Update: 11.10.2006

Second ordinary session of the Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) ended its second session on October 6, 2006 failing to reach an agreement on any of the 44 proposed resolutions. These have been deferred until the final session of the year, from November 27 to December 8, 2006. Even the final declaration presented by the Council’s president Luis Alfonso de Alba was refused. 

First reactions

"Disappointed but not surprised", said Swiss international law expert Walter Kälin, who was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the HRC. “Setting up the council is a consensual process. We therefore cannot expect it to be perfect”. According to Kälin, conclusions made about the progress thanks to HRC discussions can be drawn in June 2007 at the earliest. “Progress is being hindered by politics, and notably by the Islamic Conference”. Mariette Grange from, Human Rights Watch continues, “not voting a single resolution for Sudan, Sri Lanka or Uzbekistan leaves the doors wide open to any kind of exaction. These aren’t rhetorical questions, they are real violations. Not only are they continuing, but they’re being encouraged by this impunity.” For Peter Splinter of Amnesty International, "the Council has failed to act on a number of situations, but it is broadening its agenda."

The Swiss role

Switzerland tried to mediate the discussions with little success. In addition, the Swiss delegation presented three resolutions during the second session: on Nepal, the independence of judges in countries going through democratic changes and, of a more delicate nature, human rights in the fight against terrorism. All three reflect the priorities of Swiss policy. All three, amongst others, will be discussed during the next session.

Xenophobic tendencies in Switzerland

The United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diène, has reiterated his criticism of Switzerland. He maintained that racism had become an instrument in political debate. "In Switzerland, talk about the defence of national identity has assumed greater importance in political discussions and in the media, which shows a political climate influenced by xenophobic tendencies," the UN envoy explained. He deplored what he called the weak political and legal aspects of Switzerland's anti-racism policies. The Swiss ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet, told Swissinfo that Switzerland would give a full reply when the rapporteur presented his complete report in April 2007.

Swiss experts’ reports

About 40 or so independent experts, special rapporteurs and working groups were to report about their observations and recommendations, which was not possible during the last session of the Human Rights Commission. Amongst them were Walter Kälin, special rapporteur on displaced persons and one of the 4 special envoys to Lebanon, and Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur on food.

NGO community fears

On the one hand, NGOs  have never had this much speaking time, even if during the Council’s second session their speaking time was shortened from five minutes to two. On the other hand, several countries are threatening to exclude them from interactive dialogues. They have clearly been attacked by certain countries, in particular Asian and African countries, which are also requesting a code of conduct for independent experts. Some countries have explicitly requested that NGOs do not say anything during country reviews. Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch insists: “In this case, it would be a great step backwards and would gut the Council of its very soul”.

About the second session of the Human Rights Council (HRC)

Switzerland and the HRC

About the UN racism envoy in Switzerland

About Swiss experts’ reports

About NGOs and HRC

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