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UN Human Rights Council

Volume 461: debated on Monday 4 June 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment she has made of the performance of the UN Human Rights Council. (140079)

We continue to have ambitious goals for the new UN Human Rights Council (HRC). It has taken some encouraging steps. For example, it has begun to address the situation in Darfur, most recently through a consensus resolution adopted on 30 March to follow up on recommendations made by the council's high-level assessment mission for Darfur. We were, however, disappointed by a disproportionate and unbalanced focus in the council's early months on the situation in the Middle East, while other situations were comparatively neglected. Negotiations on the council's future tools and mechanisms are due to be completed in June. Their results will be key to the council's long-term potential. We continue to work hard to make these tools as effective as possible.

Much of the responsibility for the council's success rests with its members. We were disappointed that, at the most recent HRC elections on 17 May, three of the five UN regional groups did not put forward more candidates than there were seats available. However, we were pleased that Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were elected from the Eastern European Group, in preference to a country where the human rights situation continues to be of deep concern. We look forward to continuing to work with all council members to try to increase the HRC's strength and effectiveness.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment she has made of the likelihood of the renewal of the (a) special procedures, (b) country-specific and (c) thematic special rapporteurs in the United Nations Human Rights Council. (140084)

The UN General Assembly (GA) resolution of 16 March 2006 establishing the UN Human Rights Council specifically provided for the Council to “assume, review and where necessary improve and rationalise” all mandates and mechanisms of its predecessor body, the Commission on Human Rights. This included the special procedures of the Commission, including the country-specific and thematic special rapporteurs. The review of the rapporteurs and other special procedures, provided for by the GA resolution, is ongoing.

The UK attaches enormous importance to the continued independence, strength and autonomy of the system of rapporteurs. We are resisting attempts by some to use the review to limit the rapporteurs' effectiveness. We strongly support the continuation of all thematic and country-specific rapporteurs' mandates after the Council session this June. However, other UN member states firmly oppose our aims in this area, particularly the continuation of some country-specific rapporteurs' mandates. Ongoing discussion of these issues in Geneva is difficult. We will continue to do our utmost to ensure the review process does not weaken the system of rapporteurs.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if she will take steps to ensure that the special procedures in the United Nations Human Rights Council, and in particular the country-specific and thematic special rapporteurs, are renewed next month. (140244)

The UN Human Rights Council's (HRC's) review of the special procedures (including thematic and country-specific special rapporteurs) has been ongoing in Geneva through formal and informal Council working groups, in the plenary of regular Council sessions, and in informal bilateral and small group consultations. It is due to be finished in June. The UK has consistently taken a strong position, nationally and with the rest of the EU, in favour of maintaining the most effective possible system of special procedures. While suggesting areas where the system could be further strengthened, we have argued strongly for the renewal of the mandates of the country-specific and thematic special rapporteurs. We have engaged bilaterally with other UN partners to build support for our position. In my speech to

the HRC on 13 March, I said:

“The Council's discussions have benefited from the valuable input of the Special Procedures. We must continue to draw on them to the fullest extent”.

However, others in the Council do not share our aims, particularly with regard to the country-specific special rapporteurs and the independence of the system as a whole. We will continue to push hard, against opposition, for the renewal of mandates and for the rapporteurs' continued independence and autonomy.