Non-Democracies seek to increase control over UN High Commissioner Arbour’s work

The UN Human Rights Council held an organizational meeting today to plan its main annual session coming up in March.

The Council president went over the draft schedule for the session and announced that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be addressing the Council at its opening.

Other than the procedural issues, there were two substantive matters that were brought up.

The first was an attempt by Council members to exercise control over the office of the High Commissioner, long suspected as a Western redoubt in a universe otherwise dominated by Islamic and Third World countries.

The request — by Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Algeria and China — was to include a special segment during the session in order to discuss the Strategic Management Plan of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The High Commissioner presented this document to the Geneva ambassadors last month. Pakistan stressed the need to “streamline” the relationship between the Council and the High Commissioner.

Egypt said that the African Group had posed 11 detailed comments on the strategic plan and there was not enough time for responses. They want to put these remarks on the record. The strategic plan may not conform with the strategic framework as set out by HRC resolutions and that is why this needs to be discussed within the HRC framework. China said that the Council has the right to provide guidance to the OHCHR. They also asked for advance consultations on the issue in the future.

Slovenia on behalf of the EU and Switzerland came to the defense of the High Commissioner. Slovenia said that such a segment is not necessary as the program already has an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner. Switzerland said that the Strategic Plan is an internal document, that was presented as a courtesy and in the spirit of transparency. Such documents do not need to be approved. It is important to preserve the autonomy and one should not impose internal management on the office.

The second substantive issue arose from an intervention by Amnesty International. Its Geneva-based representative, Peter Splinter, commented on the proposals of the Consultative Group, which was tasked with the mandate of making proposals for the vacant mandate-holder positions. Peter Splinter said he is concerned with the process for the selection of the new Special Rapporteurs. The report of consultative report did not respect all requirements. The process had to be transparent and the proposals substantiated. No explanations were offered for the alternatives nor how the suggestions of other stake-holders were taken into account. The report did not detail how the required criteria are fulfilled. Moreover there are only two women candidates. Amnesty asked for a new report in conformity with resolution 5/1. Peter Splinter concluded by saying that AI does not take a position in support or against any candidate.

Algeria called AI’s statement a “gross misinterpretation.” Pakistan sarcastically suggested that Amnesty be included in the Consultative Group.

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