armenians, the view was expressed by various speakers that such massacres indeed constituted genocide, as was well documented by the Ottoman military trials of 1919, eyewitness reports and official archives. Objecting to such a view, various participants argued that the Armenian massacre was not adequately documented and that certain evidence had been forged.

Sub-Commissions final report, paragraphs 41,42.[21]

That opinions of the Sub-Commission were split came to the for over the wording of the resolution to accept the report. In the end the second and weaker of two proposed resolutions was adopted, one that took note of the study and thanked Whitaker for his efforts,[nb 1] and also noted "that divergent opinions have been expressed about the content and proposals of the report".[22] Schabas states that "An attempt to strengthen the resolution by expressing the Sub-Commisions's thanks and congratulations for 'some' of the proposals in the report was resoundingly defeated".[23] [nb 2]


The Sub-Commission revisited genocide in 1993 and in 1994 recommended that an international court statue be prepared to facilitate the prosecution of genocide. It also recommended that an international committee be created to examine reports by States into their undertakings under Article 5 of the Genocide Convention. The committee also followed up on one of the Ruhashyankiko Reports ideas and suggested that the convention be improved by including clause enabling the crime of genocide to be tried under universal jurisdiction.[24]

In a resolution dated 3 August 1995 the Sub-Commission concluded "that a veritable genocide is being committed massively and in a systematic manner against the civilian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina, often in the presence of United Nations forces".[24][25]

Later the same month on 18 August, the Sub-Commission passed another resolution explicitly mentioning Radio Démocratie-La Voix du Peuple, which had been stirring up genocidal hatred in Burundi.[24][26]

Human rights and weapons of mass destruction

The Sub-Commission,[27] passed two motions[28] — the first in 1996[29] and the second in 1997.[30] They listed weapons of mass destruction, or weapons with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering and urged all states to curb the production and the spread of such weapons. The committee authorized a working paper, in the context of human rights and humanitarian norms, of the weapons. The requested UN working paper was delivered in 2002[31] by Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen in accordance with Sub-Commission's resolution 2001/36.


  1. ^ Unlike the earlier Ruhashyankiko Report the Sub-Commission did not "approve" the Whitaker Report
  2. ^ The sources are somewhat split on this interpretation of the Sub-Commissions response to the Whitaker Report with some stating that the report was endorsed:
    The report was adopted by a 15-4 majority of the panel of experts in the Sub-Commission, thereby recognizing the massacres of Armenians in 1915-16 as genocide. [38 U.N. ESCOR Commission On Human Rights, Sub-Commission. on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, (Agenda Item 4), 8-9, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6 (1985)].
    (Genocide Education Project p. 1 footnote 1)

    and others stating it was not:

    The Sub-Commission refused to endorse the indictment for lack of convincing evidence.
  1. ^ Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
  2. ^ Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
  3. ^ UN ‘think tank’ winds up by proposing expert body to advise Human Rights Council, UN news centre, 25 August 2006
  4. ^
  5. ^ Staff. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights concludes final session, United Nations press release, 25 August 2006
  6. ^ UN ‘think tank’ winds up by proposing expert body to advise Human Rights Council
  7. ^ Inazumi, p. 72
  8. ^ Fournet, p. xi
  9. ^ a b Schabas, p.466 footnote 124 citing UNCHR Decision 9 (XXXV).
  10. ^ Inazumi, pp. 72,75
  11. ^ a b c Schabas, p. 465
  12. ^ a b Thornberry, p. 64 footnote 27
  13. ^ Inazumi p. 73
  14. ^ Fournet, p. xii
  15. ^ Schabas p. 466 footnote 128 Whitaker presented a preliminary report in 1984 UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/40; UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/SR.3, pp. 2-4, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/SR.4, pp. 2-12
  16. ^ Schabas p. 466, footnote 126 UNCHR Res 1983/24, & UNESC Res 1983/33
  17. ^ Schabas, p. 467
  18. ^ Schabas, p. 466
  19. ^ Whitaker Report: Page 17, Prevent Genocide International, Retrieved 2009-05-15
  20. ^ Toriguian, p. 170
  21. ^ Schabas, p. 466, citing UN Doc, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/SR.57, para. 42.
  22. ^ Schabas 467, footnotes 135 & 137. Footnote 135: UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/SR.36/Add.1,paragraph 21. Footnote 137: UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/SR.36/Add.1,paragraph 57.
  23. ^ Schabas 467, citing footnote 137 UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/SR.36/Add.1,para. 57.
  24. ^ a b c Schabas, p. 468
  25. ^ Sub-Commission resolution 1995/1 6th meeting 3 August 1995
  26. ^ Prevention of incitement to hatred and genocide, particularly by the media, Sub-Commission resolution 1995/4 27th meeting 18 August 1995
  27. ^ "Citizen Inspectors Foiled in Search for DU Weapons".  
  28. ^ "Depleted Uranium UN Resolutions".  
  29. ^ "Sub-Commission resolution 1996/16".  
  30. ^ "Opendocument Sub-Commission resolution 1997/36".  
  31. ^ E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/38 "Human rights and weapons of mass destruction, or with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering". E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/38.  (backup) "In its decision 2001/36 of 16 August 2001, the Sub-Commission, recalling its resolutions 1997/36 and 1997/37 of 28 August 1997, authorized Mr. Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen to prepare, without financial implications, in the context of human rights and humanitarian norms, the working paper originally assigned to Ms. Forero Ucros."


  • Fournet, Caroline (2007). The crime of destruction and the law of genocide: their impact on collective memory, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., ISBN 0754670015, 9780754670018.
  • Inazumi, Mitsue (2005). Universal jurisdiction in modern international law: expansion of national jurisdiction for prosecuting serious crimes under international law, Intersentia nv, ISBN 9050953662, 9789050953665
  • Schabas, William (2000). Genocide in international law: the crimes of crimes, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521787904, 9780521787901
  • Thornberry, Patrick. International Law and the Rights of Minorities, Oxford University Press, 1993 ISBN 0198258291, 9780198258292
  • Toriguian, Shavarsh. The Armenian question and international law, ULV Press, 1988.
  • Staff, Excerpts from The UN Report on Genocide 1985, Paragraph 24 and the Armenian Genocide thirty-eighth session August 5–30, 1985 Geneva, Switzerland Statement by Mr. Laurin of the International Federation of Human Rights, Armenian Genocide Resource Library for Teachers, Genocide Education Project.
  • Staff, U.N. non-recognition in 1985,
  • Whitaker, Benjamin (1985). Whitaker Report, Prevent Genocide International

Further reading

  • Shabtai, Rosenne; et al. International law at a time of perplexity,Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1989, ISBN 9024736544, 9789024736546. p. 813 (A review of some of the complexity of the laws on genocide which the two reports looked into).

External links


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