Council adopts review of its work and functioning by consensus

On Friday 25 March, the Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted by consensus the outcome of the working group on the review of the work and functioning of the Council. The outcome will form a supplement to the institution-building package. Despite some disappointment on all sides on the content of the outcome document, States agreed to adopt it and suggest the General Assembly ‘endorse’ the text. Mexico, during the adoption, pointed out that the success of the review was not necessarily measured in terms of the actual outcome, but in the positive mobilisation by many States to improve the Council’s functioning. Several States underlined the value of dialogue and cooperation, as shown by the review process. Nigeria credited the facilitators, and in particular the Ambassador of Finland for his ideas that are ‘20 years ahead of time’.

The US disassociated itself from the outcome document, calling the ‘selective’ treatment of Israel the ‘Achilles heel’ of the Council. The State said it would continue to review the Council session by session through resolutions. Now that the process has moved to the General Assembly, the US committed to engaging with the process in New York.

The outcome document is the result of several months of discussion and negotiation, which began with the first meeting of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on the review, from 25-29 October 2010. Prior to the meeting of the first working group, stakeholders, including ISHR, submitted their own contributions for discussion by the working group.

ISHR and other NGOs engaged closely with the process throughout the meetings of the open-ended working group (which met in October 2010 and February 2011), the series of informal meetings held in the inter-sessional period, and the Ambassadorial Retreat held in December 2010 in Bangkok.

The process was marked by reluctance on the part of States from both ends of the political spectrum to work towards compromise positions. As a result the potentially most fruitful proposals, including the creation of a mechanism to address urgent and chronic human rights situations, were shelved. The final outcome, adopted by consensus by the working group at the end of its second session, on 24 February, is disappointing in the limited changes that it sets out. Amongst the changes that did make it into the final document are:
  • The modalities for the speakers’ list for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will be revised to ensure that all States who sign up will be able to speak. Time allotted for statements will be allocated according to how many States have signed up to speak. The duration of each review will increase from the present three hours (new duration to be decided at the 17th session of the Council).
  • The cycle of the UPR will be increased from four years to four and a half years
  • The selection process for special procedure mandate holders will be adjusted, requiring nominated candidates to submit a motivation letter
  • The meetings of the Advisory Committee will be held immediately before the March and September sessions of the Council, to allow for better interaction between the two bodies
  • The Council will explore the use of information technology as a means of improving accessibility and participation by all stakeholders.

The outcome of the review, plus the report on the review process from the working group, will now be sent to the Council’s parent body, the General Assembly. The General Assembly is currently undertaking its own review of the status of the Council, consisting of a series of informal meetings. Topics covered by these meetings have included the process by which the Council’s budget is approved, the status of the Council and the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly, including the reporting lines from the Council to the General Assembly. There will also be an informal meeting on membership-related issues, including the standards to which members of the Council should be held and the process of election to the Council.

ISHR has published a series of news stories on the review process, which you can read here. For more background on the review process please click here.