Towards the 2011 Reform: Can the UN Human Rights Council be fixed with Hillel Neuer, Edward Mortimer, Frank Jordans, Amb. Martin I. Uhomoibhi

A panel including Associated Press reporter at the United Nations in Geneva, Frank Jordans; former Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Edward Mortimer; and International lawyer, diplomat, and Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, address the 2nd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Chair, Frank Jordans: To invite you, to welcome you to the final session of today, the debate on the future of the Human Rights Council. My name is Frank Jordans I’m a journalist based in Geneva. I work for the Associated Press and I’ll be chairing this session. Without further ado I’m sure most of you know the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights, which many people felt was discredited. Some people say the council is a great improvement, other people say it merely repeats the same problems that the commission had, which were disproportionate focus on just a few situations around the world at the expense of others, unnecessary fighting between regional alliances at the expense of doing real work, and in general wasting a whole load of public money that could be better spent on activities promoting human rights in the field. So four years on, a year before the council undergoes its substantial review in 2011, we’ve got a panel here today to discuss what’s wrong with the council and how it can be improved. To my left we have Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Matthei of France. I expect Ambassador that you’ve just come straight from the Human Rights Council where this afternoon they are discussing the right to truth. Then on my far right we have Mr. Edward Mortimer, Kofi Annan’s former speechwriter and Director of Communications, now senior Vice President at the Salzburg Global Seminar, which I gather holds its events in Schloss Leopoldskron, which is only slightly less impressive than the newly decorated Human Rights Council Chamber 20. And finally on my right we have Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, an organization that many delegates to the council love to hate because of its unvarnished reports on the activities of the council, particularly the heavy focus on Israel and the activities of the OIC and the African Groups. So, without further ado, can I just get one question out of the way to start with. Would the world be better off without the human rights council? Ambassador?

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: Thank you, thank you for having invited me. I’m going to do some advertising here in the same hall the 11th of March at 5:15. Bernard Kouchner will be giving a conference, funded by the Develop Foundation. Now concerning the Human Rights Council, I fear my answer will be rather complicated. Let’s recall that the council was recreated in 2006, that it was planned to have a revision of the activities of the council in 2011, and this review will take place in both New York and Geneva. In New York, the General Assembly will consider the status and the membership of the council, whether it is adapted or not, and in Geneva we will be studying the functioning of the council and will write a report for the General Assembly to see if any changes are needed. Now the time has come to take a hard look at the council a number of years after its creation and to ask if it has met our expectations. And, if the grade we would give it is higher, is better, than the former commission on Human Rights. Now for us to give it a report card, we’ll have to take a long hard look. And, if you ask a number of different states you’ll probably have the answer that everything is okay that everything is working nicely, that nothing’s gone wrong, nothing is broken, if nothing’s broken why fix it? But actually, the real situation is a little bit more complicate, and France feels that the council is far from having met our expectations. So, the score we would give it would be mediocre. There would be a couple of positive elements, and there would be some bad scores as well and quite a few bad grades. What should we look at first? The council I think has become a standing forum on Human Rights, a place where discussion is ongoing, which is different from the former commission. The council meets all year long, it has three main sessions, it meets for a minimum of 10 weeks a year, but actually it meets for a far longer period. Because the three major sessions in March, June and September are added to special sessions which can be requested, and we also have working groups on the Universal Periodic Review, which meet to go through each and every one of the member states of the United Nations in terms of Human Rights implementation. So the council is very often in session, so it’s an almost permanent standing council, which gives us a great deal of continuity. Next the council has allowed us to deal with a number of critical Human Rights situations. We’ve had special sessions that were rather successful, on Darfur for example, on Myanmar, and in certain cases the council played the role of early warning and taking a position on critical situations. Third positive point, and this is the Universal Periodic Review, which is innovative, which is something new, and has allowed us to look at the Human Rights situation of each and every country. We’ve gone through half of all member states so far. It’s a peer review and they go into a certain amount of depth. There’s a national report by the country, then there’s a compilation done by the United Nations, UNHCR, on special procedures. Then there’s a working group that lasts three hours that allows questions to be asked, of the state in question. Of course, there is a certain amount of manipulation. I won’t cite the names of those countries here, but certain countries try to rally around their NGOs or manipulate them or their natural allies to speak well of them and not ask any critical questions. But, generally speaking, this Universal Periodic Review has worked well, including for countries for which it might have been just difficult, China, Russia. They participated and I’ve participated myself and I could say that we were able to ask all the questions we wanted, even to the countries that are reticent about responding and are not very often challenged. Another positive element is the special procedures element. These are rapporteur. There are eight today. There can be some there can be based on countries that’s eight of them or there are thematic ones for example violence against women or the right to health, for example. So, these special procedures are critical. They’re independent to begin with and they do very in-depth work. In general, I think the special procedures work has been maintained, although some countries have tried to get them in their grip and control them. We can talk about a behavior code that has a very restrictive view of the role that is to be played but excluding that we can say that it works well, and they present very detailed and precise reports that lead to a following debate with the council. Another positive point, and here that perhaps some of the panelists won’t agree with me, but in general, I think the role of the NGOs and civil society has been preserved in the council. Well, of course there are problems, we know that there are points of order sometimes when NGOs speak up. But NGOs are allowed to participate widely. And they make their voices heard. Of course, we could always go further, and we favor this. But, in any case they already have a well-established place in the council, and we should recognize this merit of the United Nations and that it has a given this place to the NGOs. I’ve worked a great deal in European institutions and there isn’t one member of the council and of the ministers where an NGO participates. So, that is rather a positive point that we can allow the United Nations. Well, you see when people don’t prepare things they have very long lists.

But I do have other negative points that I would like to go into, if you allow me. The council has not been able to deal with certain important Human Rights situations in the field. And, we’ve seen a disastrous example of this special session on Sri Lanka, that we France asked for and which turned against us, and gave them a stamp of, gave a stamp of good conduct to the government. There are other ones that we’re having trouble grappling with. For example, that of Iran. It is difficult to get a majority to vote against the situation on Iran. Certain countries like Guinea did not react as rapidly as we would have wished. Another point is the disappearance of the Rapporteur for countries. We only have eight left. We discontinued that of the DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that makes us wonder because if there’s one country that needs a Rapporteur it is surely the DRC considering the Human Rights situation of the country and the need to cooperate with other countries. Of course, we have the problem of the members of the council. You know that there are elections to be a member. There are 47 members, there are elections with a certain number of seats per geographic zone. Unfortunately, we have a certain practice, a clean slate. There is not really an election; there are certain regions, and so states are not forced to commit to Human Rights as they should, on the basis of the resolution. Now that is a problem. And in the Western European group, we were with the UK and Spain, and we had elections, but in other groups there is no election because of course that allows a multitude of countries to come in. And we will have a problem that is that Iran has applied to join, and it may very well be elected. So, you can imagine the reaction of the press in a public opinion in the West if Iran is elected to the Human Rights Council. Libya will definitely enter and it’s a clean slate in the African group. So, with the next session, in the June session, we may well have Iran and Libya on the Human Rights Council. I mean you can imagine the comments that will follow. I’ll try and speed up. Loss of visibility is the next, is a problem of the council compared to the commission, it’s rather paradoxical. But since they meet so often, they’re less visible. We could talk to the journalists about it, but there is a problem. Another problem is polarization the group, the importance of regional groups that play a very central role in the council, as well as the OIC which is not a regional group, the Islamic Conference. This harms the work of the council, as you mentioned, the problem of excessive attention given to certain subjects the Middle East, of course, where we’ve covered this issue very often, I could even say too. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about it at all, but it should be proportional to our discussion on other subjects. Another subject that has been covered excessively, and that is the defamation of religion, which for us is not a real subject but we are constantly discussing in the council. Now concerning the membership and the status of the council, I don’t think there’ll be a big change. We could have universal membership but that would be a problem. Mot all countries are represented in Geneva. There are about 30 countries that are not represented in Geneva, of only 160 that are, and there could be duplication and overlapping of the third committee with the council that also deals with Human Rights issues. So, our wish would be to have to strengthen, rather, the criteria to become members, so the states truly commit to Human Rights issues, to cooperate with special procedures of the UN, to welcome the Rapporteur which many members of the council do not do. Secondly, we should strengthen our ability to deal with country issues. If there is a particular problem, we should be able to speak about it rapidly in an open manner through a special session, not necessarily by adopting resolutions. Speaking about it will already draw attention. We could we have briefings by the high commissioner’s office. We could have declarations of the president of the council. There’s a series of instruments that we could use, we have a whole tool box that we could develop. Another important element would be to strengthen special procedures to make them more independent. Preserve and strengthen the high commissioner’s office for human rights. It should not be a subset of Human Rights. We should strengthen the UPR, the Universal Periodic Review, more experts, better monitoring, better follow-up. Every country is reviewed every four years. So the question is what happens in between? And we feel that the follow-up should be stronger. And then a more technical matter, see the number of sessions and how they are distributed, housekeeping issue. I think we have to be realistic. Many countries are very attached to the status quo. Many western countries fear that this reform will make us slide backwards and that is a risk if we open the debate. But personally, I think that we should, at least at the onset, be rather ambitious and say very clearly what works, what doesn’t, and put some proposals on the table, even if doing our negotiations, they are not all adopted. I think I’ve been a bit long but that’s a problem when you don’t have a prepared speech. Thank you.

Chair, Frank Jordans: I’m afraid I’m going to have to revert back to being a reporter and come back to my question just in one word, would the world be better off without the Human Rights Council?

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: No, my answer is no. I think we do need a UN body that deals with Human Rights no matter how imperfect it may be.

Chair, Frank Jordans: As our next person on the panel, we will go on to Mr. Edward Mortimer. If you would like to answer the same question briefly and then give us your views on the future of the council.

Mr. Edward Mortimer: Well, I will answer the question in the course of my remarks. But first of all, I’d like to just ask everyone to notice that I’m exercising my Human Right to wear a tie. Secondly, I would like to say what an honor it is to be invited to speak here. I was a journalist most of my career, but I was a journalist most often writing editorials and columns rather than reporting from war zones. And in my UN career, I lived in the safety of UN headquarters in New York. So, I have been able to say and write all my life what i wanted to without being threatened with imprisonment, torture or assassination. The only censorship I have had to face has been the self-censorship of over-cautious editors and bureaucrats, and I’ve never had to worry about any worse sanction than losing my job. So, it’s a humbling experience for me to listen, at meetings like this, to a succession of very brave women and men who have run terrible risks, and in some cases, paid a terrible price for exercising basic rights that people like me take for granted. It reminds me how privileged I am and how grateful I should be for it.

So why am I on this platform? Presumably because as you heard I was a member of Kofi Annan’s team in 2005, when the idea of a hearing and human rights council was first put forward in his report in larger freedom, and in 2006 when the General Assembly established the council and it held its first meetings. I certainly would not claim to be the creator of the council, but I was, to use a well-worn phrase, ‘present at its creation’. I certainly feel I have some stake in it, and therefore in this discussion. Of course, it’s rather sad that when the council has not yet been in existence for four years we are asking whether it can be fixed. The council was established, after all, precisely because many people, including Kofi Annan, had come to the conclusion that its predecessor the Commission on Human Rights could not be fixed and that something new and better was needed. It’s also rather depressing, for me at least, to read and to hear that one of the ways in which some people would like to fix it is by introducing universal membership. I have a feeling that that’s where I came in. Actually, there were very few completely new ideas in Kofi Annan’s In Larger freedom report, which was the part of it relating to the UN and to peace and security, which was based mainly on the report done by a high-level panel that he’d appointed a year and a half earlier, and which produced many very good suggestions which he adopted, which were carried forward, and some of them adopted by the world summit in September 2005. But when we read that report, ‘A Safer World’, there was one recommendation which we all agreed was extraordinarily weak, which was that the panel was not able to agree on anything better about the Commission on Human Rights than to suggest universal membership. None of us could see how this proposal would in any way make the commission more effective. On the contrary, we thought it would aggravate all the commission’s worst features, making it in effect a replica of the general assembly, which would debate everything in a highly politicized context, either forcing through one-sided resolutions on the basis of block voting or adopting a consensus rule, which would ensure that only vacuous and extremely general resolutions would be passed. We all said surely, we can do better than this. I think we were right then and whatever the problems in the council now, I cannot believe that universal membership would be the right solution. That is a council of despair, and one might even say that the result would be a council of despair because its message to the victims of Human Rights violations around the world would be: abandon hope all ye who enter here. I can’t remember now who first came up with the idea of a Human Rights Council. I think it may have been Louise Arbour who was the high commissioner at the time. Certainly, the idea of Universal Peer Review, and I agree with the ambassador that that is one of the best features of the change, did come from her and from her office. But I do remember that Mark Malloch Brown – who had recently been brought in as the Secretary-General Chef de Cabinet and was overseeing the process of producing his report – seized on the idea of a Human Rights Council with great enthusiasm, because it helped us give an elegant thematic structure to his report as a whole, stressing that development, peace and security and human rights were three mutually reinforcing pillars of the whole UN system, none of which could be reliably secured if the other two were neglected. And, therefore, it made sense that each should have its own council, the Security Council, ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council. Logically that implied that the Human Rights Council, like the other two, should be a principal organ of the UN rather than a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. But we knew that would require an amendment of the charter with the whole process of a two-thirds majority in the general assembly and ratification by two-thirds of the member states, including the five permanent members of the security council, and that therefore the member states might shy away from it, or they might agree on it but the amendment would never come into force. Which is why in the end we suggested that to start with, it should be a subsidiary organ, but that in due course the member states might consider elevating it to the status of a principal organ. And I think that is why, or at least it’s one of the reasons why, the general assembly ended up by writing the idea of a review after five years into the resolution that established the council. I see, however, that at the recent meeting of the reflection group on the strengthening of the Human Rights Council in Paris, the general view that emerged was that at this stage it is more important to consolidate the council’s work in its present format. That a charter amendment would still be very difficult to achieve and debate about it might well poison the atmosphere of negotiations among member states, and that any effort to change the status of the council should come only after a better performance and clearer results have been achieved. I can only agree with that conclusion on all counts. The question we have to ask ourselves is why the performance has not been better and the results clearer up to now?

Let me now answer your question Mr. Chairman. I believe that the council has in fact been an improvement on the commission in several respects and that the world would not be better off without it. It is certainly not true, as a former Ambassador of Israel was quoted as saying at the time of the Goldstone Report, that Kofi Annan regards its creation as the greatest mistake of his secretary generalship. Mr. Annan has told me that he never said that and has authorized me to deny it publicly. Also, I’m not sure it’s true that we imagined a de-politicized body. I don’t think we were that naïve. Human rights is and always will be a highly political issue, and governments are bound to take their general political interests into account when they approach it. What I would argue is that the reverse should also be true. That governments should always take human rights into account when formulating their general policies. And, indeed, that is the real purpose of having an intergovernmental organ dealing with Human Rights at the heart of the UN system. So, let’s not blame the council for being political. Let’s concentrate on the political content of its deliberations and decisions. What we did hope was that, in the words of the general assembly resolution establishing it, the council would be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity. And I fear it would be hard to argue that it has fully lived up to that in the first four years of its activity. Too many of its decisions have been flagrantly selective and too many votes have been guided not by impartial concern for the victims of human rights violations, wherever they can be objectively established to have happened, but by solidarity with other governments subjected to criticism; solidarity that is not with the oppressed but with the oppressors. A particularly flagrant example, and I was glad to hear the Ambassador refer to it, was last year’s special session on Sri Lanka, in which not only did the majority of council members refuse to condemn the massive and indiscriminate killing of civilians that characterized the last phase of the war against the Tamil Tigers, but many of them even criticized the high commissioner for a report in which she proposed an independent inquiry into war crimes committed by both sides. One can only ask why if such an inquiry was justified in the case of Israel’s actions in Gaza a few months earlier, as I believe it was, the same principle was not applied to Sri Lanka. I’m not convinced that the answer lies in the structure or even the composition of the council. It’s true that Kofi Annan originally suggested a smaller body and one whose members would be elected by a two-thirds majority of the general assembly, rather than a simple majority as was eventually decided. But, whatever its size, the council needs to be broadly representative of UN members. Otherwise, there is no point in it. Up to now some of the most egregious violators have at least failed to win election in a secret ballot and of course one is worried about the clean slate procedure and the possibility that Iran might be elected as the ambassador mentioned. No government’s human rights record is perfect, that’s why we need the Universal Periodic Review. But I think by most criteria one could describe the majority of council members as democracies and they can sometimes be shamed by strong leadership into behaving better. That happened at the end of 2006 when Kofi Annan publicly warned them not to ignore the tragedy of Darfur. And it happened last spring when Justice Goldstone and President Uhomoibhi between them were able to change the terms of reference of the inquiry into violations in Gaza. The problem as I see it, is that country’s behavior in the council and in the UN generally often fails to reflect the democratic values that they uphold in domestic affairs. This is because, in the absence of strong public debate at home about the merits of the issues considered that the UN, governments and their representatives are more sensitive to pressure from each other than from public opinion.

Thus, too often human rights issues are framed as a contest between north and south, in which southern governments can present themselves as being on the side of the oppressed even when in practice they are themselves the main oppressors. And once the contest is framed like that, the north cannot win, firstly, because it’s numerically in the minority and, secondly, because of course northern governments themselves are far from having a consistent record on human rights, let alone a blameless one. So, the task of all of us who care about human rights is to frame the debate differently and above all to take the case to public opinion within the many democracies of the developing world. The governments of, for example India, South Africa or practically any Latin American country, should be held to account by their own people if they condone gross human rights violations in other developing countries, because the people should know that the impartial and universal defense of human rights is their own best safeguard against ever suffering similar abuses themselves. When we see positive change in government’s behavior at the UN, it generally reflects change within the societies that they represent. And therefore, I believe that the struggle for improvement in the human rights council is one that needs to be pursued not only through conventional intergovernmental diplomacy, but also through political work at the level of civil society. It is through what people like us in this room say and do, not only at meetings in Geneva, but through constant and consistent advocacy within our own societies and in our interaction with each other’s societies. We must take the debate to the people. Thank you very much.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Thank you very much. And our final speaker on this sessions panel is Hillel Neuer of UN Watch. Hillel. 

Mr. Hillel Neuer: Thank you Frank. What is it we want from a Human Rights council? Where are we now? And, what can we do with the 2011 review process? What I think we want from the UN Human Rights Council is to help the kind of victims that we’ve heard about in the past two days here. People who’ve been imprisoned for speaking out, for writing a blog, for singing a song of freedom. And, to help those victims by holding the abusers to account. Now the Human Rights Council has not the power of the sword at the UN, that is held by the Security Council. And, neither does it have the power of the purse, that is held by the General Assembly. The only power that the Human Rights Council has is the power of its spotlight, if you will, the power of shame. That is a significant power. It is not accidental that even the most serious violators of Human Rights invest great energy to prevent their being singled out, criticized in any way. The power of the international spotlight is a significant power. And the question is, is the Human Rights Council using that power to hold the worst abusers to account? Where are we now? I think we’re in dire straits. If we look at the old Commission on Human Rights, as Frank mentioned in his opening, how we recall that Kofi Annan announced in 2005, as we heard in his report In Larger Freedom and in statements made thereafter at that time, that the Commission on Human Rights, which have lived for some 60 years, was suffering from a credibility deficit. There was politicization, selectivity, declining professionalism, member states seeking not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others. Indeed, Kofi Annan determined that the human rights commission was quote “casting a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations as a whole.”

Where do we stand today with the Human Rights Council? Well, I think the situation, regrettably with some qualifications, and the UPR is one of them, is that the situation today is far worse. And what is my comparison? Well, I’m just going to give you just one small example. 10 years ago, this month in March 2000, on March 20, 2000, during the main annual session, it was the only session at the time the Commission on Human Rights at its annual session and the publication of the United Nations foundation called UN Wire published an update on what to expect at this session. And I’ll read to you the first paragraph, and indeed I’ll read you the headline. The headline of this dispatch was ‘UN panel to focus on China and Chechnya’. That is a headline no one could even think of seeing today at the human rights council. UN Human Rights Council, in its 13th,the current regular session, to focus on China and Chechnya, namely the actions of Russia in Chechnya. No one would even think today of introducing a resolution on China. Now they were never adopted at the old Human Rights Commission, but they were introduced, the spotlight, the power of shame, was turned on and diplomats dealt with it, the international media dealt with it. Resolutions on Chechnya were introduced, one of them was even adopted, others failed. Today, if you will ask diplomats who care about these issues, will you introduce a resolution on China? And I think they’ll laugh at you. It is not even contemplated. The same for Russia. Let me read you another paragraph from that dispatch: ‘And other countries in the spotlight other nations that will be discussed at this session in March 2000 include Cuba, Iran, Iraq’, Iraq then under Saddam Hussein this is 2000, ‘and Myanmar.’ Now today Myanmar has been addressed a number of times by the council, but as a Myanmar being a weak country, which is as it is a pariah with few allies in any regional groups, is really an anomaly. Again the notion that Cuba would be addressed by a resolution, a special session, an inquiry today would be unheard of; no one would even think about it. Iran, I regret to say despite the compelling moving testimony that we just heard from this podium a few hours ago from Caspian Makan, whose fiance, Neda was murdered in cold blood as she stood there at a peaceful demonstration in Tehran in June, we were here in Geneva at the council in June, no resolution introduced, no special session initiated. One only needs 16 countries, only 16 countries, can initiate a special session on Iran, it hasn’t happened. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, if we look at the equivalent of the Saddam Hussein’s of today, the murderous dictators committing genocide, if you take al-Bashir. He is being addressed. The regime in Khartoum. We heard yesterday from victims from Sudan and Simon Deng as one of them here. The ICC, the International Criminal Court is dealing with it, but the Human Rights Council in some ways has dealt with Darfur. But in my view, these have been largely, the resolutions have, been weak and have failed to significantly hold the Government to account. Some of them have even praised Sudan for its quote ‘cooperation’. So, if we look 10 years ago at the Commission on Human Rights, which Kofi Annan said was selective, politicized, credibility deficit and all the rest, and we look 10 years later from the year 2000, the few things that the commission was addressing, in terms of country situations, no one would even contemplate doing that today.

A certain culture has developed in the past few years here in Geneva and there are many reasons for it. The absence of the US in my view is one reason, the membership changed, the pandora’s box was opened, the membership changed in the 2006 reform, western democratic countries that support country resolutions lost influence, other countries from Asia and Africa, that as a matter of policy oppose them, gained power and other reasons. The reality today is that country resolutions, with few exceptions, are hardly ever considered. So where are we today at the Human Rights Council? And let me just say a few words on our report, which we published today. This is the 2010 UN Human Rights Council scorecard by UN Watch. For those who are watching via webcast around the world they can access the report on UN Watch’s website ‘’ under ‘latest’ and they can see the report and I’ll just walk through a few statistics in this report and then conclude with a few thoughts about the 2011 review process. If we look at the membership of the council, as was mentioned, 51% failed to meet the basic criteria of a free democracy according to Freedom House’s standards. A more disturbing problem is the one of course that Edward Mortimer just referred to, which is that there are democracies on the council, like India, like South Africa, which regrettably fail to vote as we expect democracies should, which is to help the victims by calling attention to their plight. As a matter of policy again these countries systematically oppose any country resolutions. If you look at the membership, we see 51% are not democratic, these include today, and we are deeply concerned about what could happen if Iran and Libya are elected in June as the Ambassador indicated there are good chances that this may happen. We heard from Caspian Makan today, he said please, please do not elect Iran to the Human Rights Council, this will only legitimize all of its crimes. However, let’s not fool ourselves. The current members include China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and others who have deeply problematic flawed records on Human Rights. Countries that in fact systematically abuse Human Rights. Countries that don’t have a blot on the system but where the entire system is a blot. That’s the membership and that’s in one of our, it’s in table two of our chart. We found that in the past year looking at the 08/09 year of the council in the third year there were 34 countries that voted negatively, voted against principles of human rights as they’re established in the Universal Declaration, principles such as freedom of speech, and that voted against positive resolutions like the one on Sri Lanka, where the European Union and other countries made an effort to hold Sri Lanka to account for an estimated twenty thousand civilians who were killed there. And, as we heard from the ambassador, we had the reversal. And, of course, the preoccupation with one-sided resolutions on the Middle East.

To date there have been some 33 resolutions since 2006 criticizing countries. 27 out of those 33 have been one-sided resolutions on Israel. And I fully agree with the ambassador, issues of the Middle East deserve to be addressed, but they must be addressed in a manner that is equitable and objective if the council is to have credibility and to make an impact there, as elsewhere. If we look at the most serious violators the council has failed to address, the most serious violators as well as the lesser violators. If we look at the 20 worst violators last year according to Freedom House, the council, other than Myanmar and North Korea, has failed to address any of them. So, we’ve had nothing on Belarus, nothing on China. When I say nothing, I mean no resolution, no special session, no investigation, no Rapporteur, nothing. Nothing on Belarus, nothing on China, nothing on Cuba. And we heard so much yesterday about Cuba. We had an empty seat for the dissident Ernesto Rodriguez, who was banned from joining us here by the Cuban government. Nothing on Chad, nothing on Libya. North Korea, I mentioned there was one resolution on North Korea per year. Nothing on Russia. Nothing for women in Saudi Arabia. And the list goes on, Nothing on Zimbabwe. It’s a depressing record.

And the question is, where do we go from here? I think the 2011 review, there are important things to discuss and to think about. The question of universal membership. We’ve heard from Edward Mortimer why that might be the last thing we’d want to consider. There are some things to be said for both sides of this coin. The fact now that we have elections is actually one of the positive things I think of the process, where, again, if the issue is turning a spotlight on the worst abusers the discussion that we have every May, and that UN Watch and Freedom House each year holds an event at New York and discusses which countries are candidates, that discussion itself, even if we lose the election and it doesn’t go the way we want it to go, the very discussion in our view is has a certain effect. So certainly the election process itself is favorable. At the same time, if we look at what happens after those countries are elected and the reality is that one can in many ways get more done with universal membership in New York rather than the product of the elections which are meant to be, according to criteria where countries that vote ought to consider the candidates qualifications on human rights. The reality as I mentioned, Iran, we had a very good resolution come out of the general assembly in December in New York. And here in Geneva? Nothing. No resolution on Iran, and this is surprising. If one looks everyone does a breakdown of the countries that voted in favor of the resolution in Iran, the majority that voted in favor and to the countries that voted against, the minority, and you examine which of them are on the 47 member council, you will see more countries, if they would vote the same way, more countries voting in favor than voting against in theory, if it were to be introduced. And first you need the 16 to request the special session, which is something you have to get and then once it’s introduced to pass, in theory it ought to pass. And yet somehow in Geneva, the culture, whatever it is, or perhaps it’s the composition that results out of the election, there are positive things that can be done for human rights victims with universal membership in New York that cannot be done with the elections that we have at the Human Rights Council. So universal membership perhaps it is something to consider. Although I take very seriously what the ambassador said earlier that some 30 countries are not represented here and that does pose a problem, I think there are things one can talk about for the structures for 2011 and indeed we will, all of us, be engaged in this debate for the next year. I think that will be a mistake though. It will be a mistake to focus excessively and disproportionately on 2011. I think we need to focus on 2010.

We need to focus on March 2010. We need to look at the victims that we heard from here. We heard from Ko Bo KYI of Burma. We heard from Jose Castillo of Cuba. We mentioned Cuba. There used to be a special rapporteur in Cuba, when the council was created. A year later that was eliminated, and the Cuban Ambassador rejoiced. The same happened with the investigator on Belarus, as we heard on Congo, Liberia. But we need to focus on 2010. Let’s put aside the whole question of structures, political will. Where is the political will to introduce one resolution on Iran, a special session on Iran, a special rapporteur in Iran? Where is the political will to introduce a resolution on China? Even though it’ll be rejected let’s have the discussion, let’s turn the spotlight we heard yesterday from Yang Jianli, who spent years in prison in China for speaking out about Tiananmen Square. We heard from Phuntsok Nyidron, who spent 10 to 15 years in prison in Tibet because she recorded songs for freedom, because one day she went to a peaceful protest. We heard from Rebiya Kadeer, the champion of human rights for the Uyghur who also spent time as a political prisoner. Where is one resolution for China that will speak for these victims? We need political will. And we can play with the structures and it’s hard to see how we’ll have a better constitutional moment than we had in 05/06. I think actually some of the things that were introduced like the UPR ,which is in our view has potential, It’s not meeting its potential but the fact that the international community is coming together, and even if it’s once every four years. But it’s having a conversation on the countries that I mentioned. Even if the outcome of that proceeding is disappointing, the fact that we’re having the discussion is largely a positive innovation. At the same time. there is the negative effect, that we shouldn’t dismiss, of countries who are empowered by the mutual praise sessions that happen and go back and you see headlines the next day. Our country just went through UPR and we were praised in this way, in that way, and they quote you know Algeria praises China, China praises Algeria, and we have a report from last year called Mutual Praise Society that documents that. But in a nutshell, as we go forward to 2011, I think it will be a mistake to focus on the future, And the future and time when the council was created and it started on this trajectory, people said give it time, give it time. There’s no reason to see why time will be a healer. We need to talk about now. We need to talk about not 2011, but 2010. And I don’t think the issue is so much structural. It’s question of political will.

And before I conclude, just to make one technical point. Mr. Mortimer, referred to the Goldstone Commission the United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission on Gaza, which produced what’s known as the Goldstone report, and he referred to the fact that the past president of the council, who couldn’t be here today, was meant to be but had to attend to other business and Judge Goldstone, changed the terms of reference, or as Goldstone and others have put it, changed the mandate. It should be noted that in order to change a resolution of the council, the resolution that was adopted last year on january 12th 2009, it requires the plenary to meet and to change the resolution. The President does not have the power to do so, Judge Goldstone, eminent as he is does not have the power to change a resolution. And while Goldstone has offered alternative theories of how it was changed, that he changed it with the president, then he said the president brought it before the council in June and the council was silent and acquiesce; silence and acquiescence doesn’t change a resolution. Unless there be any doubt, the UN general assembly at the end of each year ratifies and makes final resolutions of the council, which is a subsidiary body, and it does so by adopting the annual report which include all resolutions. On December 18th of 2009 the United Nations General Assembly met and adopted the council of the report, including resolutions S91. And if you open up that report, with the final stamp of the general assembly, you’ll see the original resolution, which Goldstone claimed he changed three times, and in fact you’ll see it stands there on the books completely unchanged. So, this issue is significant, because as an issue will come up in this session, it and Goldstone’s argument to Israel for not formally cooperating with the session was here I changed the mandate and Israel wrote back and said you do not have the authority to make those changes and so forth. So just a technical point, but I think that’s it.

Mr. Edward Mortimer: Could I just explain what I meant because I’m sure that technically Hillel who studies follows these things very closely is right. But the fact is, as he said, that the president read out the terms of reference that Goldstone had written for himself to the council, and none of the members who had insisted on voting the resolution in its original form raised any objection. So those were the terms that Goldstone used in carrying out his inquiry. And I said that to make a point about which I think is really one that Hillel agrees with, about the importance of leadership and political will. This was the same with Darfur in 2006, that the council was effectively ignoring Darfur while passing more resolutions against Israel. And Kofi Annan sent them a message saying do you realize what an image of yourselves you are giving to the world. And they were shamed into changing their behavior. That can be done, I believe, when you have people with moral authority, and whether you like it or not, the combination of Goldstone and the president of the council had considerable moral authority. But I entirely agree with you it is not done often enough. Thank you very much. 

Chair, Frank Jordans: Okay, I’m sure we could have a fantastic debate just with the speakers on the panel but that wouldn’t be very democratic and wouldn’t be much fun for you. So, I’m going to open this up to questions from the floor. I realize there will be some people who want to make statements. If you can’t refrain from doing so, then please keep them brief in the interest of everybody else, I’m sure they will appreciate it. So, the first question coming from the lady at the front.

Question from Audience Member #1: How can the UN, the Human Rights Council, work effectively on human rights when, because of the democratic situation, it is hijacked, for example by Islamic countries, and there is no way and will to stop killing in the name of any religion or any G-d? This is question one. And the second: what do you suggest as a way out of this bad situation that it does not stay as a toothless tiger, this what you suggest would be a good way out to meet the subject of the summit to stop persecution? Thank you.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Two very good questions. Would with anybody like to? Yes ambassador.

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: Merci. Thank you. First of all, after the very bleak picture that has been presented, but with which I don’t totally disagree. Well, in response to your question, I don’t think we should look at the council as being something that reflected a schism but between the Muslim world and the western world. The council is a body charged with protecting human rights. Like there are other bodies, like the high commissioner’s office, and that deals with very important issues. The council is an intergovernmental body. That means that it reflects what we have in terms of international society in human rights from the human rights point of view. Now is that right or wrong? Should it be more just or not? That’s something we could discuss, but grosso moto, it is the reflection of what we have in the world in terms of human rights. We may regret that it be this way but that’s the fact. It’s not a club of democratic nations. We could create a club of democratic countries, and we could work amongst ourselves, and we would come out with a lot of declarations and statements. But that’s not what we have now. It is a body that reflects the powers that be today in the world. And if we look at the difference through time is that our conception in the west of human rights has slid backward. If we look at the difference between the year 2000 and 2010.

We had a decade which was very productive and that was in the 90s, after the cold war. We moved forward, we forged ahead, and we created the commissioner’s office. But since the year 2000, the matters have become more complex and following the 911 and the aftermath, with the fight against terrorism, the war in Iraq, a number of events, have exacerbated the gap amongst nations, and we see this every day in the council. You say we should condemn certain matters carried out in the name of religion. I agree, I concur. Yesterday or today in Nigeria this is unacceptable. But when you say that to certain countries, they say yes. But western countries condemned certain actors, certain behavior in the fight against terrorism, a certain slippage. But we have to recognize that they balance of power is not necessarily in our favor, and we have about 12 countries that are truly democratic and that’s not enough. The 12 countries in the council and that’s not enough. You need seven to convene a meeting and we have to have more countries from Asia, from Africa. Now I agree with Mr. Mortimer. If there’s an action that should be carried out with NGOs, it’s not for us to do it. There is India, Brazil. Ask them why they, which are democracies, take the positions and take the stances they adopt in the council. Ask them. Without these countries we will not manage to be effective. Unfortunately, since the year 2000, the phenomenon of regional solidarity has become even stronger. Now the Africans want to deal with the African Union. They say ‘we have our own mechanisms, we don’t need to deal with your human rights issues.’ Deformation of religion, the relative aspect of human rights and religion has become stronger. Now the council is a thermometer. We can break the thermometer, but we won’t be treating the disease by doing so.

Mr. Edward Mortimer: Well, I do agree very much with what the ambassador said but I would like to follow it up with a suggestion, assuming this meeting is going to continue to be an annual event. Next year, I think what you’ve done a tremendous job in inviting people who have been the victims of some of the most repressive regimes around the world and you should continue to do that. But bring here to meet the leaders of civil society from some of the countries that the ambassador has mentioned. People who are leading democratic movements, who are upholding human rights, in South Africa, in India, in Brazil and so on. And let them have a dialogue with the kind of people that you have in this hall, and then let them go home and hold their governments to account for the way they vote here in Geneva. Because I bet you that most people in those countries have no idea that these debates are even happening or what their governments are doing. And that in my view is the fundamental problem.

Mr. Hillel Neuer: Well, I couldn’t agree more with Edward. You know when we deal with the council, and as the ambassador said, the UN reflects the world as we have it. And as long as there are tyrannies, and countries that systematically violate human rights, and that they hold control over x amount of countries, they will be reflected at the UN and their attitudes will be reflected here. And that’s very frustrating and it causes us to perhaps question that if Iran and Libya are to be elected, Libya was already chair of the Human Rights Commission in 2003 and I think that led to the process that came to 2005 report and Kofi Annan’s determination. And I do want to note here that I fully agree with Edward’s point on leadership, which you clarified before that could make it an enormous impact were the current president of the council to announce that we must have for example a resolution on Iran over the high commissioner to do so. And actually, 50 Iranian activists have urged the high commissioner to speak out on Iran. She has done something, but she has not called for, as Kofi Annan did memorably in 2006 a number of times and his moral voice was very powerful and that put into place set wheels in motion that led to the special session on Darfur.

But Frank did not ask me what I thought about whether, and I was glad that he didn’t, whether I thought the world would be better off without the council. And the truth is I don’t know the answer. I’ve described a lot of the very negative things that we have at the council. And I agree, by the way I want to agree, with almost all of if not all of the list that the ambassador gave the positive things with qualifications in each category. The rapporteurs do very good work, NGOs do good work and so forth. And I fully agree that the role that NGOs have here is anomalous within any, not only international but you know, when NGO goes to New York, you can’t address ambassadors and so forth. At the same time, we’re under attack, we’re intimidated, our credentials are threatened and so forth. But there are many good things that have been retained. But the dilemma, would the world be better off without the council, it’s a dilemma. On the one hand if it continues in the current trajectory, where for example the mandate on freedom of speech was turned upside down and an instruction was given to the investigator to the rapporteur where he now has to report not countries that infringe freedom of speech but individuals who exercise too much freedom of speech and I see Bennet Graham is here, who’s dealing with this issue very much. So that mandate was completely twisted, and the democracies voted against it; most of them did, not enough. And the rapporteur has been trying to resist this new instruction because I think he does not regard it as legitimate. It’s in the resolution but I think many in the human rights community do not regard that instruction, which is inspired by the whole defamation of religion concept, as a legitimate element in the mandate. If it continues in the current trajectory, we may well face a situation, and I say this if the good things are removed, if NGOs continue to be intimidated if we continue to slash the country rapporteurs, if the existing classic core mandates are eviscerated, if that trajectory continues, we may welcome to a case where all the important mechanisms of holding countries to account and include also the high commissioner’s office, which is also under threat and also is under pressure to subject itself to the will of the council, if that trajectory continues we may well be in a situation where the world will be better off. But that that would be sad, because we have to recall the origins, and the origins we’re reminded of every day when we walk across the street to Place Rene-Cassin and we remember the distinguished eminent idealists, who founded this enterprise here and it was an enterprise, it’s a movement after the war, after the atrocities of the second world war to reaffirm the principle of human dignity to set forth those common principles of humanity in the universal declaration as we did in 1948, thanks to the commission on human rights, with Rene Cassin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and then to preserve and protect these principles over the years with mechanisms. So, at the core, who would be happiest if the council would be eliminated? It may well be that the regimes, that the worst regimes would be the happiest because they would no longer have to discuss human rights at all. At the same time, if the council goes in the current trajectory, the regimes seem to like it. So, it is a dilemma on would the world be better off with or without it, and I hope we can stop things. It may well be that we’re in a situation of kind of a dark ages, where we have an a certain set of core beliefs a civilization that we’re trying to preserve here even as they seem to be under constant assault.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Thank you very much. The question about whether the world would be better off without the council was certainly open to you and to anybody else who would like to comment on that but we’ll take another question from the lady in the second row and then from people further up later.

Question from Audience Member #2: I have a question for the French Ambassador and then for everyone else. The question I’d like to ask is: do you think, sir, that the European Union fully plays the role expected of it in the council? Because from the outside, we don’t seem to think that it is use exerting all its political influence as it should or its experience in negotiations, which is unique in the region and which could bring us all a great deal in terms of initiatives and proposals. That’s my first question that I’d like to ask you in particular, although I would appreciate answers from the others.

Now, next question: do you all think that it will be possible to break up this grouping of artificial nations, like the Islamic bloc. it’s a region that acts as a region, but they actually all have different interests, different vested interests. Now do you think this tribal identity be consolidated? Is it only superficial? And, if it is superficial, can it not be broken down? We see, for example, ad-hoc primitives on the rights of complementary standards. There are two positions on conference of Islamic organizations and the United States that has put forward a plan of action. Now the question is why isn’t Europe posing something? Now in terms of tribal solidarity, sometimes we see that we can go beyond the cliche. The US and Egypt were able to come up with a common resolution on freedom of expression in 2009. Well, it’s very political yes, but it is possible to break down this regional solidarity. So, what do you think? Can we use this? Can we play with it?

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: On the European Union, for those who follow the work of the council,l I think we can’t blame the European Union for being inactive. I think that as a region we take a lot of initiatives and in the right direction. The EU until last year was alone. Don’t forget that the US wasn’t there. There were countries like Canada and Switzerland, but we the European Union were there. It’s difficult. If you take this session, for example, it is the EU that’s carrying the resolution on North Korea, on Iran. So, we could always say that the EU should do more, but I would rather you convince others to do more. There are many countries that are hiding behind the European Union who have a rhetoric where they repeat ad nauseum that they want to cooperate, that they agree, dialogue isn’t necessary, and they talk a lot with a lot of countries but at the same time this is not an end in and of itself. It’s important to take initiatives on particular subjects, and when the time comes to take an initiative, the EU finds itself a bit alone. A bit less now that the US is on the council.

Second question, can we break down the grouping of countries. I’ve been in Geneva for two and a half years. Well, when you come, when you see the council in the beginning that’s the reflex. You say ‘oh we should break these groups’. It seems like a good idea, but it’s actually very difficult. I’m going to be candid with you. When you look at the geographical division in the council, I think that the EU works rather democratically. Before we take a decision we consult all our members, we talk quite a while, sometimes too long I admit, but frankly speaking I’m not sure that all groups are as democratic. They’re much more numerous than we are, and you have leaders in each group, and the leadership that was mentioned, and this leadership is very strong. The same group, for example the organization of Islamic conferences. This has been going on for quite a long time, and the leader’s been coordinating things for a long time and it’s very difficult to get the more moderate countries moving. Now you have the issue of human rights yes, but you also have the question of how a country situates itself, what its status is, what its position is within the group in terms of the leadership. So that if there’s a reform, what will be involved. There are lots of other things at stake. So, we have to have the trans-regional initiatives and it’s very difficult to obtain that.

Mr. Edward Mortimer: Well, I’m going to sound a bit like a broken gramophone record, but I think the answer is again the same. I mean you if you just deal with the representatives in Geneva, you probably won’t succeed. But maybe if you went to Pakistan, and you mobilized some of the people who mobilized to reverse the dismissal of the lord of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and help to bring about a democratization of the internal arrangements in that country, maybe they could also be mobilized to change that country’s position in the Human Rights Council. I would think the same might apply to Indonesia, which is certainly a democratic country now where there’s a great deal of freedom and debate and equally there is no, I venture to say, there is no G-d given law, that countries in other parts of the developing world have to follow the discipline of the organization of the Islamic conference to which they do not belong. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the Palestinian problem in all this. That public opinion in many of these countries, and especially in Muslim countries, is very much exercised about that problem. And while I think we all on this platform agree that exaggerated attention is given to that as compared to some of the other issues we’ve been talking about, it would undoubtedly make it easier for us to get that point across if we appear to be really doing something about the Palestinian problem and what is happening for instance in Jerusalem, where people’s houses are being demolished every day, and where people cannot get from Jerusalem to the West Bank or from the West Bank to Jerusalem unless they have certain kinds of permit and are going through innumerable checkpoints where they have to wait for many hours and so on. I mean there are so many problems there, which are real even if they are given disproportionate attention. So I think we have to be very careful if we’re going to address public opinion in the Islamic world and in the developing world, that we don’t appear to be ignoring that or brushing it aside.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Hillel, if you have nothing to say on this, then move on to the next question.

Mr. Hillel Neuer: I will just make one comment regarding the question about the European Union. I first want to say that to be an ambassador of one of the democratic countries that is fighting for many of the principles that we hold dear is not an easy task, and it hasn’t been easy for them the past four years. And I do want to salute the Ambassador from France, who’s here with us, and his colleagues who work really hard to defend these principles and it’s not easy. At the same time, as truth-tellers and as people who have to set a certain standard, we want more. I thin, that the EU made a mistake at the beginning where they wanted to win over the non-aligned countries from developing countries in the first years of the council on the institution building and they held back from introducing any country resolutions. And the other side wasn’t playing by those rules; they had their country resolutions on the issues that they cared about, namely the Middle East. But western countries didn’t really introduce that. And then a certain mindset set in as I described, where none would think of introducing a resolution in China and Russia. And I think the EU should consider introducing resolutions even though the Sri Lanka debacle is very much in their minds or calling special sessions without there being a resolution there could be a special session, you only need 16. Have the special session put attention on the issue; it need not have a text that emerges. The session itself would achieve the necessary.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Thank you. Everybody will get a chance I hope but I’ll go up to the right-hand side now, to the gentleman in the first row on the right there. Yes, please sir.

Question from Audience Member #3: Thank you. My name is Jibril Hamid and I’m from Darfur and I am as one of the victims from Darfur under the regime of Khartoum. My question to the ambassador is: is it enough for the Human Rights Council just to adopt resolutions and the victims are still passing time by time passing away and dying every day? Is it enough to adopt only resolutions and none of them is passing? And the thing is, till today, more than 23 resolutions were adopted in, according to my knowledge, and none of them was passing. While it is two weeks or a while it is, I don’t know the complications of these resolutions, and why they are not passing it. I would like to know exactly what is happening in the UN? Thank you.

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: On the first point, as Hillel had so rightly said before, the council is not the council of security. It does not have a power of coercion or of a chapter 7 for human rights. What we do is to draw attention to certain situations, to set up a certain number of follow-up mechanisms, and, when possible, cooperate with concerned states in order to improve this human rights situation on the ground with the help of the rapporteur and the high commissioner. Now I realize that from the point of a view of a victim that may seem very insufficient. But it is rather important, you take the example of Dafur in Sudan, I can say that clearly the Sudan authorities give a certain importance to what is happening in the council when we see how energetically every year they try to end the rapporteur’s mandate. We have to fight every year so that the mandate will be renewed and continue to cover this issue. Once again it is a way to cast a spotlight on the situation in terms of the responsibility in relation to other states and public opinion. And, there is the action taken by other bodies, the commissioner, the peacekeeping operations, which is increasingly a component of human rights. And in Darfur, there are a number of mechanisms which allow us to follow the human rights situation in that country, in the region, and this is extremely important. It enables us to draw attention to individual cases and individual victims. As you know, it’s very important for us to know who these victims are, because it already gives us the way to protect them.

Chairman, Frank Jordans: The question of resolutions on urgent situations. Does anybody else on the panel haveomething to say on that?

Okay, the gentleman in the third row on the right please. 

Question from Audience Member #4: Thank you. The clean slate elections are a practice that’s pernicious not only for the HRC but also for security council elections. Is there a way to weaken the dynamic of the clean slate? And if there is, with the Iranian candidacy, if there is a clean slate from that group, be a credible opportunity for attempting to break that hold?

Chair, Frank Jordans: We’re getting very technical here but… 

Mr. Edward Mortimer: One thing about I can give is an example where it was broken in the security council election. I think it was in 1999, if I’m right, when the African group had agreed to support Sudan for a seat on the security council and the United States persuaded Mauritius to stand, and Mauritius got more votes than Sudan and was elected. It can be done if there are members of the group in question that are willing to break ranks and if there is a widespread feeling in the general assembly that it’s embarrassing to have a certain country elected to a given body like the security council or the Human Rights Council. All these things are questions that require political work; they won’t just happen by you know you meeting together with people who already agree with you and letting off steam. But, there are times when countries can use their influence and can persuade members of these groups that their interests are not best served by following what has been decided or maybe even by intervening early enough to make sure that the decision on the clean slate isn’t the one that would be so deleterious to the organ concerned and therefore to the credibility and performance of the United Nations as a whole.

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: That means that for Iran there is no clean slate because in the Asian group there are five candidates for four seats. There’s no clean slate. This is an important element to remember. In certain cases, we can elicit candidacies. A few years ago, we avoided having Belarus being elected to the Human Rights Council by putting Bosnia Herzegovina and having them present their candidacy.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Thank you. We had a question for a while from a gentleman in the second row there next to the camera. 

Question from Audience Member #5: Sure, Professor Caller spoke yesterday as an example of a parliamentarian in our country of Canada who’s been working on petitions and using the domestic political process to talk about the freezing of assets of the revolutionary guard and petitions locally. Especially for Mr. Matthei,  but in

general for the panel and maybe also for Mr. Neuer, both the strengths and the weaknesses of the local political process and the divide between the local political process and it reaching Geneva as well as the role of NGOs and student groups and other organizations within the domestic political culture to reinforce

such initiatives. So, where are the strengths, where are the weaknesses on that front? And really, where is the divide and is that the right arena to be working on by these organizations?

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: I think that we should consider the perception that countries, certain countries, have and of the NGOs. For many countries the council is a place where countries are accused by western countries and by western NGOs, and that’s the problem, Mr. Mortimer said it very well. The problem is that we should drop this idea in the minds of southern countries that human rights is a western issue. It is a universal issue. The only way to do so is to have NGOs who don’t only come from Canada or the US or Europe, but which come from all the other countries that we’ve mentioned, and to begin with from emerging countries, where there is a true civil society in which should be movers and doers. 

Mr. Hillel Neuer: On that point I want to emphasize that many of the NGOs that are the co-organizers here, and who’ve done tremendous amount of work on this summit, come from developing countries are groups based in Burma or exile groups that are just outside of it, and many other countries from Darfur, Zimbabwe and so forth. So that is something certainly that is a part of this summit, all regions are represented in it.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Okay next question from the gentleman there in the third row.

Question from Audience Member #6: Thank you for the opportunity and I think my question is to the Ambassador from France. Will France sign and ratify the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities? And secondly, on the Human Rights Council, what would you do to encourage other state parties to sign and ratify the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities without interpretative declarations or reservations? And, as you understand, we cannot talk about human rights here today without talking about disability rights as the gentleman from Dafur is saying he’s still waiting for justice, he’s still suffering he has trauma or other kind of emotional human rights taken from him. So how can we restore human rights for these people who have been tortured?

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: To answer your questions, France has signed the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. We ratified it before Christmas. I think we could check that, but I’m pretty sure that it was done. How can we encourage others? First of all, there are initiatives that are included, in within the context of the council, in order to promote ratification and the universal periodic review is also a very good instrument because it makes recommendations to states. Amongst the recommendations that it makes to states, often there is the recommendation to ratify such and such a convention. That’s a very positive aspect of human rights work that is done. And your question has helped me remind this, that it that it strengthens the norms related to human rights. You mentioned persons with disabilities, France was very active in promoting the convention on forced disappearances. There’s also a draft on an optional protocol for the rights of rights of the child. This is very technical, very legal, but very important work. And, as you said, afterwards it has to be ratified with as few reservations as possible. We should also recall that many countries, like the United States,  have still not ratified to this day a number of important conventions.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Okay, these have been excellent questions and I’m sure the panel would love to keep going, but we don’t have that much time so I would ask that this is the final question before we go on to the final point of today’s session, so please the gentleman there at the front.  

Question from Audience Member #7: Thank you, thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Let me go back a little bit to your question, will you be better off without the council. As a victim, who is being neglected by the council, as being let down by the council, my answer is probably yes, simply because that council have no more authority. The simple I said that because there was a time, and it is there in the records, where the UN sends a rapporteur to Sudan, Gaspiro, about the slavery, and came up with the facts and then the Arabs leaks and the Islamic councils, with the Sudans decided that this should not be brought up. And then, Gaspiro have to resign from the United Nations. That’s number one. Number two, they have to force the UNICEF with their report to withdraw their statements on the issue of the slavery in Sudan. The second ones when it was being mentioned that at the time when the same country was busy in the genocide in Southern Sudan, before even they were going to Darfur, and there was in the middles in the newer mountains, they were electing the government of Sudan on the Human Right Council here. So to me, how can we have a council with no more authority and especially now, as being mentioned by ambassador, that probably Iran will be elected. My G-d, what kind of council we’re looking at, especially the victims. Thank you.

Chair, Frank Jordans: What kind of council would we be looking at?

Mr. Edward Mortimer: Well, luckily, I no longer work for the United Nations so I don’t have to say that it will be fine, whatever happens, and not that I exactly said that when I was working for the United Nations. And I obviously I greatly respect your point of view, and I think as Hillel said, you know there is a dilemma and there are arguments on both sides. My temperament is such that I tend to think these things can be used and one should work to use them. I’m a great believer in the saying that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue and it’s often useful to get governments to say things even when they say them hypocritically because you can then use them as an argument to shame them to, confront them, and over time, to undermine their position or to modify their behavior. But certainly, there are many failures even if there are some successes, and I don’t think I’m well placed to say to you that you are wrong. I respect your opinion. My own instinct is to go on trying to salvage something from this council, and hope that it will improve. But I very much agree with what has been said about the things that are wrong with it, which we would like to see improved.

Ambassador of France, Jean-Baptiste Matthei: Just a few more elements. Well, I don’t think that we can say that the council has been totally passive concerning the foreign Sudan. I think that things were done. We did not remain completely passive. Secondly to say that the council has lost all its authority, I think you’ve got a bit too far there. I’m not saying that the council is totally credible, but I don’t think it’s lost all of its authority and I think it’s already been said, Hillel has said this, countries do consider it to have a certain importance. Thirdly, all right I can accept the fact that we would do away with it, but what does that mean? If we do away with it, there will no longer be in the UN system, an intergovernmental body that is totally devoted to human rights issues. We just keep the third committee, which in part deals with human rights and it meets in the fall in New York, okay but it may be a problem. Or we can do away with it, or we can replace it by something else sure. But if we do, we have to have a majority within UN system, and it won’t be easy to find that majority.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Well, thank you very much. I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. 

Question from Audience Member #8: Mr. President, is it possible just to have half a minute for a suggestion? 

Chair, Frank Jordans: I’m afraid not because the organizers have an important event.

Audience Member #8: Just to add to the list because I am in contact with the immigrants in Italy our brothers and sisters from

Kurdistan and Palestine would also like to know what news will be coming from this congress. So the hope is that for the work that will be done, we will be able to say the words also with the peace between Israel and Palestine, and be able to say Shalom and Salam.

Chair, Frank Jordans: Okay thank you very much for that. The organizers have an important statement to make now, so I’ll cut short and thank you very much for the wonderful questions in the panel for their wonderful statements and answers.

Speakers and Participants

Edward Mortimer

Former Director of Communications in the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan


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