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Press release on Dr L.Andrikiene report on the UN Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council:  "some good work but could do better", say MEPs

In a draft report adopted on Tuesday by the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, MEPs welcomed the work carried out by the UN Human Rights Council in its first two years of existence but regretted that it had not yet achieved more in improving the UN's human rights record.  The EU should seek to play a more prominent role in promoting a clear vision, political agenda and long-term strategy for the UN body, say MEPs.

The report "on the development of the UN Human Rights Council, including the role of the EU", drafted by Laima Andrikienė (EPP-ED, LT), sees strengths and weaknesses in the UNHRC, which superseded the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2006. 

MEPs argue that "the UNHRC has the potential to develop into a valuable framework for the European Union's multilateral human rights efforts".  However, various challenges are identified. The USA's absence from the UNHRC has left the EU with a greater burden of responsibility but the EU Member States are often outvoted by the African and Asian regional groups.  A key concern is that "the principle of the universality of human rights is being increasingly undermined, as illustrated in particular by the attempts on the part of certain countries to introduce limits to well-recognised human rights, such as freedom of expression, or to interpret human rights against a cultural or traditional background". 

MEPs condemn undermining of procedures to hide inconvenient truths

The report recognises the value the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which in principle subjects all UN states to equal scrutiny of their human rights practices but it "denounces the use of political alliances to shield certain States from scrutiny". 

Special Procedures are a more targeted instrument designed to look at individual country situations. The report stresses that "the credibility and effectiveness of the UNHRC in the protection of human rights rests on cooperation with Special Procedures and their full implementation" and "condemns the efforts made by several UNHRC Members to limit the independence and efficiency" of these procedures.

The report also highlights the importance of civil society organisations in the work of the UNHRC. It urges the EU Member States to facilitate their work and calls on donors to aid human rights organisations which cannot afford a base in Geneva.  MEPs also voice strong backing for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and for its efforts "to strengthen its presence on the ground through the opening of regional offices".

EU must take a stronger lead

As to the EU's role in the UNHRC, the report points to successes, such as the EU's call for special sessions on Darfur and Myanmar but regrets "the rather defensive attitude adopted by the EU in the UNHRC, in particular its reluctance to put forward resolutions on country situations, as these usually meet with intense resistance from other countries".

The EU and its Member States are urged to make better use of their potential as the leader of a group of democratic countries with solid human rights records. The resolutions adopted on a moratorium on the death penalty and on the right to water are seen as examples of how such leadership can achieve results.  

The report calls on the EU to further develop the practice put forward during the Slovenian presidency of "outreach" towards other UNHRC members and "burden-sharing" between EU Member States. It also welcomes the trend whereby EU Member States intervene in the debates in addition to the EU Presidency, thereby helping "to reinforce the EU’s message by putting across 'one message, but with many voices' ".

Speaking after the vote, rapporteur Laima Andrikienė said "the EU has been a strong supporter and advocate of the establishment of the UNHRC, which is a testing ground of the EU's commitment to effective multilateralism." She highlighted the report's conclusion that "the EU must have a clear vision, political agenda and long-term strategy as regards the functioning of the UNHRC as well as the actions by EU Member States within the Council".

The plenary vote on this report will take place in Strasbourg in January.

Jack Blackwell
Press service
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