World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Human Rights Council

19 May 2006

Statement by the WCC Executive Committee, Geneva, 16-19 May, 2006

1. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) held its finalsession in Geneva on 27th March, 2006. It was an ignominious end to a bodythat was established in 1946 at the first meeting of ECOSOC, as one of thefirst two "functional Commissions". For over 60 years UNCHR played a uniquerole in developing universally accepted standards for the promotion and defenceof human rights. It was the highest global body responsible to oversee respectfor human rights by national governments. One of its major tasks was to monitorviolations around the world and act on them during its six-week annualsession in Geneva.2. The work of UNCHR peaked through the 1970s to 1990s. Amongst otherachievements it established 30 special procedures and mechanisms that addressedspecific country situations and thematic issues. The WCC through its Commissionof the Churches on International Affairs worked closely with the UNCHRparticularly during the 1970s and 80s on issues of militarization and nationalsecurity in Latin America and its impact on human rights. The Council wasamongst the first organizations to bring victims of human rights violations,human rights defenders and church representatives from the regions to givelive testimony before the UNCHR. Much of this work contributed to the settingup of safeguards against torture, disappearances, violence against women,arbitrary and extra-judicial killings.3. Despite structural flaws and problems of funding the UNCHR continued towork effectively for the promotion and defence of human rights. The work ofUNCHR in recent years, however, was virtually paralyzed by practices andpolicies of double standards and politicization of human rights agendas bymember states, including en-bloc voting by the regions.4. Given the dissatisfaction at the functioning of the UNCHR a number of statescalled for reforms. It was not surprising that the Secretary General set up aHigh Level Panel whose task was to propose overall reforms of the UnitedNations including the UNCHR. The World Council of Churches stronglysupported this call of the Secretary General. The Statement on UN Reformissued at the 9th WCC Assembly, 14-23 February, 2006 in Porto Alegre,Brazil, also focused on the reform of the Human Rights agenda in the followingterms:

"a) Stresses that reform of the UN human rights architecture must result in an improvement
of the capacity of the UN to engage with and make a practical positive difference
in the lives of victims of injustice, discrimination and oppression around the
world. The system of Special Procedures developed by the Commission on Human
Rights, of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies as well as of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights and her office should be actively supported, and their independence
respected and their capacity substantially enhanced.

b) Urges member states to avoid politicizing the composition of the new Human Rights
Council and give it a status within the UN architecture that reflects the central
importance of human rights as one of the three pillars of the UN system. Members
of the UN Human Rights Council must demonstrate through their policies, actions
and domestic and international human rights record a genuine commitment to the
promotion and protection of human rights, including the economic, social and cultural
rights. Being a UN member state or even a permanent member of the UN
Security Council does not by itself meet this criterion."

5. On 15th March 2006 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopteda resolution that created a new Human Rights Council. The resolution wasadopted after some hard negotiations. It was welcomed by most member states,churches and human rights NGOs who, while acknowledging its shortcomings,considered it the best under the present circumstances. The elections forthe new Human Rights Council took place on 9th May, when the GeneralAssembly elected 47 countries of 63 that were contesting for membership.The inaugural session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to take placein Geneva on 19th June 2006.6. The General Assembly Resolution acknowledged that peace and security, developmentand human rights, are not only interlinked and mutually reinforcingbut also are the pillars of the United Nations system and the foundations forcollective security and well-being. The Resolution recognized the work undertakenby the United Nations Commission on Human Rights over the years,and expressed the need to preserve and build on its achievements and to redressits shortcomings.The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Bossey,Switzerland, 16-19 May, 2006:a) Recognises the contribution made by the United Nations Commission on HumanRights, over a period of sixty years, for the promotion and defence of humanrights and expresses the need to preserve and build on its achievements byavoiding policies and practices of double standards, en-bloc voting and politicizationof the human rights agenda that were so prevalent at the UNCHRand were instrumental for bringing it into disrepute;b) Encourages member states of the United Nations to recognize and accept theimportance of the universality of human rights and to work for it in a spiritof cooperation across regional lines for the well-being of all the people aroundthe world; and also to recognize the increasing interaction between religionand politics in order to address tensions between the right to religious freedomand other fundamental rights;c) Reiterates the need for the Human Rights Council to recognize the achievementsand importance of the special mechanism of the UNCHR and to strengthenand build their capacities;d) Emphasises strongly for the need to recognize the role and contribution of churchesand civil society organizations in the promotion and defence of human rightsand ensure them unhindered access to participate effectively in the debatesand discourses at the forthcoming sessions of the Human Rights Council;e) Urges member churches to continue to encourage and support the efforts of theUnited Nations in strengthening the links between peace and security, developmentand human rights and in this connection continue to work closelywith the Human Rights Council for the promotion and defence of humanrights, including monitoring and compliance by the states of internationallyaccepted human rights norms and standards;f) Calls on member churches and ecumenical partners in contexts where religioninteracts with politics in a way that causes polarization and division with societiesto deepen dialogue with people of other faiths, seek common approachesand develop common codes of conduct for the promotion and defence ofhuman rights of all people;g) Calls also on all member states to provide full moral, material and humanresources backing and support to ensure the successful functioning of theHuman Rights Council.