UN Human Rights Council Update for 18 March 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 8:59 AM

The Human Rights Council (the Council) heard comments on the report of the Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide, presented on the previous day. Of particular note was a joint statement delivered by Sweden on behalf of a cross-regional group of States. The Council then continued the review, rationalisation and improvement of special procedures mandates. The Council reviewed the following mandates:

  • Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances;
  • Independent Expert on international solidarity;
  • Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination;
  • Independent Expert on minority issues.

Both the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and the Independent Expert on minority issues received broad support. The renewal of the other two mandates was not supported by Slovenia, on behalf of the European Union (EU), stating that it had opposed these mandates from their inception. However, it seems that none of the mandates discussed run the risk of being discontinued as a majority of the members of the Council support their renewal. No major changes to the mandates were discussed.

The afternoon meeting was devoted to a panel discussion on ‘intercultural dialogue on human rights’. The Council has already in previous sessions held several other panel discussions, including on violence against children, the mainstreaming of gender and women’s rights in the Council’s work, and at this session on the development of ‘voluntary human rights goals’. These discussions have generally been welcomed as a new way of discussing a specific issue in more depth. Some of the panels were organised to create a more interactive debate. In particular, the panel discussion on gender mainstreaming held during the 6th session of the Council, was a success in this regard as the debate was split into three parts, with brief statements by the panellists at the end of each segment. However, this positive improvement in terms of ‘interactivity’ seems to have been forgotten during this session.

The panel discussion on intercultural dialogue on human rights focused more on some religions than on culture and human rights. While many speakers rejected the idea of a clash of civilisations, several States highlighted the stereotyped treatment of Muslims, religious intolerance, and the need for restrictions on freedom of expression. This discussion reflected the background of the panellists (either Muslim or Christian) but also the interest of States. It was particularly disappointing for several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that there were no women on the panel. The panel discussion therefore added little to the objective of improving the understanding of cultural diversity and how it affects the universal promotion of human rights.

Panel discussions can only be useful if they bring added value in the way the Council approaches a subject, including through improving the interactive nature of the discussion. With the very high level of interest in these panel discussions, that may require putting aside more time for such discussions in the future. The Council should clearly set out the objectives of such panel discussions and carefully select topics and speakers.

Published in: Council Monitor Daily Update, International Service for Human Rights, 18 March 2008.