Human Rights Council: the institutional building process
By Gloria Careaga*
In its first year of existence the Human Rights Council has been presided over by the Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba. During this period the Council debates have been oriented towards reaching consensus with respect to the following key institutional matters:
- Universal Periodical Review of human rights at the country level
- Revision of the Special Procedures System
- Structure and composition of the Advisory Committe
- Rules concerning the Complaint Procedures
- The framework to guide the Working Agenda of the Council
- Procedure Rules of the Council’s permanent work
Negotiations have been difficult, intense and traversed by tensions. Among the contentious matters, one key debate was around proposals made by some member states to restrict the scope of the Special Rapporteurs’ work. And, not surprisingly, the Palestine situation remained extremely controversial. Nevertheless, the first year of consolidation of the Human Rights Council can be considered successful. Despite many doubts and fears, it has been possible to adopt the procedural rules, definitions regarding the methods of work and the Council’s working agenda. This package of decisions was the outcome of major political efforts to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights both in terms of review and implementation. Additionally, an information system has been established to make accessible all the documentation concerning the approved rules, instruments and procedures In English, French and Spanish.
With respect to gender a main gain has been the inclusion of a gender perspective in relation to both the Council guidelines and structure. As a principle, a gender perspective will guide the elaboration of the Council’s Agenda, the construction of its Program and definitions concerning Universal Periodical Review. In terms of structure, gender parity has been established as a rule for the electoral procedures and the selection of Special Rapporteurs, of Advisory Comité members, members of the Working Group for Communications regarding the Complaint Mechanism, and members of the Working Group on Country Situation. Even so the challenge remains to ensure that this decision is effectively reflected in the Agenda and Program of Work and it will be necessary to monitor the implementation of the gender parity principle.
In relation to the recognition of sexuality as a non negotiable dimension of human rights, the main focus has been sexual orientation and gender identity. In these critical areas, various Special Rapporteurs have called attention to the fact that major gaps and blanks still exist with regard to the protection of human rights and unrelenting discrimination based on sexual orienation and gender identity but also as a result of HIV/AIDS. Other identified problems are related to violence in general and extra judicial executions in particular, but also the protection of the right to privacy and intimacy.
In relation to these two crucial realms of human rights protection, it is worth noting that an increasing number of member states are vocal in their support. While Brazil, Norway and Chile have been quite active, they are not the only countries committed to these agendas. The challenge at stake is to guarantee the continuity of initiatives that have been pushed by feminist and LGBTQ networks and to work towards more clarity about the broad meaning and reach of sexual rights as a concept and a tool to address human rights violations in diverse domains. It is undisputable that the work performed in the last few years has created a new institutional landscape for sexual rights advocacy at the the level of the Human Rights Council. It has also enhanced new lenses of analysis and transformed mentalities, but it is crucial to cultivate and sustain these achievements.
* Gloria Careaga is a member of the SPW Steering Committee
:: Posted in 12/07/2007::