States and NGOs welcome discussion of pledges by Human Rights Council candidates
Saturday, 27 October 2012 18:59


In anticipation of the Human Rights Council elections on 12 November 2012, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Amnesty International, with the support of the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Switzerland, held an event entitled ‘Human Rights Council Elections: A Discussion of Candidates’ Aspirations and Visions of Memberships’. Held on 19 October 2012, the event gave candidates an opportunity to present their vision for membership on the Human Rights Council (the Council) and respond to questions on how they would realise their pledges and commitments, if elected.


Regrettably, only eight of the eighteen candidates for election chose to participate in the event: Argentina, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Montenegro, Sweden and USA, presented and discussed their pledges. However, the candidates present were for the most part represented at the highest levels and the event was well attended by both States and civil society. The discussion was chaired by Ambassador Christian Strohal, the Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN in Geneva and Vice-President of the Council.


In accordance with the General Assembly resolution that created the Council, States electing members are directed to “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto”. Though States failed to agree to a public pledge review mechanism during the creation of the Council and later during its 5-year review, this event offered a voluntary platform for candidates wishing to discuss their pledges ahead of the election. The candidates’ pledges can be linked to here.


Key Areas of Discussion


All candidates were asked a common question in advance about whether they considered that the Council is living up to expectations in terms of prevention and response to human rights emergencies and what they would do if elected to strengthen this aspect of the Council’s mandate.


Most candidates acknowledged significant progress in reacting to emergencies compared to its predecessor the Commission on Human Rights, while recognising that improvements were needed. Argentina noted that the picture was mixed on prevention and response but that prevention had been more successful. Germany noted the need for a more responsive Council with greater impact on the ground. Greece cited positive Council responses to Cote D’Ivoire and Libya, but noted the reaction to emergencies still needed improvement. Ireland shared its view that the Council has only partially met expectations but has shown real capacity for robust engagement, in Syria and Libya for example. Noting that the capacity for the Council to consider emergencies needs continuing work, Ireland hoped States would be able to return to the question of objective trigger mechanisms for emergency sessions. The US shared its view that the Council is far more likely to live up to expectations with the US as a member as it has taken a leading role on emergencies during its first term. The US noted that its commitment, capacity, and unique collaboration led to positive consequences.


States were also asked individual questions in advance relating to topics in their pledges (Argentina on transitional justice; Estonia on gender equality; Germany on racism; Greece on irregular migration; Ireland on hunger; Montenegro on violence against women, Sweden on internet freedom and the US on prevention of torture). States were asked what concrete steps had been taken recently to meet commitments and how these would be pursued as members of the Council.


Several States[1] and civil society representatives asked additional questions during the discussion period that followed. In addition to some country-specific questions, all candidates were asked to comment on vote trading, visions for strengthening the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the process by which pledges are created, cooperation with/standing invitations to Special Procedures, and reprisals.  


Regarding vote trading, most candidates asserted that they do not trade votes with countries that commit gross human rights violations. Estonia, the US and Sweden indicated they do not participate in vote trading. Ireland and Greece were candid in their responses, stressing that, while vote trading should not exist, larger, more powerful countries tended to have leverage unavailable to smaller countries. On the UPR, both Sweden and Ireland stressed the importance of contributing to the UPR Voluntary Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance. Most candidates echoed the need for ‘effective’ standing invitations to Special Procedures by members of the Council. Ireland stated they would like to see the work of Special Procedures better incorporated into the work of the Council, for example through informal briefings tot eh Council outside regular and Special Sessions.


Many candidates also voiced their concern about reprisals against those cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Council. Sweden strongly condemned reprisals, stating governments should be ashamed at their continuation.  Germany echoed Sweden on the need to condemn and expose reprisals, noting that follow up should be carried out by governments through embassies.  Ireland voiced its deep concern about reprisals, commending the President of the Council, Ms. Laura Dupuy Lasserre and High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay for consistently speaking out against reprisals.



[1] Liechtenstein, UK, Mexico



Last Updated on Thursday, 01 November 2012 16:56
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