Special session on Haiti: Council explores new working methods
Friday, 29 January 2010 14:37

special-rapporteur-idps-haitiThe Human Rights Council (the Council) on 28 January 2010 concluded its 13th special session to discuss ‘the Support of the Human Rights Council to the Recovery Process in Haiti after the Earthquake of January 12, 2010: a Human Rights Approach’ with the adoption of a consensus resolution. With this special session, the Council explored new ground in a variety of ways. It was the first time the Council has held a special session in the wake of a natural disaster. In terms of working methods, the Council innovated by inviting specialised agencies of the UN to provide an expert basis for the discussion. And finally, the resulting resolution postpones the UPR of Haiti, a measure that has not been taken before.

On 25 January, 32 members of the Human Rights Council (the Council) addressed a request to the Council’s President on the holding of a special session to discuss the Council’s role in supporting Haiti. The session was held on 26 and 28 January, following an organisational meeting on the previous day. Although the Council’s rules of procedure require special sessions to be held within two to five days of the request, this short time frame may not have allowed Haitian input to be sufficiently developed or represented at the Session. However, the holding of a special session on the Earthquake in Haiti is significant in that it is the first time the Council has held a special session in the wake of a natural disaster.


Tuesday’s organisational meeting established the logistics of the session before proceeding to an informal discussion of the draft resolution authored by Brazil. The informal consultations focused on human rights risks in a post-disaster context, the role of human right in Haiti’s recovery process, giving attention to vulnerable groups and how OHCHR may contribute to the promotion of human rights in Haiti. In particular, the delegates discussed postponing Haiti’s universal periodic review (UPR), currently scheduled for May 2010. The adoption of the resolution marks the first time the Council has allowed a state to postpone the UPR process. While the delegates reached consensus on the importance of a global commitment to the humanitarian effort in Haiti, controversial issues in the conversation reflected tensions within the Council regarding economic, social and political rights, the right to development, national sovereignty, and the role played by special procedures. Many of these issues remained unresolved at the end of the first informal meeting.


The special session itself opened with statements by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and representatives from the UN Office for the Coordination Of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNICEF. Their comments served to frame the following dialogue by providing updated information on the situation and an expert assessment of the actual humanitarian needs. In general, the statements by State delegates during the interactive dialogue expressed condolences to Haiti and a commitment to support the country’s reconstruction and development. The centrality of human rights to the recovery process was widely acknowledged, as was the particular vulnerability of Haiti, as an impoverished State, to the effects of natural disaster. States expressed different views and priorities on various topics including the role of the Independent Expert, how the international community should handle Haiti’s foreign debt, the long-term role of the international community in recovery and competing priorities among different sets of human rights.


Despite States’ conflicting views expressed during the interactive dialogue, particularly on the role of the Independent Expert, a final resolution was adopted on by consensus. It makes strong statements recognising Haitian suffering and calling for the continuation of a collaborative international response. Its most active clause ‘invites the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to identify areas for cooperation and technical assistance with Haiti, on the basis of the expertise and the presence of the UN system on the ground, in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,’ and present recommendations to the Council at its 14th Regular Session in June 2010. The resolution also delays Haiti’s UPR to a date no later than December 2011. While the resolution clearly recognises the importance of integrating a human rights approach into the recovery efforts, it does not ensure appropriate follow-up to this demand. In this context, it is regrettable that the resolution does not specifically entrust the Independent Expert to assess and report on the implementation of such a human rights approach.


The case of Haiti not only demonstrates how a lack of basic human rights can compound the effects of disaster, but the Council’s special session on Haiti raises larger questions regarding the role of the Council in humanitarian crises and how well it is equipped to address the relationship between human rights, institution building and development in the recovery process. For the Council’s to add value to the overall efforts of the UN to respond to specific situation, it is crucial that it does so in a well-informed, professional way. The innovative model of soliciting not only the input of the Council’s own special procedures, but also that of specialised agencies is a step in that direction and must be welcomed as a good practice. It is also a model that could be followed for all sessions, both regular and special. In terms of the outcome, however, the Council could have done more to inject its specific human rights expertise in the wider UN efforts supporting Haiti, for instance by providing guidance to the Security Council in the upcoming review of the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 17:19
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