Posted on | October 25, 2012 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D. |
Yesterday was UN Day. A day to celebrate the accomplishments of the world’s only universal international organization, and the progress of the world’s nations towards a brighter more peaceful future. But UN delegates at the third committee meeting of the 67th plenary session of the General Assembly were more concerned with highlighting overreaching by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, who appeared at the third committee meeting, as is her custom every year, to present a report on the work of her office.
Several delegates took the occasion to publicly reprimand the High Commissioner. One after the other they detailed instances where they believe Ms. Pillay abuses her mandate. Despite the cordial tone of UN proceedings, things were getting pretty heated when the fire alarm went off at around 11:30am. One delegate took the microphone and remarked that when a human rights are at issue “even the UN alarm system goes off.” It was a welcome respite from the tension that had been mounting in the room.
The complaints voiced in the course of the meeting included the issue of the Office of the High Commissioner promoting LGBT Rights, which became controversial last year during the same annual meeting.
Interestingly this year, there was no unified statement from Arab states on the issue as there was last year, but only from the African states. It looks as though the Syrian crisis is taking its toll even on areas where there is broad consensus among states that are part of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. The effect of this was that several states made statements asking OHCHR to desist from promoting LGBT rights. The African Group also made a statement asking for the OHCHR to concentrate her efforts on “universally recognized human rights”.
A lot of attention was devoted to the Syrian crisis that is currently preoccupying the leaders of the world. But Treaty Body Reform was surprisingly an item that kept recurring. Half a dozen countries accused the OHCHR of ignoring the General Assembly Resolution which places treaty body reform in the hands of states. It looks as though the OHCHR had been planning to implement some of the proposals it made in a Report issued in July. Previous initiatives at reform had originated in the committees themselves or from the OHCHR. States took over the process last year through a GA resolution after concerns that the treaty bodies and the OHCHR were overstepping their mandates.
The climax of the morning came possibly when the Russian Federation expressed its concerns. The Russian delegate told Ms. Pillay that he was concerned about the way OHCHR was conducting itself in the treaty body reform process, usually called “strengthening” rather than reform to avoid the inconvenient truth of another faltering UN program. The delegate retold how the OHCHR responded to questions from the Russian Federation about plans of the OHCHR to implement proposals from the June OHCHR report without waiting for the General Assembly to make a decision on treaty body reform. The Russians maintain that this is a violation of Res of GA resolution on the inter-governmental process of treaty body strengthening (5/254). The OHCHR replied to the Russians by saying that the OHCHR was not bound by GA resolutions and that they would not wait for the result of the inter- governmental process for treaty body reform.
Several countries, including CARICOM, the group of Caribbean states, complained that the OHCHR had unilaterally decided to move the meetings of both the CEDAW and Human Rights Committee to Geneva instead of New York, in order to save money. The move is proving to be a very controversial one, especially among smaller, less resourceful states, who do not even have delegations in Geneva. But the OHCHR which services the treaty body committees out of the regular budget of the UN is having none of it.
Ms. Pillay’s mandate was extended this year for another half term (2yrs). If she continues to court controversy on LGBT Rigths, abortion, and treaty body reform, there won’t be a second half term for her.