Council creates new mandate on discrimination against women and renews mandate on the Sudan
Thursday, 07 October 2010 14:24


On 1 October 2010 the Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted, without a vote, a landmark resolution to establish a working group of five independent experts on discrimination against women. The resolution calls on States to revoke any legislation that discriminates against women, both in law and in implementation. It establishes the working group for three years, with a mandate to compile best practices on the elimination of laws that discriminate against women and to report annually to the Council on the continued existence of such laws and good practices in revoking them.


The resolution was adopted by consensus despite strong opposition from several States, in particular from within the OIC. Many States, whose opposition stemmed from more ideological grounds (Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Libya and Iran), expressed their disapproval to the mandate in procedural terms. They argued a new special procedure would duplicate work of existing mechanisms, such as the newly created UN Women and CEDAW, and questioned whether there were the financial resources to support the creation of another special procedure. Throughout the negotiations some States also made strenuous efforts to weaken the new mandate.


In an effort to reach consensus, initial plans to create an Independent Expert were shelved at the last minute in favour of the working group. There are divided views on whether this is a good thing. Some States have concerns about the high cost of a working group (more than 1.5 million US dollars per year), some believe a working group will have more legitimacy in dealing with these sensitive issues, as it will be able to represent a range of different cultural and legal perspectives, and some are concerned a working group will be less efficient than an individual expert. The key challenge now will be to ensure strong candidates from the five UN regions are found for this important mandate.


During the adoption of the resolution Saudi Arabia proposed an amendment that would limit States to respecting only the commitments towards women's equality they have signed up to under international law. The original resolution called on States to eliminate all discrimination against women. Since many OIC States in particular have made declarations under CEDAW that limit their obligations where they conflict with Sharia law, this amendment would have greatly hindered the effectiveness of the new mechanism. The amendment was narrowly defeated in a vote, with 22 against, 18 in favour and four abstentions. The original resolution was then adopted without a vote.


In other developments, Cuba's controversial attempt to present a resolution, which would limit the independence of the High Commissioner in respect to the Council, was abandoned after the President agreed to issue a Presidential Statement on the matter. However, hopes this would enable the development of a text that did not commit the High Commissioner to formally presenting OHCHR's programme of activities to the Council did not materialise. The Presidential Statement invites the High Commissioner to present OHCHR's human rights programme, part of the UN's strategic framework, to the Council, and to pass the views of States and relevant stakeholders to the Committee for Programme and Coordination for its consideration. In doing so it inserts the Council into already established procedures for oversight of the human rights programme, and gives it a role that may be misused by States that seek to undermine the High Commissioner's independent role.


In a more positive development the Council decided to renew, for one year, the mandate of its Independent Expert on the Sudan. The resolution presented by the African Group did not provide for the continuation of the mandate and it was clear from discussions the Council was deeply divided on the need for the mandate. Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the US presented an amendment to extend the mandate which was passed in a comfortable vote with 25 in favour, 19 against and three abstentions. The resolution was then adopted by a similar vote (one less vote against).


The President's nominee as the new Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr Juan Ernesto Mendez, and on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Mr Chaloka Beyani, were also endorsed by the Council. It was positive the integrity of the appointment process was thus restored after political interference by States in the process at the June session of the Council.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 October 2010 14:50
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