|Type United Nations System inter-governmental body|
Head Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli, Council President
Parent organization United Nations General Assembly
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations System inter-governmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world. Its 47 seats are filled by member states elected for three-year terms.
- Universal Periodic Review Working Group
- Advisory Committee
- Complaints procedure
- Other subsidiary bodies
- Special procedures
- Special procedures mandate holders
- International response to election of Richard Falk as the Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
- Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
- 2006 Lebanon conflict
- January 2008 decree
- Gaza report
- March 2011 controversy
- The hosting of a Hamas member controversy
- March 2012 criticism
- Defamation of religion
- Climate change
- Eritrea report
- Candidacy of Syria
- Candidacy of Sudan and Ethiopia
- Saudi Arabia
- Bloc voting
- Position of the United States
- Position of Sri Lanka
The UNHRC is the successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR, herein CHR), and is a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly. The council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and engages the United Nations' special procedures.
The General Assembly established the UNHRC by adopting a resolution (A/RES/60/251) on 15 March 2006, in order to replace the previous CHR, which had been heavily criticised for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members.
The UNHRC addresses human rights-related situations in all UN member states. The UNHRC also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women's rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities.
Secretaries General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, former president of the council Doru Costea, the European Union, Canada, and the United States have accused the council of focusing disproportionately on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The United States boycotted the Council during the George W. Bush administration, but reversed its position on it during the Obama administration. Beginning in 2009 however, with the United States taking a leading role in the organization, American commentators began to argue that the UNHRC was becoming increasingly relevant.
The UN General Assembly elects the members who occupy the UNHRC's 47 seats. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard. The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms. The seats are distributed among the UN's regional groups as follows: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), and seven for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG). The General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. The resolution establishing the UNHRC states that "members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights".
On 18 June 2007, one year after holding its first meeting, the UNHRC adopted its Institution-building package, which provides elements to guide it in its future work. Among the elements was the Universal Periodic Review. The Universal Periodic Review assesses the human rights situations in all 193 UN Member States. Another element is an Advisory Committee, which serves as the UNHRC’s think tank, and provides it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues, that is, issues which pertain to all parts of the world. A further element is a Complaint procedure, which allows individuals and organizations to bring complaints about human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
The members of the General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC's 47 seats. The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms. The seats are distributed among the UN's regional groups as follows: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), and seven for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG). The previous CHR had a membership of 53 elected by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) through a majority of those present and voting.
The General Assembly can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. The suspension process requires a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly. The resolution establishing the UNHRC 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 and commitments made thereto", and that "members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights".
The UNHRC holds regular sessions three times a year, in March, June, and September. The UNHRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies, at the request of one-third of the member states. To date there have been 20 Special Sessions.
Members of the UNHRC are elected to staggered three-year terms.
The first election of members was held on 9 May 2006. Their terms of office began on 19 June 2006. On 19 May, it was announced that Mexico would serve as the Council's chair during its first year of existence.
2010 Group The replacement for the 2007 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 17 May 2007, known as the 2010 Group, the year when their terms expire. In this election, Angola and Egypt were elected to the council, whereas Belarus was rejected.
2011 Group: The replacement for the 2008 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 21 May 2008, known as the 2011 Group, the year when their terms expire.
2012 Group: The replacement for the 2009 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 12 May 2009, known as the 2012 Group, the year when their terms expire.
2013 Group: The replacement for the 2010 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 13 May 2010, known as the 2013 Group, the year when their terms expire.
2014 Group: The replacement for the 2011 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 20 May 2011, known as the 2014 Group, the year when their terms expire.
2015 Group: The replacement for the 2012 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 12 November 2012, known as the 2015 Group, the year when their terms expire.
2016 Group: The replacement for the 2013 Group was duly elected by the General Assembly on 12 November 2013, known as the 2016 Group, the year when their terms expire.
Universal Periodic Review Working Group
An important component of the Council consists in a periodic review of all 193 UN member states, called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The new mechanism is based on reports coming from different sources, one of them being contributions from NGOs. Each country's situation will be examined during a three-and-a-half-hour debate.
The first cycle of the UPR took place between 2008 and 2012, and the second cycle of Reviews started in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2016. The modalities of Human Rights Council were reviewed in 2011 and a new resolution adopted. Several changes, such as the length of the review (from 3 to 3.5 hours) were implemented.
In applying General Assembly Resolution 60/251 dated 15 March 2006, the Human Rights Council adopted a non-official document relating to the procedure of universal periodic review (UPR). This document was elaborated by the Intergovernmental Working Group, open to all, mandated to develop the follow-up terms and conditions of the UPR procedure and give full effect to Decision 1/103 of the Human Rights Council. It was reviewed in HRC Resolution 16/2 later on.
First cycle: The following terms and procedures were set out in General Assembly Resolution 60/251:
Second cycle: HRC Resolutions 16/2 brought the following changes:
Similar mechanisms exist in other organizations: International Atomic Energy Agency, Council of Europe, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, International Labour Bureau and the World Trade Organization.
Except for the tri-annual reports on development of human rights policies, that Member States have to submit to the Secretary General since 1956, the Human Rights Council UPR procedure constitutes a first in the area. It marks the end of the discrimination that had plagued the work of the Human Rights Commission and had caused it to be harshly criticised. Finally, this mechanism demonstrates and confirms the universal nature of human rights.
The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was the main subsidiary body of the CHR. The Sub-Commission was composed of 26 elected human rights experts whose mandate was to conduct studies on discriminatory practices and to make recommendations to ensure that racial, national, religious, and linguistic minorities are protected by law.
In 2006 the newly created UNHRC assumed responsibility for the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (previously the main subsidiary body of the CHR) consisted of 26 elected human rights experts, whose mandate was to conduct studies on discriminatory practices and to make recommendations to ensure that racial, national, religious, and linguistic minorities are protected by law. The Sub-Commission's mandate was extended for one year (to June 2007), but it met for the final time in August 2006. At its final meeting, the Sub-Commission recommended the creation of a Human Rights Consultative Committee to provide advice to the UNHRC, and in September 2007, the UNHRC decided to create an Advisory Committee to provide expert advice. The Advisory Committee has eighteen members. Those members are distributed as follows: five from African states; five from Asian states; three from Latin American and Caribbean States; three from Western European and other states; and two members from Eastern European states.
On 18 June 2007, the UNHRC adopted Resolution 5/1 by which a new complaint procedure was established to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances.
Two working groups make up the Complaint Procedure: the Working Group on Communications (WGC) and the Working Group on Situations (WGS). The WGC consists of five independent and highly qualified experts, and is geographically representative of the five regions represented by the Human Rights Council (Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe and Others). The Advisory Committee designates the WGC's experts from among its members. The experts serve for three years with the possibility of one renewal. The experts determine whether a complaint deserves investigation. If a complaint deserves investigation, the WGC passes the complaint to the WGS.
The WGS has five members, appointed by the regional groups from among the States members of the Council for the period of one year (mandate renewable once). It meets twice a year for a period of five working days in order to examine the communications transferred to it by the WGC, including the replies of States thereon, as well as the situations which the Council is already seized of under the complaint procedure. The WGS, on the basis of the information and recommendations provided by the WGC, presents the Council with a report on consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and makes recommendations to the Council on the course of actions to take.
The procedure is not in place for single victim complaints of a single incident that violates their human rights. The complaint procedure is in place to address communications submitted by individuals, groups or non-governmental organizations that claim to be victims of humans rights violations or that have direct, reliable knowledge of such violations.
The UNHRC has provided examples of cases where the events would be considered as consistent patterns of gross human rights violations. These examples include; alleged deteriorating situation of human rights of people belonging to a minority, including forced evictions, racial segregation and substandard living conditions, alleged degrading situation of prison conditions for both detainees and prison workers, resulting in violence and death of inmates.
Filing a Complaint
Complaints can be regarding any state, regardless of whether it has ratified a particular treaty. The procedure is confidential and the council will only communicate with the person or group. Until the council decides that the complaint will be addressed publicly.
The interaction with the person who made the complaint and the UNHRC during the complaints procedure will be on an as needed basis. The Council Resolution 5/1 in its paragraph 86 emphasizes that the procedure is victims-oriented. Paragraph 106 of Resolution 5/1 provides that the complaint procedure shall ensure that the author of a communication is informed of the proceedings at the key stages. In line with Council resolution 5/1, the WGC may request further information from the author of a communication or a third party if deemed necessary.
The complaint must be in writing, and it is recommended that a complaint is no more than fifteen pages. There is a template on the UNHRC website. Complaints cannot be made anonymously, and should include a description of the relevant facts in as much detail as possible, providing names of alleged victims, dates, location and other evidence. It should also include the purpose of the complaint and the rights allegedly violated.
There is an initial screening where a decision on the admissibility of a complaint by the WGC will be made. All communications found to be manifestly ill-founded or anonymous would be discarded; the Chairman of the WGC at that initial screen decides this.
Following the initial screening a request for information will be sent to the State concerned, which shall reply no later than three months after the request has been made. A report will then be created, addressed to the UNHRC, by WGS. The report will usually be in the form of a draft resolution or decision on the situation referred to in the complaint. The UNHRC will decide on the measures to take in a confidential manner as needed, but this will occur at least once a year. As a general rule, the period of time between the transmission of the complaint to the State concerned and consideration by the Council shall not exceed 24 months. Those individuals or groups who make a complaint should not publicly state the fact that they have submitted a complaint.
The UNHRC has provided examples on the types of complaints that would be admissible under the complaint procedure. If a complaint does not meet the following criteria:
Effectiveness of the Procedure
Due to the confidential manner of the procedure, it is almost impossible to find out what complaints have passed through the procedure and also how effective the procedure is.
There is a principle of non-duplication, which means that the complaint procedure cannot take up the consideration of a case that is already being dealt with by a special procedure, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaints procedure in the field of human rights.
On the UNHRC website under the complaints procedure section there is a list of situations referred to the UNHRC under the complaint procedure since 2006. This was only available to the public as of last 2014, however generally does not give any details regarding the situations that were under consideration other than the state that was involved.
In some cases the information is slightly more revealing, for example a situation that was listed was the situation of trade unions and human rights defenders in Iraq that was considered in 2012, but the council decided to discontinue that consideration.
The complaints procedure has been said to be too lenient due to its confidential manner. Some have often questioned the value of the procedure, but its effectiveness should not be underestimated, 94% of states respond to the complaints raised with them The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) receives between 11,000 – 15,000 communications per year. During 2010-11, 1,451 out of 18,000 complaints were submitted for further action by the WGC. The UNHRC considered four complaints in their 19th session in 2012. Although the majority of the situations that have been considered have since been discontinued, the procedure should not be questioned as it still has an impact and should be continued.
History shows that the procedure works almost in a petition like way; if enough complaints are received then the UNHRC is very likely to assign a special rapporteur to the state or to the issue at hand. It has been said that an advantage of the procedure is the confidential manner, which offers the ability to engage with the state concerned through a more [diplomatic] process, which can produce better results than a more adversarial process of public accusation.
The procedure is a useful tool to have at the disposal on the international community for situations where naming and shaming has proved ineffective. Also another advantage is that a complaint can be made against any state, regardless of whether it has ratified a particular treaty.
Due to the limited information that is provided on the complaints procedure it is hard to make comments on the process itself, the resources it uses versus its effectiveness. It is likely that a lot happens behind the scenes, such as communications between the WGS and the States, which would provide insight however it remains confidential and inaccessible to the public.
Other subsidiary bodies
In addition to the UPR, the Complaints Procedure and the Advisory Committee, the UNHRC's other subsidiary bodies include:
"Special procedures" is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council to gather expert observations and advice on human rights issues in all parts of the world. Special procedures are categorized as either thematic mandates, which focus on major phenomena of human rights abuses worldwide, or country mandates, which report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories. Special procedures can be either individuals (called "Special Rapporteurs" or "Independent Experts"), who are intended to be independent experts in a particular area of human rights, or working groups, usually composed of five members (one from each UN region). As of September 30, 2016 there were 43 thematic and 14 country mandates.
The mandates of the special procedures are established and defined by the resolution creating them. Various activities can be undertaken by mandate-holders, including responding to individual complaints, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation, and engaging in promotional activities. Generally the special procedures mandate-holders report to the Human Rights Council at least once a year on their findings.
Special procedures mandate-holders
Mandate-holders of the special procedures serve in their personal capacity, and do not receive pay for their work. The independent status of the mandate-holders is crucial in order to be able to fulfill their functions in all impartiality. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights provides staffing and logistical support to aid each mandate-holders in carrying out their work.
Applicants for Special Procedures mandates are reviewed by a Consultative Group of five countries, one from each region. Following interviews by the Consultative Group, the Group provides a shortlist of candidates to the UNHRC President. Following consultations with the leadership of each regional grouping, the President presents a single candidate to be approved by the Member states of the UNHRC at the session following a new mandate's creation or on the expiration of the term of an existing mandate holder.
Country mandates must be renewed yearly by the UNHRC; thematic mandates must be renewed every three years. Mandate-holders, whether holding a thematic or country-specific mandate, are generally limited to six years of service.
The following is a list of thematic special procedures mandate-holders:
Country-specific mandate holders
International response to election of Richard Falk as the Special Rapporteur on the "Occupied Palestinian Territories."
UN permanent ambassador Itzhak Levanon (Israel) said "that as the list of candidates for Special procedures mandate holders was put forward today, [he] was overwhelmed at the profound sense of lost opportunity. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories was hopelessly unbalanced. This mandate was redundant at best and malicious at worst. It was impossible to believe that out of a list of 184 potential candidates, the eminently wise members of the Consultative Group honestly had made the best possible choice for this post."
Warran Tichenor (United States) said, "that the Special procedures, including country mandates, allowed the Human Rights Council an opportunity to view, monitor and help certain countries develop and improve their human rights situations. The United States respected the integrity of the procedure to elect candidates but expressed its concern on the mandate holder selected for the task of assessing the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories."
Marius Grinius of Canada said, "that the appointment of this slate of Special procedures mandate holders marked an important milestone in the development of the Council. The Special procedures had been referred to as the crown jewels of the United Nations human rights system. The efforts which had gone into the presentation of this list were fully appreciated. Canada hoped that Members could respect the integrity of the agreed process, in which no State should have a veto over candidates. However, based on the writings of one of the candidates, the nominee for the mandate on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Canada expressed serious concern about whether the high standards established by the Council would be met by this individual. Therefore, Canada dissociated itself from any Council decision to approve the full slate."
Mohammad Abu-Koash, a Palestinian representative, said, "It was ironic that Israel which claimed to be representing Jews everywhere was campaigning against a Jewish professor who had been nominated for the post of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The candidate was the author of 54 books on international law. Palestine doubted that those who had campaigned against him had read that many books. The candidate's nomination was a victory for good sense and human rights, as he was a highly qualified rapporteur. If Israel was concerned about human rights it would have ended its prolonged occupation."
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
An amendment to the duties of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, passed by the Human Rights Council on 28 March 2008, has given rise to sharp criticism from western countries and human rights NGOs. The additional duty is phrased thus:(d) To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account articles 19 (3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression
(quoted from p. 67 in the official draft record of the council). The amendment was proposed by Egypt and Pakistan and passed by 27 votes to 15 against, with three abstentions with the support of other members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, China, Russia and Cuba. As a result of the amendment over 20 of the original 53 co-sponsors of the main resolution – to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur – withdrew their support, although the resolution was carried by 32 votes to 0, with 15 abstentions. Inter alia the delegates from India and Canada protested that the Special Rapporteur now has as his/her duty to report not only infringements of the rights to freedom of expression, but in some cases also employment of the rights, which "turns the special rapporteur's mandate on its head".
Outside the UN, the amendment was criticised by organizations including Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship, Human Rights Watch and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, all of whom share the view that the amendment threatens freedom of expression.
In terms of the finally cast votes, this was far from the most controversial of the 36 resolutions adapted by the 7th session of the Council. The highest dissents concerned combating defamation of religions, with 21 votes for, 10 against, and 14 abstentions (resolution 19, pp. 91–97), and the continued severe condemnation of and appointment of a Special Rapporteur for North Korea, with votes 22–7 and 18 abstentions (resolution 15, pp. 78–80). There were also varying degrees of dissent for most of the various reports criticising Israel; while on the other hand a large number of resolutions were taken unanimously without voting, including the rather severe criticism of Myanmar (resolutions 31 and 32), and the somewhat less severe on Sudan (resolution 16).
As of 2015, Israel has been condemned in 62 resolutions by the Council since its creation in 2006—the Council has resolved more resolutions condemning Israel than the rest of the world combined. By April 2007, the Council had passed eleven resolutions condemning Israel, the only country which it had specifically condemned. Toward Sudan, a country with human rights abuses as documented by the Council's working groups, it has expressed "deep concern".
The council voted on 30 June 2006 to make a review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of every council session. The Council's special rapporteur on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is its only expert mandate with no year of expiry. The resolution, which was sponsored by Organisation of the Islamic Conference, passed by a vote of 29 to 12 with five abstentions. Human Rights Watch urged it to look at international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by Palestinian armed groups as well. Human Rights Watch called on the Council to avoid the selectivity that discredited its predecessor and urged it to hold special sessions on other urgent situations, such as that in Darfur.
The Special Rapporteur on the question of Palestine to the previous UNCHR, the current UNHRC and the General Assembly was, between 2001 and 2008, John Dugard. Bayefski quotes him as saying that his mandate is to "investigate human rights violations by Israel only, not by Palestinians". Dugard was replaced in 2008 with Richard Falk, who has compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians with the Nazis' treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Like his predecessor, Falk's mandate only covers Israel’s human rights record. The Palestinian Authority has informally asked Falk to resign, among other reasons due to viewing him as "a partisan of Hamas". Falk disputes this and has called the reasons given "essentially untrue". In July 2011, Richard Falk posted a cartoon some critics has described as anti-Semitic onto his blog. The cartoon depicted a bloodthirsty dog with the word "USA" on it wearing a kippah, or Jewish headcovering. In response, Falk was heavily criticized by world leaders in the United States and certain Europen countries. The United States called Falk's behavior "shameful and outrageous" and "an embarrassment to the United Nations", and officially called on him to resign. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, called on Falk to resign as well. The Anti-Defamation League described the cartoon as a "message of hatred".
The UN Human Rights Council was castigated by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for facilitating an event featuring a Hamas politician. The Hamas parliamentarian had spoken at an NGO event in the UN Geneva building. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor denounced the speech stating that Hamas was an internationally recognized terrorist organization that targeted civilians. “Inviting a Hamas terrorist to lecture to the world about human rights is like asking Charles Manson to run the murder investigation unit at the NYPD”, he said.
On 3 July 2015, UNHRC voted Resolution A/HRC/29/L.35 "ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.". It passed by 41 votes in favor including the eight sitting EU members (France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia and Estonia), 1 against (the US) and 5 absentions (India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia. India precised that its abstention was due to the reference to International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Resolution whereas "India is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC".
UN Secretaries General
In 2006, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued that the Commission should not have a "disproportionate focus on violations by Israel. Not that Israel should be given a free pass. Absolutely not. But the Council should give the same attention to grave violations committed by other states as well".
On 20 June 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement that read: "The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."
United States and UNHRC President
The Council's charter preserves the watchdog's right to appoint special investigators for countries whose human rights records are of particular concern, something many developing states have long opposed. A Council meeting in Geneva in 2007 caused controversy after Cuba and Belarus, both accused of abuses, were removed from a list of nine special mandates. The list, which included North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan, had been carried forward from the defunct Commission. Commenting on Cuba and Belarus, the UN statement said that Ban noted "that not having a Special Rapporteur assigned to a particular country does not absolve that country from its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
The United States said a day before the UN statement that the Council deal raised serious questions about whether the new body could be unbiased. Alejandro Wolff, deputy U.S. permanent representative at the United Nations, accused the council of "a pathological obsession with Israel" and also denounced its action on Cuba and Belarus. "I think the record is starting to speak for itself", he told journalists.
The UNHRC President Doru Costea responded: "I agree with him. The functioning of the Council must be constantly improved". He added that the Council must examine the behaviour of all parties involved in complex disputes and not place just one state under the magnifying glass.
Speaking at the IDC's Herzliya Conference in Israel in January 2008, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen criticized the actions of the Human Rights Council actions against Israel. "At the United Nations, censuring Israel has become something of a habit, while Hamas's terror is referred to in coded language or not at all. The Netherlands believes the record should be set straight, both in New York and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva", Verhagen said.
2006 Lebanon conflict
At its Second Special Session in August 2006, the Council announced the establishment of a High-Level Commission of Inquiry charged with probing allegations that Israel systematically targeted and killed Lebanese civilians during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. The resolution was passed by a vote of 27 in favour to 11 against, with 8 abstentions. Before and after the vote several member states and NGOs objected that by targeting the resolution solely at Israel and failing to address Hezbollah attacks on Israeli civilians, the Council risked damaging its credibility. The members of the Commission of Inquiry, as announced on 1 September 2006, were Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, and Stelios Perrakis of Greece. The Commission noted that its report on the conflict would be incomplete without fully investigating both sides, but that "the Commission is not entitled, even if it had wished, to construe [its charter] as equally authorizing the investigation of the actions by Hezbollah in Israel", as the Council had explicitly prohibited it from investigating the actions of Hezbollah.
January 2008 decree
The Council released a statement calling on Israel to stop its military operations in the Gaza Strip and to open the Strip's borders to allow the entry of food, fuel and medicine. The Council adopted the resolution by a vote of 30 to 1, with 15 states abstaining.
"Unfortunately, neither this resolution nor the current session addressed the role of both parties. It was regretful that the current draft resolution did not condemn the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians," said Canada's representative Terry Cormier, the lone voter against.
The United States and Israel boycotted the session. U.S. ambassador Warren Tichenor said the Council's unbalanced approach had "squandered its credibility" by failing to address continued rocket attacks against Israel. "Today's actions do nothing to help the Palestinian people, in whose name the supporters of this session claim to act," he said in a statement. "Supporters of a Palestinian state must avoid the kind of inflammatory rhetoric and actions that this session represents, which only stoke tensions and erode the chances for peace", he added. "We believe that this council should deplore the fact that innocent civilians on both sides are suffering", Slovenian Ambassador Andrej Logar said on behalf of the seven EU states on the council.
At a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded when asked about its special session on Gaza, that "I appreciate that the council is looking in depth into this particular situation. And it is rightly doing so. I would also appreciate it if the council will be looking with the same level of attention and urgency at all other matters around the world. There are still many areas where human rights are abused and not properly protected", he said.
On 3 April 2009, South African Judge Richard Goldstone was named as the head of the independent United Nations Fact-Finding Mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the Gaza War. The Mission was established by Resolution S-9/1 of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
On 15 September 2009, the UN Fact-Finding mission released its report. The report found that there was evidence "indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity". The mission also found that there was evidence that "Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel". The mission called for referring either side in the conflict to the UN Security Council for prosecution at the International Criminal Court if they refuse to launch fully independent investigations by December 2009.
Goldstone has since partially retracted the reports conclusions that Israel committed war crimes, as new evidence has shed light upon the decision making by Israeli commanders. He said, "I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes."
Goldstone acknowledged that Israel has "to a significant degree" implemented the reports recommendations that "each party to investigate [the incidents] transparently and in good faith," but "Hamas has done nothing". The Palestinian Authority has also implemented the reports recommendations by investigating "assassinations, torture and illegal detentions, perpetrated by Fatah in the West Bank", but Goldstone noted that "most of those allegations were confirmed by this inquiry".
March 2011 controversy
At the UNHRC's opening session in February 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the council's "structural bias" against the State of Israel: "The structural bias against Israel – including a standing agenda item for Israel, whereas all other countries are treated under a common item – is wrong. And it undermines the important work we are trying to do together."
An editorial in the Jerusalem Post subsequently revealed that the UNHRC was "poised to adopt six resolutions ... condemning Israel," noting that it was the highest number of resolutions ever to be adopted against Israel in a single session. Human rights activist and Hudson Institute senior fellow Anne Bayefsky accused the UNHRC of failing to remove antisemitic propaganda distributed by the IHH during one of its sessions. The material in question was an illustration depicting Israel as a sinister Nazi octopus seizing control of a ship.
Chair of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) said she would propose legislation making U.S. funding for the UN contingent on extensive reform. Her bill will also call for the United States to withdraw from the UNHRC, as "Israel is the only country on the council's permanent agenda, while abuses by rogue regimes like Cuba, China, and Syria are ignored".
The hosting of a Hamas member controversy
In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Council was criticised for facilitating an event featuring a Hamas politician. The Hamas parliamentarian had spoken at an NGO event in the UN Geneva building. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu castigated the UNHRC's decision stating, "He represents an organization that indiscriminately targets children and grown-ups, and women and men. Innocents – is their special favorite target". Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor denounced the speech stating that Hamas was an internationally recognized terrorist organization that targeted civilians. “Inviting a Hamas terrorist to lecture to the world about human rights is like asking Charles Manson to run the murder investigation unit at the NYPD”, he said.
March 2012 criticism
The United States urged the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to stop its anti-Israel bias. It took particular exception to the council’s Agenda Item 7, under which at every session, Israel’s human rights record is debated. No other country has a dedicated agenda item. The US Ambassador to the UNHRC Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said that the United States was deeply troubled by the "Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel." She said that the hypocrisy was further exposed in the Golan Heights resolution that was advocated by the Syrian regime at a time when it was murdering its own citizens.
"Defamation of religion"
From 1999, the CHR and the UNHRC adopted resolutions in opposition to the "defamation of religion".
The Human Rights Council has adopted the Resolution 10/4 about human rights and climate change.
In June 2015, a 500-page UNHRC report accused Eritrea's government of widespread human rights violations. These were alleged to include extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national service and forced labour, and the report also indicated that sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are widespread. The Guardian claimed that the report 'catalogues a litany of human rights violations by the “totalitarian” regime of President Isaias Afwerki “on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere”'. The report also asserted that these serial violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
The Eritrean Foreign Ministry responded by describing the Commission's report as "wild allegations" which were "totally unfounded and devoid of all merit" and countercharged the UNHRC with "vile slanders and false accusations".
The vice chairperson of the subcommittee on human rights at the European parliament said the report detailed 'very serious human rights violations', and said that EU funding for development would not continue as at present without change in Eritrea.
Candidacy of Syria
In July 2012, Syria announced that it would seek a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is while there is serious evidence (provided by numerous human rights organizations including the UN itself) that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has authorised and funded the slaughtering of thousands of civilians, with estimates of 14,000 civilians being killed as of July 2012 during the uprising against his dictatorship. According to the NGO UN Watch, Syria's candidacy would be virtually assured of victory due to the prevailing system of elections. Syria would be responsible for promoting human rights if elected. In response, the United States and European Union drafted a resolution to oppose this move. In the end, Syria was not on the ballot for the 12 November 2012 election to the Council.
Candidacy of Sudan and Ethiopia
In July 2012, it was reported that Sudan and Ethiopia were nominated for a seat on the council, despite being accused by human rights organizations of grave human rights violations. The NGO UN Watch condemned the move to nominate Sudan, and pointed out that President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan was indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court. According to UN Watch, Sudan was virtually assured in securing the seat. A joint letter of 18 African and international civil society organizations urged foreign ministers of the African Union to reverse its endorsement of Ethiopia and Sudan for a seat, accusing them of serious human rights violations and listing examples of such violations, and stating that they shouldn't be rewarded with a seat. Sudan was not on the ballot for the 12 November 2012 election to the Council, but Ethiopia was elected to the Council.
In September 2015, Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, has been elected Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council panel that appoints independent experts. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said: "It is scandalous that the UN chose a country that has beheaded more people this year than ISIS to be head of a key human rights panel. Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights." Saudi Arabia also shut down criticism, during the UN meeting. In January 2016, Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr who had called for free elections in Saudi Arabia.
Human rights groups say the council is being controlled by some Middle East and African nations, supported by China, Russia and Cuba, which protect each other from criticism. This drew criticism from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the ineffectiveness of the council, saying it had fallen short of its obligations. He urged countries to 'drop rhetoric' and rise above "partisan posturing and regional divides" and get on with defending people around the world. This follows criticism since the council was set up, where Israel has been condemned on most occasions and other incidences in the world such as Darfur, Tibet, North Korea, and Zimbabwe have not been discussed at the council. Ban Ki-Moon also appealed for the United States to fully join the council and play a more active role. The UNHRC was criticized in 2009 for adopting a resolution submitted by Sri Lanka praising its conduct in Vanni that year, ignoring pleas for an international war crimes investigation.
Position of the United States
In regard to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the position of the United States is: "human rights have been a cornerstone of American values since the country's birth and the United States is committed to support the work of the UN Commission in promoting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. U.S. President George W. Bush declared that the United States would not seek a seat on the Council, saying it would be more effective from the outside. He did pledge, however, to support the Council financially. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We will work closely with partners in the international community to encourage the council to address serious cases of human rights abuse in countries such as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan, and North Korea".
The U.S. State Department said on 5 March 2007 that, for the second year in a row, the United States has decided not to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council, asserting the body had lost its credibility with repeated attacks on Israel and a failure to confront other rights abusers. Spokesman Sean McCormack said the council has had a “singular focus” on Israel, while countries such as Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea have been spared scrutiny. He said that though the United States will have only an observer role, it will continue to shine a spotlight on human rights issues. The most senior Republican member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, supported the administration decision. “Rather than standing as a strong defender of fundamental human rights, the Human Rights Council has faltered as a weak voice subject to gross political manipulation,” she said.
Upon passage of UNHRC's June 2007 institution building package, the U.S. restated its condemnation of bias in the institution's agenda. Spokesman Sean McCormack again criticised the Commission for focusing on Israel in light of many more pressing human rights issues around the world, such as Sudan or Myanmar, and went on to criticise the termination of Special Rapporteurs to Cuba and Belarus, as well as procedural irregularities that prevented member-states from voting on the issues; a similar critique was issued by the Canadian representative. On September 2007, the US Senate voted to cut off funding to the council.
The United States joined with Australia, Canada, Israel, and three other countries in opposing the UNHRC's draft resolution on working rules citing continuing misplaced focus on Israel at the expense of action against countries with poor human-rights records. The resolution passed 154–7 in a rare vote forced by Israel including the support of France, the United Kingdom, and China, although it is usually approved through consensus. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke about the "council's relentless focus during the year on a single country – Israel," contrasting that with failure "to address serious human rights violations taking place in other countries such as Zimbabwe, DPRK (North Korea), Iran, Belarus and Cuba." Khalilzad said that aside from condemnation of the crackdown of the Burmese anti-government protests, the council's past year was "very bad" and it "had failed to fulfill our hopes."
On 6 June 2008, Human Rights Tribune announced that the United States had withdrawn entirely from the UNHRC, and had withdrawn its observer status.
The United States boycotted the Council during the George W. Bush administration, but reversed its position on it during the Obama administration. Beginning in 2009 however, with the United States taking a leading role in the organization, American commentators began to argue that the UNHRC was becoming increasingly relevant.
On 31 March 2009 the administration of Barack Obama announced that it would reverse the country's previous position and would join the UNHRC; New Zealand has indicated its willingness not to seek election to the council to make room for the United States to run unopposed along with Belgium and Norway for the WEOG seats.
Position of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has come under increasing scrutiny with a draft resolution tabled by the United States on reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
The draft resolution, which is under review, notes, "with concern that the LLRC report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law, 1. Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans, 2. Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan as expeditiously as possible detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law, 3. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps and requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report to the Council on the provision of such assistance at its twenty-second session."
Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva Tamara Kunanayakam pointed out that 80% of the UNHRC’s funding requirements are supplied by powerful nations such as the United States and its allies. Also, key positions in the UNHCR are mostly held by those who have served in the foreign services of such countries. Sri Lanka's position is that this fact is significantly detrimental to the impartiality of the UNHRC activities, especially when dealing with the developing world. As a result, Sri Lanka, along with Cuba and Pakistan, sponsored a resolution seeking transparency in funding and staffing the UNHRC, during its 19th session starting in February 2012. The resolution passed on 4 April 2012.