President. – The next item is statements by the Council and the Commission on the 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR, Geneva).
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the issue that we are discussing now, at this relatively late hour, is also a great personal concern of mine, which is why it was important to me to remain here for this debate. I am pleased to have the opportunity to join you for this debate.
As you know, a summit on the reform of the United Nations was held last year in New York and, naturally, the participants – Heads of State or Government – were asked whether or not they considered the meeting to be a success. The President of the Republic of Austria stated that he did indeed consider the meeting a success. Of course – as is always the case in a multilateral environment – there were some things that were pushed through and others that were not, but, in the final reckoning, last year’s United Nations Summit in New York could be described as a success. It was a success in that agreement was reached, in essence, on a number of things that were very important particularly to us as Member States of the EU, to the West as a whole. We all stand up for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The decision of principle taken last September in New York to establish a Human Rights Council in place of the Commission on Human Rights was one decision that justified a positive assessment of the Summit.
Of course, last September’s decision was only a decision of principle, and it took difficult negotiations to breathe life into this Human Rights Council. I believe that special thanks are due at this juncture to the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Mr Jan Eliasson, for tirelessly working to enable a decision on the Human Rights Council to be reached a few hours ago in New York. The results of the vote adopting this Human Rights Council are impressive: 170 votes in favour and 4 against, with 3 countries abstaining. The countries that voted against were the US, Israel, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Venezuela, Iran und Belarus abstained.
Ladies and gentlemen, 170 votes in the United Nations is a great success. The EU put up a united front at the United Nations General Assembly with a common position. This is something of which we can be proud, and we can congratulate ourselves and the international community on this success.
The establishment of the Human Rights Council represents an important, I would even say historic, step towards further strengthening the United Nations human rights system and the protection of human rights around the world.
Naturally, there were a number of issues on which even the EU was disappointed. We should have liked to see a different outcome on one issue or another, but, after all, compromises are necessary in a multilateral framework, and we need to ask ourselves whether what proved possible in the end is, in essence, still consistent with what we actually wanted. As regards the Human Rights Council in its current form, the answer was a clear ‘yes’. I am very much obliged to all those who were involved in bringing about this decision. I am pleased that the Council succeeded in gaining the support of all the Member States for this.
I do not wish at this point to concentrate so much on the things that did not succeed, but on a number of – I believe – particularly positive aspects of the new system of the Human Rights Council.
Firstly, unlike the Commission on Human Rights, which operated under the aegis of the Ecosoc, which met once a year in Geneva for a six-week session, the Human Rights Council will meet throughout the year, and will be directly responsible to the General Assembly. The option of the Human Rights Council possibly one day becoming one of the main bodies of the United Nations has been left open. This would of course require changing the Charter of the United Nations, and we all know how difficult that would be, but the option is open. At all events, however, it is now a permanent body of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The direct and individual election of members subject to the requirement of an absolute majority of all Member States of the United Nations also represents progress. All of those who, like myself, have taken part time and again in recent years will be pleased that this will hopefully now mean, if not an end to, then at least a substantial reduction in the – often undignified – process of horse-trading over votes: who is voting for whom, when to vote on this matter, whether to vote for another in return. Another new aspect is the possibility of suspending members of the Human Rights Council in the case of gross and systematic human rights violations subject to a two-thirds majority. Incidentally, this was ultimately the decisive reason why the United States withheld support for the Human Rights Council. The US attempted until the very end to push through the requirement of a two-thirds majority for membership, and also the automatic exclusion of members on whom the Security Council has imposed sanctions. The EU offered to issue – and has indeed issued – a declaration in the General Assembly on the occasion of the establishment of the Human Rights Council making a political commitment to refrain from voting in favour of admitting to the Human Rights Council any country which has been accused by the Security Council of human rights violations and which is subject to Security Council sanctions. Here, too, the EU has sent out an important political signal.
Thirdly, there will be a regular human rights review of all countries through the creation of a universal review mechanism, which will also help obviate accusations of double standards and selectivity in future.
Fourthly, the Human Rights Council has the competence to make direct recommendations to all the bodies of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council. We believe that this has the potential to substantially strengthen the United Nations human rights protection system as a whole.
The fifth point is that, ultimately, the important achievements of the Commission on Human Rights remain, namely the system of special rapporteurs and the active participation of non-governmental organisations in sessions.
Although it was not possible to achieve everything, this new Human Rights Council represents a clear improvement on the Commission on Human Rights, which was no longer effective. The Commission on Human Rights will now meet again – presumably briefly – to conclude its business and subsequently hand it over to the Human Rights Council. In May of this year – soon, in other words – the first members of the Human Rights Council are due to be elected, and the inaugural session of the Council is due to be held as soon as this June. We – as the EU and the Council – shall do our utmost to ensure that the Human Rights Council is able to carry out its work successfully and effectively from the outset.
Although the United States did not endorse this proposal, I nevertheless believe that a certain amount of trust was established in recent days and weeks, particularly in transatlantic relations between the EU and the US, since the US stated, on the occasion of the establishment of the Human Rights Council, that it was not its intention to hinder the establishment and financing of this Council, and that it agreed with the objectives of this Council in principle, but that the two problems I have mentioned – the issues of the election of members and of the exclusion of members – were too serious to enable it to vote in favour.
I hope that the work of the Human Rights Council in the coming years will convince all parties that this was a good choice, that this represents progress, and that, ultimately, we have also done something positive for the protection of human rights around the world. I believe that we, as the European Union, can be proud to have made a contribution to this.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I should like to say: Eureka! We have a Human Rights Council! That is extraordinary and I am very happy to be here tonight to celebrate it with the Council and the European Parliament.
As you know, the European Union and the European Commission have contributed substantially to that result. Last week, when the EU decided to support the draft resolution introduced by President Eliasson, we made it possible for a number of countries to copy us. We had hoped that a number of our proposals would be in the resolution. However, I agree with the Presidency that the compromise text represents a marked improvement on the Commission on Human Rights, and that is key.
Let me say a few words about the Commission on Human Rights. Over the last few months there has been much criticism of that Commission. Typically, it is accused of doubled standards, of over-politicisation, or of being too tame sometimes in the face of flagrant human rights violations. No doubt there is some truth in those allegations, and it is not by chance that the UN Summit document has proposed the establishment of its replacement.
But equally it is true that what could be done has been done. It was that Commission, in 1948, that oversaw the drafting of the most important statement of human rights principles of all: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wanted to mention that because now, of course, we are looking forward, but we should also have looked at the past.
I should also like to draw Parliament’s attention to one element of the Human Rights Council: the universal periodic review. If implemented properly, it should help to address the issues of double standards and selectivity, which have plagued the Commission on Human Rights. After all, we see peer review working very effectively in other fields, for instance in trade, the trade process review mechanism, or even in the conflict on diamonds and the Kimberley Process.
Remarkably, throughout the complex and lengthy negotiation process on the Human Rights Council, the European Union has been able to maintain a common position. There is no doubt that this has positively influenced the course of the negotiations. Therefore, the Commission was very relieved that, after the recent differences between Member States on the final draft resolution, the European Union was able once again to adopt a common position and thus demonstrate its commitment to the crucial part of the UN reform process.
The Commission, like the Member States, is concerned about the US vote against the text. However, on the other hand, we are also comforted by its declaration expressing the wish to work with the Human Rights Council. Kofi Annan today said that his understanding was that the United States, even though they might not be able to vote for the Council as it was currently proposed, would be able to work with the Council, and I am sure that the US, which has done so much for human rights, will find a way to work with the other Member States to make the Council what it ought to be. So I think the omens, on the whole, are not bad.
We have to pay tribute to the Human Rights Commission, but now we want to see a new development and, hopefully, together, we can get it.
Simon Coveney, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, the creation of an effective, functioning and widely supported human rights commission is an essential part of the UN reform package outlined by Kofi Annan last year. Unlike the political minefield that surrounds the reform of the UN Security Council, the UN has shown the capacity to agree on a new structure for dealing with human rights questions.
Most people agree that the current, large-scale, six-week, once-a-year UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva is now outdated and needs to be replaced. We need a more permanent mechanism that can respond, year round, to the multitude of human rights crises that arise. The issues of debate in formulating the new structure for human rights have been many:
1. The need for a permanent structure/council.
2. The members of that council must have credibility on human rights questions.
3. The council should not be too big.
4. The council should be reflective of the geographical difference globally.
5. It should not be seen as an elitist council, a small group preaching to the others.
6. The question of how we should select or elect members to that council.
7. The need for a continued role for NGOs.
8. A suspension mechanism for those who consistently have a poor human rights record.
Trying to find agreement and, if necessary, compromise on all of those considerations was never going to be easy. However, in my view, the draft resolution by the President of the General Assembly is a reasonable attempt to do just that, an effort to find common ground. I welcome the strong endorsement by the UN this evening of that draft resolution. It is unfortunate that the US could not support it.
I do not view the document as perfect by any means, however, and I would be critical on two points in particular. First, I think the Council is too big: 47 members are too many. Secondly, the election procedure whereby members are elected by an absolute majority is not ideal. I would have agreed with the US and would rather have seen a two-thirds majority for that purpose.
I should like to finish by saying that it is a job well done by the UN today, and I think it will add credibility to its stance on human rights issues.
Panagiotis Beglitis, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (EL) Mr President, today there has indeed been a very positive development as regards the agreement achieved in New York. This agreement, with a huge majority of 170 countries, constitutes a dynamic and progressive compromise towards improving and strengthening the efficacy of the international system for defending human rights.
Of the very serious reforms and changes made, I should like to comment in particular on the provision for the participation in the proceedings of the new Council of international non-governmental organisations and agencies working to defend human rights. I believe that the Commission and the Commissioner will work with non-governmental organisations to strengthen the role and the efficacy of the Council.
These clear reforms may give new momentum for human rights to the institution of the Council and reduce the lack of credibility and efficacy of the UN. Similarly, the European Union can work with the UN and with the other countries within the framework of the Council in order to strengthen the new institution. Unfortunately, the ostentatious search on the part of the United States for a better result undermines this positive compromise achieved today. It is high time that fundamental humanitarian values were placed before political expediencies.
Cecilia Malmström, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, this is, of course, in many ways an historic day – the day on which we have set up a Human Rights Council. The fact is that the European Parliament has pushed this issue in the past, and we know that it is in actual fact possible to change the human rights situation by working hard and in unison. We do support the UN in this work.
The decision concerning the Human Rights Council was one of the few practical decisions taken in September, and it is therefore very gratifying that there now in actual fact exists such a Council and that we have obtained a permanent body that does away with the need for those six weeks of intensive lobbying in Geneva, characterised, just as you said, by constant horse-trading in connection with who was to support which resolution. If we obtain a permanent body that can take the lead on these matters, we shall hopefully also do away with the situation in which some of the worst rogue states have sometimes chaired the sessions in Geneva.
I also share the analysis that the Council is rather weaker than had been hoped. I agree with Mr Coveney that a two-thirds’ majority would have been better. The regional quota system that at present applies in appointing Council representatives will unfortunately mean that states that infringe human rights will also be represented. Secret voting and the ability to exclude countries do, however, mean that a big step forward has nonetheless been taken.
I hope that, in the future, the EU will adopt a unanimous and consistent approach and not be afraid to point the finger if a country with a place on the Council is guilty of seriously violating human rights. That is because, if it acts in concert, the EU will be able to play a fantastically substantial role in the UN. We in my group should like in time to see a joint European seat on the UN Security Council.
This is a large step forward. Now is the time of reckoning, and it is important not only to be able to act promptly when crises occur but also to remember too events that are not so sexy from the media’s point of view, that is to say the permanent human rights violations committed against people in somewhat forgotten, out-of-the-way places. If the Human Rights Council can safeguard these people’s rights, we shall have taken a big step forward.
Hélène Flautre, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Mr President, I should like to commend the far-sightedness of Parliament, which arranged this debate hours after the adoption of the resolution, and which will follow suit in adopting such a resolution tomorrow. We can together express our satisfaction and our huge relief in seeing this resolution adopted. Not everything is perfect, of course. For example, the members of the Council will not be elected by a two-thirds majority; certain groups have seen their number of seats increase; and paragraphs have been added. I have no need to go on.
That being said, the resolution that has been adopted establishes a permanent Human Rights Council, which boasts some most welcome aspects. For example, members are to be elected by secret ballot by the general assembly; the Council will be able to meet throughout the year, instead of less than three times a year; it will be in a position to react quickly to human rights crises; it retains the UN’s special mechanisms; it guarantees a particular role for NGOs, even though UN reform is needed in this area – something I consider extremely important – aimed at delivering better representation for independent NGOs, including those not recognised; this Council will set up a system for taking stock of the human rights situation in Council Member States. These are all entirely positive aspects. It will also be possible to suspend a country guilty of human rights violations, by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly. These positive points were precisely what Parliament and the EU as a whole were looking for and enjoyed the full support of all of us.
I turn finally to the 62nd session of the Human Rights Commission. In all likelihood, it will be a transitional committee, essentially tasked with passing on files to the Council. I call on Member States to remain vigilant, however, and to secure the vote on important issues, such as the adoption of the draft international convention for the protection of all victims of forcible disappearance, the declaration on indigenous peoples and the renewal of mandates such as that of the special representative for human rights defenders.
Vittorio Agnoletto, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, today’s approval by the United Nations represents a hugely important step forward. Up until now, a system of double standards has been in force. It is unacceptable that Russia has never been condemned for the odious conduct of its special forces in Chechnya. It is unacceptable that China has never been condemned for its tragic repression of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people. It is unacceptable that the United States does not have to answer for its conduct in Iraq, where an occupation that is illegal in terms of international law has led to over 100 000 civilian victims. Furthermore, what can one say of Israel, which is taking illegal measures of collective punishment against the Palestinian people that are expressly forbidden by international conventions? Reason of state cannot be a justification for the negation of the rights of millions of men, women and children all over the world.
The European Union must show greater courage on this issue: at stake are our credibility and our policy of promoting human rights. It is not enough to protest against countries that are unprotected by often dubious international alliances. Human rights are enshrined in codes: legal treaties apply to everyone, especially to the powerful.
The coup de grâce for the credibility of the now defunct Commission on Human Rights in Geneva was dealt by the presence in that institution of governments that represent dictatorships and that have used their institutional position before the UN as a means of avoiding criticism of their policies and conduct. What right, for example, does the Sudanese Government have to participate in the Commission in Geneva, as is happening today? I therefore welcome all the reforms that have been announced to transform the Commission in Geneva into a restricted council on human rights.
I applaud the news that has just reached us that the UN has approved the resolution of radical reforms to that institution despite opposition from the United States. I agree with the suggestions of the resolution we will approve tomorrow, especially when it states that only countries that demonstrate respect for fundamental rights may participate in the future council. We must also grant a more important role to international non-governmental organisations, which are truly democratic and independent, through the creation of a UN committee on NGOs, which needs to able to provide both encouragement and criticism for the UN system of human rights.
Inese Vaidere, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (LV) Ladies and gentlemen, the goal of the UN reforms and particularly the changes to the Commission on Human Rights was to create institutions that are better, not the same or worse. A compromise has finally been found and the Human Rights Council has just been formed, which in itself is a good thing. The current solution, however, whereby at the General Assembly only a majority is needed for a state to be elected to the Council, but three-quarters of those present must vote in favour of exclusion from the Council, is a very weak compromise. There is no certainty that, under this method, states in which there are clear violations of human rights will not gain entry to the Council. It will be even harder to remove such states from the Council. So there is a possibility that states which do not respect human rights may continue to operate within the Council, bringing it into disrepute. The agreement that the Human Rights Council will now meet not for six weeks a year, but for ten weeks, is also not yet cause for optimism. These compromises give rise to doubts as to whether Europe’s position on UN reform issues was put with sufficient force. In the field of human rights, if we at the European Union do not guide processes then no one else will do it. The European Commission ought therefore to mobilise the greatest possible support for further suitable reform to the UN human rights institution, as well as for the election of states to the Council which will not discredit it but which will lay a solid foundation for effective work in the future.
Francisco José Millán Mon (PPE-DE). – (ES) Mr President, the final document of the United Nations Summit in September established the foundations, in some cases the minimal foundations, on which the institutional reforms would be built.
This was the case with the Human Rights Council: agreement was reached simply on its creation, the rest remained in the air. It was difficult to reach an agreement in a few months to establish the body that would replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights.
President Eliasson's final proposal, which has just been voted for by a large majority in New York, is the result of a difficult negotiation. It was not the ideal proposal — Europe would have liked more — but it creates a new body which is better than the one we have at the moment.
The members of the new Council will be elected by the Assembly by absolute majority, that is to say, a minimum of 96 votes in favour will be required. Furthermore, during its mandate, all of the members of the Council will be subject to scrutiny and also, as has been said, it will be possible to suspend them. Furthermore, as we have demanded, the meetings will be far more frequent and will last much longer than the meetings of the current Commission on Human Rights.
The new Council therefore represents clear progress compared to the UNHCHR. Nevertheless, I regret the fact that the quota of countries allotted to the Western Europe group is less than that allotted to us in the Commission.
Mr President, I would have liked this proposal from Mr Eliasson to have been adopted by consensus, but in the end it has been put to a vote. I very much regret that the United States has voted against. It is a key country in the United Nations and I hoped that the initiatives to obtain their support for Mr Eliasson's proposal would succeed and that, in the end, the new Council would be established with Washington's support. But I am pleased that, in any event, their constructive cooperation with the new Council has been ensured.
Furthermore, the work and the operation of the Council will be reviewed after five years, which will enable us to overcome the deficiencies of the new mechanism: one of the most ambitious objectives of the final document of the September Summit.
Mr President, combating poverty is treated as a priority in this document and I would like to point out that, as this Parliament has already stated, poverty should be seen as a breach of human rights, since it violates human dignity and denies people other fundamental rights.
Józef Pinior (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, today the UN General Assembly voted to create a Human Rights Council to replace the UN Human Rights Commission whose position has been compromised.
The new UN Council fails to meet many of the criteria for the effective monitoring of human rights and reacting to abuses of these rights throughout the world. It does, however, represent a step towards establishing a new international structure based on respect for fundamental rights and political freedoms. The creation of the Council has been supported by Nobel Peace Prize laureates as well as human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or the Open Society Institute and Soros Foundation Network.
The European Union should now play a key role on the UN Human Rights Council. The European Parliament has the opportunity to take a leading role in supporting the Council’s efforts to create a new global system for the protection of human rights. As part of transatlantic dialogue, the European Union should encourage the United States to collaborate more closely with the Human Rights Council and work towards further reform of the UN. The USA was one of four countries which voted against the creation of the Council.
Frithjof Schmidt (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, when we discussed the United Nations reform summit in late September of last year, one of the few things that we could really describe as a success was the planned replacement of the discredited Commission on Human Rights with a new Human Rights Council. The only thing that was not yet settled was its composition and procedures. It would really have been a serious defeat for the cause of human rights, but also for the United Nations, if we had failed in our attempt to replace this discredited Commission with a new Human Rights Council in a timely manner.
For this reason, today’s outcome of the lengthy negotiations was an important success, including for President Eliasson. We congratulate him on this, as real improvements have been made. To elaborate: the members of this new Human Rights Council have to be elected by secret ballot, namely by at least 96 countries. Members can be excluded from the Human Rights Council subject to a two-thirds majority if they are guilty of gross human rights violations. The Human Rights Council has to meet at least three times a year. More continuity has been introduced into the work, and there is to be a regular review of the human rights situation in all the UN Member States. These are five important successes. I was at a loss to understand, therefore, why the United States attempted to block this.
Mr President-in-Office, the US made not only positive demands, but also the demand that the five members of the Security Council retained their privileged status, that they remained on the Human Rights Council, as it were, without being elected. That would have been a serious error if one considers the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China. It is a good thing that today’s vote supported the proposals in this form.
Athanasios Pafilis (GUE/NGL). – (EL) Mr President, the abolition of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the creation of a Council with far fewer members is intended to exclude and to be able to expel the countries which do not submit to the United States of America, the European Union or other imperialist forces. The aim is to have a submissive Council that can be turned into an agency which will judge infringements of human rights with partiality and against the criterion of imperialist ambitions. Thus, decisions to order will provide the pretext for various interventions, even war, in the name of the defence of human rights.
The United States of America have indeed done a great deal for human rights: they have murdered tens of millions of people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki through Vietnam to Iraq today. That is their contribution. To paraphrase Brecht – because time is short – who wrote, 'When imperialists talk of peace they are preparing for war', I would say that, when you talk today about protecting human rights, you are preparing to massacre them, as you do every day.
However, there is no Human Rights Council, Commission or UN that can prevent the fight of the peoples against their subjugation.
Jana Hybášková (PPE-DE). – (CS) Mr President, Commissioner, even though I would have welcomed this debate a short while ago, and today it is perhaps a little overdue, we all share a great and definite new hope, and of course we all welcome the creation of the new Council. Above all, we congratulate the Swedish president of the General Assembly, not only for what he managed to negotiate between the UN member countries, but especially for the way in which he succeeded in bringing together the voluntary organisations of the non-governmental sector that are now giving him so much support. We naturally welcome the longer lobbying periods in Geneva. We hope that the improvement witnessed over recent weeks in transatlantic relations will not turn sour, and that it will prove possible to overturn the current vote. In my view, it is important that the EU has spoken and that it has a clear and unified position, which it shares with the entire developed world. It is the developing world, however, that has the majority.
Despite all the talk of loss of civilisation, it is clear that the new Council must fully adhere to the principle of the universality of human rights, with the same rules applying to each and every woman and each and every man. It is always apparent whether or not human rights have been upheld or violated and in this pre-review the Council will play a very important role. The exclusion instrument is also very important in this context, even though it requires a two-thirds majority, and in my view it creates a new opportunity for European foreign policy, a new opportunity to really address the violation of human rights, which is a problem that results from the failure of some states to function properly. Commissioner, I hope that we and especially you will have the courage to take clear steps towards upholding universal human rights across the whole world.
Richard Howitt (PSE). – Mr President, I was present with Parliament’s delegation in Geneva at the Human Rights Commission last year and saw with my own eyes how discredited that Commission had become and how it was being held hostage in its proceedings by countries which were themselves the worst perpetrators of human rights abuse. So, like Members across this House tonight, I welcome the creation of the new Human Rights Council. I believe it will be a step forward by meeting all year round, by being elected by a majority from the UN General Assembly, by having a system of suspension for those countries which are members and then violate human rights and by maintaining the tradition of access for non-governmental organisations.
I am very proud of the role that we as MEPs have played in the margins of the process. When we met Louise Arbour, the Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva, and when she made her return visit to us in Brussels, we explored in detail her proposals for the universal review procedure now agreed, which will enable, it is argued, a much stronger, more objective examination of the record of all countries.
We insisted in our resolutions that membership of the Human Rights Council should be open only to countries which issue standing invitations unimpeded to special rapporteurs. That is part of today’s agreement. Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Nepal and Zimbabwe will not and should not be members of this new Council.
Finally, this UN reform results from the Millennium Review Summit and comes at a historic point in the defence of the principle of multilateralism in our world. We in the European Parliament should send a message to the US – not simply to the government but to its people – that whether it is the Human Rights Council, whether it is Kyoto, whether it is the International Criminal Court, or whether it is the principle of multilateralism itself, the United States is deeply and dangerously isolated in this world and it is no role for the world’s last remaining superpower to play. If the United States wants to be nominated to this new Council, it will have to allow unimpeded access to Guantánamo Bay. I wonder whether the US will stand.
Milan Horáček (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, I agree with the previous speakers: it is important that a decision has been taken not to leave this Human Rights Council in an embryonic state. Respect for human rights in the classical sense is one of the cornerstones of the European understanding of values, which will be reinforced by the creation of this new body.
Although the proposal adopted is not ideal, it is a clear improvement on the Commission on Human Rights, which was still susceptible to influence from countries who had themselves committed extremely serious human rights violations. It is an important step for human rights in the world.
A functioning body will be able to intervene more quickly in urgent cases and must oblige countries to stand up for, fight for and promote human rights. A blockade would have meant the international community losing credibility in the fight against human rights crimes.
That is why it is a very good thing that this project did not fail; including in view of the important work of the many NGOs.
Bogusław Sonik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, the work of the current UN Human Rights Commission has been severely criticised from nearly all sides. It has been accused of being overly politicised and excessively active as well as of being corrupt. We should therefore welcome the ambitious attempts to reform the Commission and to transform it into the Human Rights Council, whose work will be more independent.
Although the scope of these changes seems to be well thought out, there is a danger that they will be partially restricted in the course of international talks on the proposals. The European Parliament should clearly state its position on the issue, highlighting the need for these changes in order to promote and develop a culture based on the rule of law and democratic government throughout the world.
The most important challenge related to this reform is, as has already been mentioned, the independence of the proposed UN Human Rights Council. Demanding that it be made into one of the main UN bodies is one of the main means of achieving this goal.
What should really change is the way in which candidates are elected. They ought to be elected by the General Assembly according to a voting majority that would make membership impossible for a country whose government behaves in a way that may lead to doubts about its human rights credentials. It is also important for a vote to be taken on the candidature of every country, even if there are fewer candidates from the region than places allocated for that given region. Avoiding the presence of countries such as Libya, as has happened in recent times, or of Cuba, as is the case at present, is one of the basic steps on the road back to the UN regaining its credibility in the field of human rights protection in the world. It is also important to decrease the size of this institution so that its actions may be more efficient and its decisions more effective.
Reform of the Human Rights Commission is a great opportunity to make significant improvements to the human rights situation across the world. We cannot, however, treat this topic as a one-off transformation. We have to see it as an opportunity to start a process of continuous improvements to the system for the protection of human rights in a way that will ensure it gains the trust of global public opinion and the status of a mechanism that draws attention to the most serious human rights abuses in the world and is not bound by political ties.
Ana Maria Gomes (PSE). – (PT) The news from New York brings us relief and satisfaction. The compromise proposed by the President of the General Assembly, Mr Eliasson, will not be perfect, but it is a good one. This is for the reasons expressed by a number of speakers and, in an article, by various Nobel Peace prize winners, including ex-President Jimmy Carter.
We are disappointed that the United States has voted against, although we are not surprised, given that the US – a country that has traditionally done so much for human rights and for international law on human rights and the UN – is currently at the mercy of an administration that lacks any credibility or consistency on this matter. It is an administration that will go down in history as that of the ignominy of the Iraq invasion, of Guantánamo, of Abu Ghraib and of the extraordinary rendition act.
Eleanor Roosevelt and other honourable defenders of human rights must be turning in their graves. Where the Bush Administration went wrong was in attempting to hold the creation of the new Council to ransom in last minute negotiations. We must make sure that, if it attempts to boycott the proceedings of the new Council, it does not succeed. It is the EU’s responsibility to continue to pursue a sound and clear-sighted working relationship with Mr Eliasson, via the Austrian Presidency and future presidencies, and via Mr Solana and Mr Barroso, whose voices we should like to hear louder and clearer on this issue. Europe needs to use all of its considerable influence to ensure that the Human Rights Council is up and running at the earliest opportunity.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE). – (PL) Mr President, it is unacceptable that in the face of commonplace abuses of human rights the world lacks an organisation through which to condemn these events.
The UN Human Rights Commission has, over the last few years, unfortunately become a symbol of the indolence of this organisation. It was an Old Boys’ Club, where countries notorious for human rights abuses such as China, Sudan, Zimbabwe or Russia could meet. Their main aim, however, was to prevent any kind of discussion of their own activities.
The proposal for a Human Rights Council is an attempt to create an institution which would react more rapidly to crises throughout the world and whose activities would go beyond simply sending a symbolic UN mission to the country that is the subject of criticism. The project is not perfect, but it seems that the Human Rights Council’s duty of carrying out an assessment of the situation in each of its member states will at least prevent the abuses that have hitherto been perpetrated by its own members.
The creation of a Human Rights Council is without doubt the best solution available to the problem of the UN Commission whose integrity has been compromised. The European Union should give the new institution its full support so that it can deal effectively with global challenges in the field of human rights protection.
Hans Winkler, President-in-Office of the Council. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to express my most sincere thanks for the opinions expressed here. They largely confirm that the position of the EU was the right one. The expectations of the new Council are high, and a consistent position on its use is required to enable it to meet those expectations and to function properly.
Of course, we cannot abolish the laws of political reality from one day to the next, but I do believe that we have a chance. The EU must play a key role in this. I am obliged to the House for the support that you have expressed here.
It has been pointed out repeatedly that the election of members of the Human Rights Council is of the utmost importance. We all regret that the original proposal for a two-thirds majority could not be pushed through. Nevertheless, I should like to reiterate that the EU’s commitment, which I mentioned earlier, to vote only for countries who have a clean human rights record, is extremely important. We are not talking here about just 25 or 27 votes, but rather, if we include associated countries – indeed, the community of democratic nations as a whole – we are talking about a large number, which is capable of blocking membership of countries who are in fact flagrant human rights violators.
Mr Coveney said that the figure of 47 members of the new Human Rights Council is too high, that the instrument is too large. That is open to debate. It should be borne in mind that, at all events, the membership of the Human Rights Council is a little smaller than that of the Commission on Human Rights. Compared with 191 Member States of the United Nations, I personally consider the figure of 47 perfectly appropriate. Incidentally, that has in fact meant rather fewer seats for the Western group, owing to the fact that members are to now be elected not at Ecosoc but directly in the General Assembly. That, too, is regrettable, but we have to take the rough with the smooth. If we want a powerful, relatively small instrument, we have to accept that we shall have somewhat fewer votes.
I actually agree with everything Mr Schmidt said. The demand by the United States that the five permanent members of the Security Council be given automatic membership of the Human Rights Council was a relatively early proposal that was no longer supported in the latter phase. It would certainly not have had the support of the EU, and as such was never really going to be able to command a majority.
Mrs Flautre pointed out that the important dossiers that are still being dealt with by the Commission on Human Rights must be completed. The EU will of course ensure that the outstanding issues are brought to a close, namely in such a way as to benefit human rights, and such that these dossiers can be taken over immediately by the Human Rights Council.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the fact that the motion for a resolution creating the Human Rights Council was adopted by such a resounding majority – 70 votes in favour, 4 against and 3 abstentions – would certainly give the impression that this Council will have a certain credibility.
There is no doubt that 9 May, election day for members of the Council, will be a landmark day in the emergence of the fledgling council. On this point, I trust that candidate countries will submit their candidacies one month ahead of the vote, as the Union has requested they do.
The Council is set to meet for the first time in Geneva on 16 June, and I trust that we shall be attending the session in good numbers. Whilst the Human Rights Council is undeniably a happy outcome of the last UN summit, it is also true that the big winner has in fact been multilateral architecture, with the creation, also in December 2005, of the Peacebuilding Committee, which is similarly set to meet soon.
The year 2006 is set to be a good one for multilateralism. In both cases, the EU has shown its commitment to effective multilateralism. It has also demonstrated leadership and its ability also to wield some influence in this UN reform. I feel that we can continue down this path together.
President. – To wind up the debate, I have received four motions for resolutions(1), pursuant to Rule 103(2) of the Rules of Procedure.