The Ethical Dimensions of



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A chamber of peer review, as suggested by the Secretary General, would enhance the credibility and legitimacy of international human rights monitoring. In fact, the Commission prepared periodic country reports in the 1950s, but the practice was discontinued. Peer review does not require a complex system and should complement the treaty body system. As has been suggested by Amnesty International, the OHCHR should be responsible for preparing a public country dossier based on information in its reports and UN field sources. Subsequently, the country under review would present an oral statement. The Council, with the help of the OHCHR, would then make a list of points that require action. Given that the International Labor Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund also aggregate country review processes, it would be worthwhile to explore how those models could be adapted to the human rights context. Many current international organizations with peer review processes suffer from accountability problems, so it will be important to guard against potential problems in this regard by having peer review through the OHCHR.

The creation of the new Human Rights Council might be detrimental to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The potential risk is that the status of NGOs and their ability to contribute could be curtailed. The role of NGOs is essential for ensuring transparency and legitimacy in. The ability of NGOs to be involved, contribute to the debates, and participate in the sessions of the Human Rights Council will be indispensable to ensuring accountability in the new structure. Further strengthening the role of NGOs would in turn enhance Council discussions.

Demonstrated Flaws in Practices

The General Assembly draft document also stipulates that the system of Special Procedures that has been established under the Commission will be preserved in the new Council. Subsequent decisions by the Council may decide to maintain, change, or create new mechanisms. However the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (the main subsidiary body of the Commission) should be handled differently. Over recent years, the Sub Commission has evolved its capacities and productivity as an independent think tank of the human rights system. Its chief functions will continue to be research, studies, and reports, and the membership can continue to be composed of independent experts.

Other practices within the Commission have demonstrated flaws that the Council cannot continue to maintain in a new structure. A new council, free from flaws such as the no-action motion, will safeguard the principle of universal scrutiny. A strong, accountable chamber of peer review will create a foundation of impartiality and credibility.

Moreover, as a standing body in regular session during the year, the Council will be better able to deal with emergencies, although it will be necessary to create efficient procedures for responding immediately to crisis situations.

Ultimately, however, an outstanding design for the structure of the new Human Rights Council will be meaningless without a firm foundation of state commitment. At the close of the sixty-first session of the commission in 2005, High Commissioner Louise Arbor rightly said that to suggest that an inter-governmental human rights body should be apolitical is like criticizing spring for coming after winter. Politics is an endemic feature of the current international human rights system. What a different institutional structure can do is establish processes, such as peer review, that will not allow political interests to take organs such as the Human Rights Council hostage. A new structure instituting universal peer review procedures, eliminating flaws such as the no-action motion, upgrading NGO participation, being in regular session throughout the year, and responding to urgent crises would be a major step against the intrusions of politicization and selectivity. However, the new body must not inherit the lack of commitment and willpower from the old Commission. Giving the emperor real new clothes will be the only befitting epitaph for the Commission on Human Rights.15

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) supports the work of rapporteurs, representatives, and other working groups through its Special Procedures Division. In addition, it also supports the work of the Research and Right to Development Division (which aims to improve the integration of human rights standards and principles, including the right to development), and the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division, which supports the work of country-mandates.

OHCHR is funded from the United Nations regular budget and from voluntary contributions by Member States, intergovernmental organizations, foundations and individuals. Regular budget funding for the 2006-2007 biennium budget was set at US$ 85.9 million, or less than 2.26 percent of the United Nations global budget of 3.8 billion. In 2006, OHCHR also received voluntary contributions from donors amounting to US$ 85.3 million. 16

OHCHR is staffed by over 900 international civil servants who work on a wide range of human rights activities, and is headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, currently Louise Arbour, due to retire soon. The independent role of the High Commissioner as the principal UN human rights official comes from a separate mandate by the General Assembly.

With a number of field presences, her Office assists Governments in strengthening their human rights capacities, and promotes ratification and implementation of international human rights treaties. The Office works with Governments and other partners such as national institutions to ensure all human rights are fully respected. The Office engages with civil society organizations to assists them in promoting and protecting human rights more effectively. To achieve its comprehensive human rights mandate, the Office provides a forum for identifying, highlighting and developing responses to today’s human rights challenges worldwide, and acts as the principal focal point of human rights research, education, public information, and human rights advocacy activities in the United Nations system.17



Functioning of the Office of the High Commissioner
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