Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse · United Nations

And now, the end is near (or the Twenty-eighth and Final Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, April 22, 2005)

This morning opened with a heated debate on the decision regarding the proposed reform of the Secretary-General in the area of human rights, which ultimately was adopted by a vote of 34 in favour, 15 against and 4 abstentions. The most contested part of this decision was a proposed Working Group to examine the question of UN reform in the light of proposals made by the Secretary-General in his report ‘In Larger Freedom.’ Within the decision, this Working Group on UN reform would be given 5 days for discussions and their report would be formally adopted and submitted to the Secretary-General through the Economic and Social Council. Here are the voting results for the decision, which was called to a vote by the USA:

In favour (34): Argentina, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, India, 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 (4): Armenia, Gabon, Guatemala and Mexico.

The EU had submitted what they called an amendment which would reduce the meeting to 2 days, strip away its status as a Working Group and transform it into informal discussions that would have no formal report produced nor adopted at its close. Then ensued a heated debate as the African Group, Cuba and others who are in support of the original decision text and a full-scale Working Group on UN reform that the EU ‘amendment’ could not be considered as such because it drastically alters the content of the draft decision, and thus must be considered a new proposal. A vote was taken on the issue of whether the EU ‘amendment’ was an amendment or a new proposal, and the Commission decided by a recorded vote that it was a new proposal and action would be taken separately on this issue. The African Group also mentioned that the presentation of the proposal at such a late date was a breach in procedure and that in the Commission process a delegation must submit their text 24 hours in advance so that there may be time to translate it into all UN languages. Here is the voting chart on whether the EU motion was an amendment or a new proposal, just because I think it is interesting how the regional groups have banded together on this issue that would appear quite straightforward:

In favour (19): Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

Against (28): Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Abstentions (6): Argentina, Armenia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Paraguay.

What I found fascinating is the fact that all of the countries who voted against the original decision all stated that they have been very involved in the UN reform processes in New York and feel that a Working Group on this topic would be somewhat redundant in Geneva to work already being done in New York. But those who voted in favour of the decision to have the Working Group in Geneva all stated that they had not been party to any discussions or consultations on proposed UN reform and that the Working Group would be the most effective and transparent manner for the participation of their country in the discussions. You will notice if you scroll up to the first voting chart that demonstrates the voting on the unamended decision, that it is for the most part First World nations that voted against the resolution, and Third World or developing nations who voted in favour of it. Once again it is evident that there is serious politicization taking place within these voting procedures and I would be very curious to see who ends up participating in the Working Group on UN reform over the summer, whether the nations who voted against the resolution will attend the sessions or not, among other issues that I am sure will arise.

Once the lengthy discussion on this decision regarding UN reform was finished, the decision on the situation of human rights in Liberia was adopted by consensus along with the decision on technical cooperation and advisory services in the field of human rights.

The Commission also adopted the Chairperson’s Statement on the human rights situation in Colombia by consensus. The Statement discusses the serious human rights violations that are taking place in Colombia on many different levels within the country. The government of Colombia was encouraged to put an end to the violations and that negotiations between the government and armed militias must be taken on in earnest to improve the situation. Colombia was called upon to honour their obligations under international humanitarian law and the UN would be there to support them with technical assistance in the field. Violence against human rights defenders, trade unionists, indigenous peoples, and Afro-Colombian communities were specifically noted, as well as the ongoing issues with illegal drug trafficking and gendered violence against women and girls.

With regards to voting processes yesterday on the resolution regarding detainees at the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Argentina, Egypt, made Defensive Statements as to why they voted against the resolution or abstained from voting, and all said that the USA has been demonstrating a willingness to open the doors of the prison for observers and they trust in the assurances of the American government they are doing all they can to improve the situation. Russia encouraged the USA to allow special mechanisms to visit Guantanamo as soon as possible.

Japan made a few closing remarks at the end of the morning session with regards to the budgetary concerns of their delegation and the feeling that the Commission is stretching itself too thin in its work plans.

The Commission proceeded to adopt the draft provisional agenda for the 62nd Commission on Human Rights as well as the provisional report which will be finalized and submitted at a later date. In closing remarks, Madame Arbour making one of her very rare appearances during this year’s Commission criticized the Commission for once again being ‘demonstrably deficient’ in their ability to actively address human rights issues. Although she did note that some good progress was made in certain areas, she would be submitting to the Secretary-General recommendations on how to streamline the work of the Commission and part of this would include an element of peer review. All of her comments will be submitted to Mr. Annan by May 20. Mr. Wibisono, the Chairperson, made the final closing comments and pointed out that this year, more so than others, the spirit of consensus had been prevailing and this has assisting the cause of human rights promotion and protection greatly. He thanked Madame Arbour for her good work, along with the Commission and the NGOs who had participated so actively, and with this the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights was adjourned until next year.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,