27 February 2006

Secretary-General Urges Adoption of Text Creating new Human Rights Council, Says Decision too Important to Allow further Delay

NEW YORK, 23 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement on the establishment of the Human Rights Council, issued today in New York:

I have long argued that a new Human Rights Council would help give human rights the importance accorded to it under the United Nations Charter.  Together with the revitalization of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council will usher in a new era for the Organization's advancement of human rights -- one built on increased cooperation with Member States, individually and collectively, to help them fulfil their obligations.

We have now reached a critical moment, at which Member States must live up to the individual and collective commitments they have given.  Now is the time for the membership to support the President's compromise text and adopt a resolution in the coming days.  Failure to do so would undermine this Organization's credibility, render the commitments made by world leaders meaningless, and deal a blow to the cause of human rights.  This decision must not be further delayed, it is simply too important.

Despite the fact that the draft does not reflect everything that I called for when I proposed a new Council, nearly a year ago, there are important elements in it that ensure that the Council will be more than a cosmetic change.  For instance, the text makes it clear that members of the new Council, elected individually by the General Assembly, must be committed to the promotion and protection of human rights.  It also makes it clear that the rights and privileges of members can be suspended, if they themselves commit gross and systematic violations of human rights.  This has not been the case with the Commission.

The new body will better reflect the universality of human rights, by elevating the Council into a body directly elected by the General Assembly, giving it greater transparency and legitimacy.  It will also have an explicitly defined function of periodically reviewing the record of all States, starting with that of its own members, in fulfilling their human rights obligations.  This approach will strengthen and help to improve the human rights work of the Organization as a whole.

The new Council will also be better placed to address situations of gross and systematic violations of human rights.  Its ability to meet throughout the year, and, when necessary, for longer than the Commission has done, will allow the Council to sound the alarm and bring urgent human rights crises to the attention of the world community.  At the same time, the Council will preserve the best features of the Commission, including the use of independent rapporteurs and the opportunity for non-governmental organizations to play their essential role in the Organization's human rights work.

I hope the General Assembly will adopt this draft resolution within the next few days.  But, that will be only the first step in a process of change and renewal.  No technical fix can make all the difference.  Indeed, how different the Council is from the Commission will depend in large part how committed Member States are to make it better, and how they act on that commitment in the weeks and months ahead. 

Meanwhile, the President's text is the product of many months' efforts to reach consensus, by him and by the Assembly as a whole. While no delegation will get everything it wants, the Council established by this text can be the basis for a more credible, and at least potentially more effective, approach to human rights -- one that will, if Member States make good use of it, stand the test of time and offer hope to future generations.

* *** *