20 March 2006

Your Excellency,

We write to you on behalf of the World Council of Churches, a fellowship that brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other Churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is now recognised as a fundamental reference point for peoples around the world and provides the cornerstone of human rights work. It was adopted in 1948, as a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations." The World Council of Churches, through the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, played a significant role in the drafting of the Declaration, particularly the article on the freedom of religion and religious liberty.

Over the years we, together with our members, have continued to contribute and participate extensively in the work of the UN Commission on Human Rights. In more recent times, we have been concerned by the developments at the Commission that had virtually paralysed its task as the highest international body to oversee the work of promotion and defence of human rights.

It is in this background that IX WCC Assembly, meeting in Porto Alegre between 13 and 23 February 2006, has adopted a statement on the UN Reform. The Assembly "urged member states to avoid politicising 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." 

We have followed with keen interest the difficult negotiations on the formation of the new Human Rights Council being carried on, under your leadership as General Assembly President. Though the results of the negotiations may not be ideal, given the present environment of tensions and suspicions amongst member states and the need to seek compromise, we are of the considered opinion that the draft you presented to the General Assembly was the best in the circumstances and we are glad it has been accepted by the majority of the members. It does make important improvements to the human rights architecture of the UN. Our fears were that reopening the negotiations could have resulted in a set back to the gains that have been made during the last five decades.

We therefore take this opportunity to congratulate and thank you in appreciation for the hard work you have put in, despite some setbacks. The Human Rights Council has now been given a practical shape and with the good will of the states, we are convinced it will contribute effectively to the promotion and defence of human rights. With this major step now behind us, human rights will occupy an important place on the Agenda of the United Nations.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary