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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations System. The UNHRC is the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR, herein CHR), and is a subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly. The council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and engages the United Nations' Special Procedures.

The General Assembly established the UNHRC by adopting a resolution (A/RES/60/251) on 15 March 2006, in order to replace the previous CHR, which had been heavily criticised for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members[1][2].

According to human rights groups, the council is controlled by a bloc of Islamic and African states, backed by China, Cuba and Russia, who protect each other from criticism.[3] UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and former High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson have criticized the council for acting according to political considerations as opposed to human rights. Specifically, Secretaries General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki Moon, the council's president Doru Costea, the European Union, Canada and the United States have criticized the council for disproportionate focus on Israel.[4][5][6][7] The United States boycotted the Council during the George W. Bush administration, but reversed its position it during the Obama administration.[8]

On 18 June 2007, one year after holding its first meeting, the UNHRC adopted its Institution-building package, which provides elements to guide it in its future work. Among the elements was the Universal Periodic Review. The Review will assess the human rights situations in all 192 UN Member States. Another element is an Advisory Committee, which serves as the UNHRC’s think tank, and provides it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues, that is, issues which pertain to all parts of the world. Another element is a Complaints Procedure, which allows individuals and organizations to bring complaints about human rights violations to the attention of the Council.

Contents

Structure

The members of the General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC's forty-seven seats. The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms. The seats are distributed among the UN's regional groups as follows: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven for the Western European and Others Group.

The resolution establishing the UNHRC states that "members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

Members

Members of the UNHRC are elected to staggered three-year terms. The first election of members was held on 9 May 2006.[9] The current members, with the year that the mandate expires in parentheses, are the following, re-elected members are in italics:

African States (13) Asian States (13) Eastern European States (6) Latin American & Caribbean States (8) Western European & Other States (7)
 Angola (2010)  Bahrain (2011)  Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010)  Argentina (2011)  Belgium (2012)
 Burkina Faso (2011)  Bangladesh (2012)  Hungary (2012)  Bolivia (2010)  France (2011)
 Cameroon (2012)  China (2012)  Russian Federation (2012)  Brazil (2011)  Italy (2010)
 Djibouti (2012)  India (2010)  Slovakia (2011)  Chile (2011)  Netherlands (2010)
 Egypt (2010)  Indonesia (2010)  Slovenia (2010)  Cuba (2012)  Norway (2012)
 Gabon (2011)  Japan (2011)  Ukraine (2011)  Mexico (2012)  United Kingdom (2011)
 Ghana (2011)  Jordan (2012)  Nicaragua (2010)  United States (2012)
 Madagascar (2010)  Kyrgyzstan (2012)  Uruguay (2012)
 Mauritius (2012)  Pakistan (2011)
 Nigeria (2012)  Philippines (2010)
 Senegal (2012)  Qatar (2010)
 South Africa (2010)  Republic of Korea (2011)
 Zambia (2011)  Saudi Arabia (2012

2007 Group[10]

2008 Group[10]

2009 Group[10]

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.In this election, Angola and Egypt were elected to the council,whereas Belarus was rejected.[11]

2010 Group[10][12]

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[13]

The replacement for the "2009 Group", was duly elected by the General Assembly on 12 May 2009, known as the 2012 Group, the year when their terms expire.

Presidents

Advisory Committee

The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was the main subsidiary body of the CHR. The Sub-Commission was composed of 26 elected human rights experts whose mandate was to conduct studies on discriminatory practices and to make recommendations to ensure that racial, national, religious, and linguistic minorities are protected by law.[15] 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

When the UNHRC replaced the CHR in 2006, the UNHRC assumed responsibility for the Sub-Commission, and extended its mandate for one year (to June 2007), but it met for the final time in August 2006.[15] At its final meeting, the Sub-Commission recommended the creation of a Human Rights Consultative Committee to provide advice to the UNHRC.[16] In September 2007, the UNHRC decided to create an Advisory Committee to provide expert advice.[17] The Advisory Committee has eighteen members. Those members are distributed as follows: five from African states; five from Asian states; three from Latin American and Caribbean States; three from Western European and other states; and two members from Eastern European states.[18]

Procedures

Complaints Procedure

On 18 June 2007, the UNHRC adopted Resolution 5/1 to establish a Complaint Procedure. The Complaint Procedure's purpose is to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances. Two working groups make up the Complaint Procedure: the Working Group on Communications (WGC) and the Working Group on Situations (WGS).

The WGC consists of five independent and highly qualified experts, and is geographically representative of the five regions represented by the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee designates the WGC's experts from among its members. The experts serve for three years. The experts determine whether a complaint deserves investigation. If a complaint deserves investigation, the WGC passes the complaint to the WGS.

The WGS consists of five members who are geographically representative of the five regions represented by the Advisory Committee. The UNHRC appoints the five members for a term of one year. The WGS reports to the UNHRC about the complaints received from the WGC and makes recommendations about the course of action the UNHRC should take.[19]

Special Procedures

"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.[20] 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

Special Procedure candidates

In 2008, The Human Rights Council elected 18 experts to make up its new Advisory Committee. In addition, The Council also approved candidates for its Special Procedures on the right to adequate housing, the right to food, human rights of indigenous people, sale of children, effects of economic reform policies, human rights in Myanmar, human rights in the Palestinian territories, human rights and extreme poverty, contemporary forms of slavery, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, people of African descent, human rights in Somalia and human rights defenders [21]

The following is a list of appointed candidates:

Raquel Rolnik (Brazil), Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context

Olivier de Schutter (Belgium), Special Rapporteur on the right to food

James Anaya (United States), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people

Najat M'jid Maala (Morocco), Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

Cephas Lumina (Zambia), Independent Expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights

Thomas Ojea Quintana (Argentina), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar;

Richard Falk (United States), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967

Maria Magdalenan Sepulveda (Chile), Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty

Gulnara Shahinian (Armenia), Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.[22]

International response

UN permanent ambassador Itzhak Levanon (Israel) said "that as the list of candidates for Special Procedures mandate holders was put forward today, he was overwhelmed at the profound sense of lost opportunity. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories was hopelessly unbalanced. This mandate was redundant at best and malicious at worst. It was impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates, the eminently wise members of the Consultative Group honestly had made the best possible choice for this post."

Warran Tichenor (United States) said, "that the Special Procedures, including country mandates, allowed the Human Rights Council an opportunity to view, monitor and help certain countries develop and improve their human rights situations. The United States respected the integrity of the procedure to elect candidates but expressed its concern on the mandate holder selected for the task of assessing the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

Marius Grinius (Canada) said, "that the appointment of this slate of Special Procedures mandate holders marked an important milestone in the development of the Council. The Special Procedures had been referred to as the crown jewels of the United Nations human rights system. The efforts which had gone into the presentation of this list were fully appreciated. Canada hoped that Members could respect the integrity of the agreed process, in which no State should have a veto over candidates. However, based on the writings of one of the candidates, the nominee for the mandate on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Canada expressed serious concern about whether the high standards established by the Council would be met by this individual. Therefore, Canada dissociated itself from any Council decision to approve the full slate."

Mohammad Abu-Koash (Palestinian representative) said "It was ironic that Israel which claimed to be representing Jews everywhere was campaigning against a Jewish professor who had been nominated for the post of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The candidate was the author of 54 books on international law. Palestine doubted that those who had campaigned against him had read that many books. The candidate's nomination was a victory for good sense and human rights, as he was a highly qualified rapporteur. If Israel was concerned about human rights it would have ended its prolonged occupation."[21][23]

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."[24] 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."[24]

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

A amendment to the duties of the 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 record[25] of the council). The amendment was proposed by Egypt and Pakistan[26] 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.[27] 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[27], although the resolution was carried by 32 votes to 0, with 15 abstentions[25]. 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"[26].

Outside the UN, the amendment was criticised by organizations including Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch[26] and the International Humanist and Ethical Union[27], 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)[28]. 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).[25], and the somewhat less severe on Sudan (resolution 16)[28].

Universal Periodic Review

A key component of the Council consists in a periodic review of all 192 UN member states, called Universal Periodic Review (UPR).[29][30]

The new mechanism is based on reports coming from different sources, one of them being contributions from NGOs. Each country's situation will be examined during a three-hour debate.[31][32]

  • 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.
  • Fourth session (2-13 February 2009): Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia.
  • Fifth session (4-15 May 2009): Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Congo, Malta, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia.
  • Sixth session (30 November-11 December 2009): Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Norway, Portugal, Albania.
  • The second half of the complete UPR cycle will take place until 2011,[33] after which the status of the Human Rights Council will be reviewed by the General Assembly.[34] The Universal Periodic Review is an evolving process; the Council, after the conclusion of the first review cycle, may review the modalities and the periodicity of this mechanism, based on best practices and lessons learned.[35]

June 2006: In applying General Assembly Resolution 60/251 dated 15 March 2006, the Human Rights Council adopted a non-official document relating to the procedure of universal periodic review (UPR).

This document was elaborated by the Intergovernmental Working Group, open to all, mandated to develop the follow-up terms and conditions of the UPR procedure and give full effect to Decision 1/103 of the Human Rights Council.

The following terms and procedures were set out:

- Reviews are to occur over a four-year period (48 countries per year). Accordingly, the 192 countries that are members of the United Nations shall normally all have such a "review" between 2008 and 2011;

- The order of review should follow the principles of universality and equal treatment;

- All Member States of the Council will be reviewed while they sit at the Council and the initial members of the Council will be first;

- The selection of the countries to be reviewed must respect the principle of equitable geographical allocation;

- The first Member States and the first observatory States to be examined will be selected randomly in each regional group in order to guarantee full compliance with the equitable geographical allocation. Reviews shall then be conducted alphabetically.

Similar mechanisms exist in other organizations: International Atomic Energy Agency, Council of Europe, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, International Labour Bureau and the World Trade Organization.[36]

Except for the tri-annual reports on development of human rights policies, that Member States have to submit to the Secretary General since 1956, the Human Rights Council UPR procedure constitutes a first in the area. It marks the end of the discrimination that had plagued the work of the Human Rights Commission and had caused it to be harshly criticised. Finally, this mechanism demonstrates and confirms the universal nature of human rights.

Specific issues

Israel

Overview

As of January 24, 2008, Israel had been condemned 15 times in less than two years. By April 2007, the Council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel, the only country which it had specifically condemned.[37][38] Toward Sudan, another country with human rights abuses as documented by the Council's working groups, it has expressed "deep concern."[37]

The council voted on 30 June 2006 to make a review of alleged 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 that in Darfur.[39]

Criticisms of UNHRC positions on Israel

The UN Human Rights Council, like its predecessor the UN Human Rights Commission, has been criticized by some Western countries for its fixation on Israel while ignoring the actions of neighboring states. This has led to accusations of the organization being anti-Israeli.[40]

UN Secretaries General

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.[41][42]

Annan reiterated this position in his formal address on 8 December 2006 (International Human Rights Day). Annan argued that the Commission should not have a "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."[43]

On 20 June 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement that read: "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."[44] The European Union, Canada and the United States were also critical of the Council's focus on Israeli violations. 

United States and UNHRC President

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. A Council meeting in Geneva in 2007 caused controversy after Cuba and Belarus, both accused of abuses, were removed from a list of nine special mandates. The list, which included North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan, had been carried forward from the defunct Commission.[45] Commenting on Cuba and Belarus, the UN statement said that 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.[46][47]

The UNHRC President Doru Costea responded: "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.[48][49].

Netherlands

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.[50]

2006 Lebanon conflict

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.[51] 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, were 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,"[52] as the Council had explicitly prohibited it from investigating the actions of Hezbollah.

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. 15 states 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.[53]

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.[54] "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.[55]

Gaza report

UN Human Rights Council vote on the resolution. Green represents support, blue represents opposition, brown means abstain, and tan means absent.

On the 3 April 2009, South African Richard Goldstone was named as the head of the independent United Nations Fact-Finding Mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the Gaza War. The Mission was established by Resolution S-9/1 of the United Nations Human Rights Council.[56] All Western nations opposed the establishment of the inquiry commission.[57]

The resolution explicitly limited the mission to investigating solely Israel — a mandate whose terms as set out in the UNHRC resolution cannot be changed. The report, however, cites a mandate which encompasses all violations. This mandate is ascribed not to the Council but to the President. Goldstone himself said he had changed the terms of the mandate in "informal discussions". Noting that the mission digressed little from its original mandate, Melanie Phillips suggests that the motive for the high-handed action may have been "to provide Goldstone with the fig-leaf to disguise the moral bankruptcy of the entire process."[58]

On September 15, 2009, the UN Fact-Finding mission released its report. The report found that there was evidence "indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity." The mission also found that there was evidence that "Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel."[59][60][61] The mission called for referring either side in the conflict to the UN Security Council for prosecution at the International Criminal Court if they refuse to launch fully independent investigations by December 2009.[62]

Criticism of the resolution
This is unfortunately a practice by the Council: adopting resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics.

—Mary Robinson

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson criticized the resolution mandating the report as unbalanced and motivated by political concerns, saying: "the resolution is not balanced because it focuses on what Israel did, without calling for an investigation on the launch of the rockets by Hamas. This is unfortunately a practice by the Council: adopting resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics. This is very regrettable." Robinson refused an offer to head the mission.[7] Robinson is co-signatory to an open letter to the UN, which called for a “prompt, independent and impartial investigation [that] would provide a public record of gross violations of international humanitarian law committed and provide recommendations on how those responsible for crimes should be held to account". The signatories also expressed that they were “shocked to the core” by the damage inflicted during Israel’s three-week offensive[63].

Professor Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, called the resolution "deeply one-sided and flawed", arguing that the resolution begins by assuming what the inquiry it mandated was supposedly meant to determine. Cotler further noted that Goldstone himself revealed that he had initially refused his own appointment for this very reason. He quoted Goldstone saying: "More than hesitate, I initially refused to become involved in any way [with the inquiry], on the basis of what seemed to me to be a biased, uneven-handed resolution of the UN Human Rights Council".[7]

Richard Goldstone himself also condemned the resolution's focus on Israel: "This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the council can modify the text."[64].

Criticism of the mission

The organization UN Watch said: "no one has ever disputed that the Arab-controlled Human Rights Council deliberately selected individuals who had made up their mind well in advance - not only that Israel was guilty, but that a democratic state with an imperfect but respected legal system should be considered the same as, or worse than, a terrorist group".[65]

An open letter signed by some 50 British and Canadian lawyers protested the inclusion of Christine Chinkin in the mission, noting that Chinkin had signed a public letter in January 2009 that called Hamas' and Israel's actions in the conflict "war crimes." The lawyers contended that this disqualified her from participating in an international panel investigating whether Hamas and Israel had, in fact, committed war crimes.[65]

Criticism of the report

The Economist claimed the report was "deeply flawed" and attacked the Council for alleged prejudice against Israel [66] Ambassador Susan Rice, the US permanent representative to the UN, similarly attacked the report as "unbalanced" and "unacceptable".[67] The U.S. Congress, also attacked the report.

Goldstone called on the Obama administration to provide evidence for their allegations for the report, but there has not been in a response: “But I have yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are... “I mean, I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are.” [68]

The report was attacked by Israel's President Shimon Peres, claiming that Israel was "acting in self-defense" and that there was a failure to identify what he called the "aggressor".[69]

Hamas also criticized the report, saying it was equating the victim and the aggressor.[70] The Palestinian political party PFLP criticized certain parts of the Goldstone report which accused Palestinian fighters of targeting civilians and that there should be an avoidance of equating "the position of Israel as the occupying power with that of the occupied Palestinian population or entities representing it." [71]

"Defamation of religion"

From 1999, the CHR and the UNHRC adopted resolutions in opposition to the "defamation of religion." See Blasphemy and the United Nations.

Climate Change

The Human Rights Council has adopted the Resolution 10/4 about human rights and climate change. [72]

Bloc voting

Human rights groups say the council is being controlled by some Middle East and African nations, supported by China, Russia and Cuba, which protect each other from criticism.[73] This drew criticism from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the ineffectiveness of the council, saying it had fallen short of its obligations. He urged countries to 'drop rhetoric' and rise above "partisan posturing and regional divides"[74] and get on with defending people around the world.[73] This follows criticism since the council was set up, where Israel has been condemned on most occasions and other incidences in the world such as Darfur, Tibet, North Korea and Zimbabwe have not been discussed at the council.[73] Ban Ki-Moon also appealed for the United States to fully join the council and play a more active role.[74] The UNHRC was criticized in 2009 for adopting a resolution submitted by Sri Lanka praising its conduct in Vanni that year, ignoring pleas for an international war crimes investigation.[75]

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.[76] 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.[77] 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.[78] On September 2007, The US Senate voted to cut off funding to the council [1].

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."[79]

On 6 June 2008, Human Rights Tribune announced that the United States had withdrawn entirely from the UNHRC[80], 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 7, the US has not formally confirmed or denied this report.

On 31 st March 2009 the administration of Barack Obama announced that it would reverse the country's previous position and would join the UNHRC[81], New Zealand has indicated its willingness not to seek election to the council to make room for the United States to run unopposed along with Belgium and Norway for the WEOG seats.

See also

References

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