Time for newly elected Asian members to translate pledges into action
10 May 2006 12:00 am

FORUM-ASIA welcomes the election that took place yesterday in New York to bring the new United Nations Human Rights Council to life. Despite the generally disappointing results of the 47 members who were elected, FORUM-ASIA looks forward to constructive engagement with all of the newly elected members and calls upon them to translate pledges into action.The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a Bangkok-based regional human rights NGO welcomes the election that took place yesterday in New York to bring the new United Nations Human Rights Council to life.

However, the results of the election, which determined the 47 inaugural members of the Council and in particular the thirteen members from the Asian group, are generally disappointing.

Despite the fact that Bangladesh, China, Malaysia and Pakistan submitted the least number of specific pledges out of the Asian candidates1, they were among the top eight out of the thirteen candidates to be elected (see Annex A). We strongly recommend China to submit its renewed pledges that specifies concrete actions that it will take as a member of the Council, as well as other members whose pledges are general and non-specific (see Annex A).

By looking the election results, it is uncertain that the 191 Member States of the UN cast their votes based on the specificity of the pledges or the human rights record of the candidates, as NGOs have urged2 and as stipulated in the General Assembly Resolution 60/2513. These new criteria for election were formulated to differentiate the Council from the discredited Commission on Human Rights, so that only those candidates who are truly committed to human rights and “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” will be elected.

However, despite the questionable reasons behind the governments’ voting decisions, the real test of whether the Council will truly be a better alternative to the Commission remains to be seen. This will depend on the whether the Council will be able to translate into practice its mandate and functions as stipulated in the General Assembly Resolution.

In particular, the Council has been established to overcome the flaws of the Commission by contributing “towards the prevention of human rights violations and responding promptly to human rights emergencies”4, improving the “mandates, mechanisms, functions and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights in order to maintain a system of special procedures, expert advise and a complaint procedure”5, and adopting methods of work that will be “results-oriented”6.

We therefore remind all members that they are not only responsible for improving their domestic human rights record under the universal periodic review, but also for ensuring the effectiveness of the Council.

For this purpose, we call upon all members to engage cooperatively with civil society and NGOs, particularly in the upcoming months, to clarify the Rules of Procedures of the Council before the first session of the Council in June. It is essential that concerns of NGOs and victims of human rights violations are reflected and taken into account when developing such Rules, which will determine how the Council will function practically.

FORUM-ASIA urges the Members of the Council to implement the pledges that they have made through concrete strategies. We remind all governments once again that although the pledges may not be legal instruments, they possess moral authority and governments are responsible in giving them effect.

In addition, the Asian members have a specific responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights by establishing a regional human rights mechanism in accordance with the globally accepted human rights standards. The overused rhetoric in creating such a mechanism needs to be translated into reality as soon as possible.

FORUM-ASIA will continue to monitor vigilantly the implementation of the pledges in practice, including those candidates that issued pledges but were not elected as members of the Council. At the same time, FORUM-ASIA is also committed to constructive engagement with all the elected members of the Council to ensure better promotion and protection of human rights for all.

1 Please refer to the briefing paper by FORUM-ASIA, available at http://forum-asia.org/hrc/?p=152
2 Press release by FORUM-ASIA, available at http://forum-asia.org/hrc/?p=153
3 General Assembly Resolution GA/RES/60/251 of 15 March 2006, paras 8 and 9. Paragraph 8 of the Resolution states that “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges made thereto”. Paragraph 9 stipulates that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, fully cooperate with the Council and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership”.
4 General Assembly Resolution GA/RES/60/251 of 15 March 2006, para 5(f)
5 Ibid, para 6
6 Ibid, para 12