Everybody is talking at me (or the Twenty-sixth Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, April 20, 2005)

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This report will focus on all of the events from April 20 that did not have to do with Item 15 on indigenous issues, which is contained in the Twenty-fifth Report independently.

The Commission deferred taking action on the resolution regarding the protection of human rights in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) under Item 14, Specific groups and individuals. Pakistan has tabled amendments to this text which seek to eliminate certain language which the Organization of the Islamic Conference was not in a position to support. The main issue being references to criminal laws against sexual acts taking place in private and between consenting adults. Cuba spoke in favour of an amendment made by China which they feel places the rights detailed in the text within a clearer context, and they will call for a vote on China’s amendments. The USA wanted to make clear that reproductive rights do not include the right to abortion, and although the USA fully supported choice in family planning practices, they feel that abstinence and monogamous partnerships are the way to combat the pandemic of HIV/AIDS throughout the world. Costa Rica agrees with the USA’s concerns regarding abortion, and Costa Rica is in full support of the right to life and they could not support any language that would restrict this; the China amendment addresses their concerns and they would support it. Honduras would no longer co-sponsor the resolution if either the Pakistan or China amendments are put through. The EU pointed out as co-sponsors that the drafting of the resolution was done transparently, and during the discussions there were no States that had raised reservations, and furthermore all of the language in the draft is from other recognized bodies and presents nothing new in the way of rights to the Commission.

The one remaining resolution under Item 16, the Report of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, was adopted by consensus by the Commission. The resolution entitled work of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights basically provides the mandate of the work of the Sub-Commission and is a very straightforward text. Argentina spoke in favour of the resolution as well as the good work of the Sub-Commission over the years. The USA noted their ‘longstanding and continuing concerns’ regarding the Sub-Commission especially since they feel it has been working far outside its delegated mandate. Cuba pointed out that there were delegations who would like to hijack the work of the Sub-Commission and restrict its work as an independent body of experts. Cuba would maintain vigilance over the Sub-Commission proceedings in order to verify that its work was being allowed to proceed in an appropriate manner according to its mandate.

The tabling of resolutions for action moved to agenda Item 17, Promotion and protection of human rights. A decision on human rights and human responsibilities was adopted by a recorded vote of 26 in favour, 25 against and 1 abstention. This decision was put forward by Cuba and notes the importance of the individual within a global struggle for the promotion and protection of human rights. This decision attempts to foster worldwide solidarity on human rights issues and stresses the vital participation of each and every individual in this struggle for human rights for all. Cuba feels that those who oppose this text are taking a fundamentalist approach to human rights and are only in favour of human rights for some segments of society not all. All of those in favour of human rights for all should vote in favour of the text. The EU would vote against the draft because they feel that it is the duty of the State to uphold human rights for its citizens and that human rights are universal in all cases making this resolution somewhat redundant. The voting went like this:

In favour (26): Bhutan, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (25): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstention (1): Eritrea.

The resolution considering the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights was adopted by consensus, and seems to be a general statement on support of preventing violations of human rights through international cooperation.

The resolution on human rights and international solidarity was adopted by a vote of 37 in favour, 15 against and 1 abstention. Much like the previous resolution, it encourages all States to work together and help each other battle human rights violations, especially encouraging assistance to developing nations by developed ones. Also, an Independent Expert was appointed to address this issue through a report. The voting went as follows:

In favour (37): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon,

Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (15): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstention (1): Qatar.

The Netherlands felt that States are the primary guarantors of human rights and thus with this resolution the Commission was going beyond its mandate of maintaining respect for human rights by States themselves. The Commission is not the appropriate body to discuss international solidarity nor should there be an Independent Expert on this issue. The Netherlands would vote against the text. Canada felt that there had not been sufficient discussion to go forward with this draft, and even though it was not a question of voting for or against the resolution, they encouraged Members to vote against it. As you noticed from the voting table above, the resolution just barely squeaked through.

The resolution concerning the promotion of peace as a vital requirement for the full enjoyment of human rights by all was adopted by a vote on 32 in favour, 15 against and 6 abstentions. Once again, it would appear to be a very clear and straightforward resolution able to be supported by all as it expresses a fundamental human right but does not seem to be seen as so simple by several governments. The voting went like this:

In favour (32): Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (15): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstentions (6): Argentina, Armenia, Costa Rica, Honduras, India and Mexico.

The USA felt that this resolution has more to do with disarmament than human rights issues, disarmament being something outside the scope of the Commission’s mandate. They called for a vote and of course would vote against it. The EU made some dithery comments about how the absence of peace could not justify the non-respect of human rights which really makes no sense at all, but in any case they would vote against it. The resolution did in fact pass, even amidst the bizarre machinations of the USA and EU.

The resolution on the promotion of a democratic equitable international order was next adopted by a vote of 32 in favour, 15 against and 6 abstentions. This text encourages governments to increase international cooperation, especially in light of human rights and globalization. The right to self-determination is reaffirmed in this resolution among cultural and economic rights as well such as permanent sovereignty over natural resources, etc. The voting went like this:

In favour (32): Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (15): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstentions (6): Argentina, Armenia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.

The EU felt that even though the issues raised in the resolution are important and valid, the resolution itself goes beyond the mandate of the Commission and so they would vote against it.

The next resolution tabled was regarding the development of public information activities in the field of human rights, including the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights and is basically a text regarding freedom of information in the context of UN work throughout the world.

Things seriously heated up when the resolution on the question of the death penalty was brought before the Commission. Although it was adopted by a vote of 26 in favour, 17 against and 10 abstentions, there was impassioned discussion from all sides of the debate. This resolution condemns very strongly the practice of the death penalty as a violation of human rights, especially when it is applied on a discriminatory basis. The text encourages States to abolish the death penalty, or at least place a moratorium on executions. The voting went as such:

In favour (26): Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Russian Federation, South Africa, Ukraine and United Kingdom.

Against (17): China, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, United States and

Zimbabwe.

Abstentions (10): Burkina Faso, Congo, Cuba, Gabon, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka.

India made amendments that were rejected by the Commission in a recorded vote of 19 in favour, 25 against and 8 abstentions. Saudi Arabia on behalf of 49 delegations (including Observers) disassociated themselves from the draft in a written statement. The EU stated that the amendments by India seriously affected the content of the draft negatively and they were strongly against these amendments. Nigeria, Kenya, the USA, Sudan made a Pre-Emptive Defense as they use capital punishment and feel they are justified in using it. Sri Lanka would abstain because even though they do have capital punishment, it has not been used for 26 years.

The resolution on human rights and the environment as part of sustainable development was adopted by consensus although Australia maintained their objection to this issue being a part of the Commission work as there are other UN bodies more apt to deal with issues of the environment. Environment, to them, is not linked with human rights.

Also adopted without a vote was the resolution on the World Programme for Human Rights Education, which details the plan of action for the coming years of the World Programme.

The draft resolution on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted without a vote, and it urges States to ratify or accede to the Convention as soon as possible. It also includes a Five Point Action Plan from Kofi Annan that attempts to give guidelines that could prevent genocide, including early warning mechanisms and the like. The EU noted the importance of this issue and the resolution as co-sponsors, and further support the pro-active mechanisms contained in the resolution that could assist in preventing genocide in the future. The USA would join the consensus because they feel that genocide ‘disturbingly’ continues to threaten the peace and security of the world, however they do not agree with references to the International Criminal Court under the fundamental objection that the Court should never be able to exercise any form of jurisdiction over sovereign nations.

The resolution on the protection of the human rights of civilians in armed conflicts was adopted by a recorded vote of 51 in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention. Now it is time for Sezin’s apologies for her government. This resolution encourages all those involved in armed conflicts to protect the rights of non-combatants, especially ending the scourge of impunity that plagues conflicts throughout the world. The USA voted against the resolution and Japan abstained from the voting. Cuba, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Russia and India had voted in favour of the draft because they felt it was very balanced and objective and could be useful in protecting the rights of civilians in armed conflicts. The USA called the vote because they felt that the resolution is unclear and mixes up various bodies of international law which are conceptually separate. They proceeded to involve the Commission into an academic discussion on this issue as if that explains why they would vote against protecting civilians in times of conflicts. The USA had offered amendments which had been rejected, and this is why they could not go with the consensus at that moment.

In the afternoon, the Commission began to take action on resolutions under Item 6, on Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination. The resolution concerning World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action was adopted of a vote of 38 in favour, 1 against (any guesses?) and 14 abstentions. Also very straightforward, this resolution extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as well as provides for several UN Seminars to take place on this issue. The voting went as follows:

In favour (38): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (1): United States

Abstentions (14): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine and United Kingdom.

There was a move to act on the no-action motion put forward with regards to the EU’s draft proposals. Yes, I am still trying to figure out what this means myself. The no-action motion was voted upon and agreed. The EU had stressed that any Durban follow-up had to be done by consensus (which would mean that it would never happen because the USA is against all things Durban-related, no?). The African Group noted that members of the EU had been using the Working Group on Durban follow-up was being used to ‘renegotiate’ the outcome of the conference, and their amendments clearly reflect this, that is why the African Group was calling for a no-action motion on the amendments. Cuba spoke in favour of the resolution and against the amendments proposed by the EU. The EU encouraged the Commission to vote against the no-action as they could see no reason why the African Group would object to the language in their amendments, and in any case why can’t the group just vote on the amendments separately. A discussion ensued both in favour of the EU amendments and against them, but in any case the no-action motion was carried forward and the voting on the original text of the resolution passed in its favour.

One resolution under Item 14, Specific groups and individuals, was brought to the table once again by the Commission and the draft text on the human rights of persons with disabilities was adopted without a vote.

Under Item 17, on the Promotion and protection of human rights, several resolutions were adopted, the first being regarding the right to truth. This resolution was put forward by several Latin American nations who had lived under dictatorial rules where disappearances were the norm and for whom the searches for the missing are ongoing still. The resolution provides for a study on this right to truth as well as its place under the scope of international humanitarian law. The USA said that they were happy to join the consensus on this resolution, but wanted the Commission to know that they do not see any new rights emerging from this resolution, and even though the right to know about missing family members is provided in the first additional protocol of the Geneva Conventions, the USA was not a party to this protocol even though they ‘respected the spirit’ of it and have no legal obligations to uphold it. As if they uphold any of their obligations.

The resolution protecting and supporting human rights defenders was adopted by consensus. There was an amendment to the draft text which was voted upon but rejected by a close vote of 20 in favour, 27 against and 6 abstentions. The EU felt that the amendment corrupted the spirit of the resolution. Cuba said that obviously with such a close vote on the amendment, there were many delegations who felt the text was imbalanced as well. Indonesia spoke in favour of the original text and noted its importance for the defense of human rights worldwide.

The resolution on the role of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights was adopted without a vote, but there was discussion regarding an amendment put forward by Cuba to delete mention of the ‘Community of Democracies.’ Cuba decided not to block consensus by calling a vote, but pointed out to the Commission that the language of ‘Community of Democracies’ would be exposed for the farce that it is, being neither a community nor representative of true democracy.

In its resolution on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the Commission requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on this issue for two years who would present recommendations on a series of issues connected to this topic, such as identifying and clarifying standards of corporate social responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations in regards to human rights. This resolution was adopted by a vote of 49 in favour, 3 against and 1 abstention. The three who voted against holding transnationals accountable for human rights were Australia, South Africa and the USA, and the fence-sitter who abstained was Burkina Faso. The USA in a Pre-Emptive Defense Statement claimed that they have the strongest environmental regulations and protection of human rights in this regard, and they found it problematic that the resolution has an ‘anti-business’ sense about it. The USA said that States and non-State actors know very well their responsibilities and that this resolution was damaging to the private sector. This is why they voted no. Mauritania spoke in favour of the resolution and its importance.

In the resolution about human rights and transitional justice, the Commission calls upon the international community to assist those governments who are going through transitions and aiding the creation of transitional justice mechanisms to protect human rights. This resolution was adopted without a vote.

Within Item 18, Effective functioning of human rights mechanisms, the resolution regarding regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asian Pacific region was adopted without a vote, along with the resolution concerning regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights as well as the text on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The resolution on the composition of the staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was adopted by a recorded vote of 36 in favour, 15 against and 2 abstentions. This resolution points out that 102 of 148 members of the UN do not have any type of representation within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and that unbalanced geographic representation in the Office is a huge problem that must be addressed immediately. The vote went like this:

In favour (36): Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Against (15): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstentions (2): Guatemala and Peru.

China noted that there are no Chinese people working in the OHCHR, and there is only one individual of Chinese descent but carrying an American passport who works in the OHCHR. China had been told by the OHCHR that they did not have any qualified candidates who were eligible for positions in the OHCHR. China would like to see the geographical imbalances in the Office addressed immediately. India also noted that they have no representation in the makeup of the OHCHR. Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, apologized for not being present when the comments were made and she assured the Commission that she would do her utmost to ensure fair geographical representation in her Office. The EU would not support the resolution because they felt it was outside the scope of the Commission and that it was more appropriate for the General Assembly to handle this question. Russia stated their trust of Madame Arbour to do as she has stated in response to geographical imbalances in her Office.

With regards to Item 19, Advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights, the resolution on advisory services and technical assistance for Burundi was adopted without a vote, along with the resolution on assistance to Sierra Leone in the field of human rights, and the draft text on technical cooperation and advisory services in Cambodia, as well as the resolution concerning technical cooperation and advisory services in Nepal. Each of these resolutions condemns ongoing human rights violations, focusing on several vulnerable groups within each nation such as gender violence against women and girls, among other violations taking place. Each of the resolutions provides UN assistance to each of these countries in bringing an end to the human rights violations taking place. Each of the governments concerned made Defensive Statements that did not necessarily deny the claims made against them that warrant a resolution against the actions of the government, but certainly they each did their best to explain why the government had been forced in these cases to take certain actions. With these four resolutions being passed the proceedings were closed for the day.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,

Sezin

Thoughts?