Cablegate: Seminar On Special Procedures October 12 - 13, 2005

Published: Tue 18 Oct 2005 09:02 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. On October 12-13, the Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights hosted a seminar entitled "Enhancing and
Strengthening the Effectiveness of the Special Procedures of
the Commission on Human Rights." The seminar was divided
into four sections, each focusing on a specific aspect of the
Special Procedures, and was well-attended by CHR country
representatives, NGOs and several of the SP mandate-holders.
Each of the four sections opened with a statement by a member
state, NGO and Special Rapporteur. With the exception of an
inflammatory statement from the Cuban delegation, and the
unfortunate fact that the OHCHR secretariat appointed Sudan
to present the opening statement, the overall atmosphere was
largely collegial and cooperative. End Summary.
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The Role and Functions of the Special Procedures System
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2. There was general consensus among most speakers that the
Special Procedures (SP) system is a vital function of the CHR
and must be maintained and enhanced in the new Human Rights
Council. Few delegations addressed in any detail the need to
rationalize and streamline the SPs. The opening statement
from Sudan called for universal CHR membership and demanded
that SP mandate-holders focus on human rights violations by
armed groups. Russia opposed formal Human Rights Council
(HRC) membership criteria, arguing that such criteria would
be a violation of the "sovereign equality" foreseen in the UN
Charter. Amnesty International argued that the urgent action
capability of the SPs would be of critical importance, both
pre- and post-human rights violations. Amnesty noted that it
would be a double standard for any country to criticize
others' cooperation with SPs, while refusing to cooperate
itself. Singapore noted that any change of the SPs under the
new Council would be superficial unless the question of
expanding mandates were addressed. China, while noting that
the SPs are the "eyes and ears" of the CHR, emphasized that
this seminar was informal only, and therefore had no
authority to make final decisions. It also demanded that all
mandates be created by consensus, or, if that were not
possible, than with two-thirds majority support of Council
members. The Chinese representative said he had been told by
one mandate-holder that "if states are happy, then I'm not
doing my job," and observed that a given state, not the
Special Rapporteur, bears the responsibility for the
promotion and protection of human rights. Philip Alston, the
chairman of the new Special Procedures Coordination
Committee, noted that the Special Procedures branch had just
agreed to update its Best Practices manual and release it
publicly. Alston called for the OHCHR website to be used
more extensively, including to the extent of posting working
drafts of the reports of Special Rapporteurs. Alston
believes that states that cooperate with SPs are effectively
victimized, because of the scrutiny of a report and the
public response, while non-cooperative states suffer no real
Working Methods of Mandate-Holders
3. This discussion highlighted the coordination or lack
thereof between Special Procedures and the role and functions
of the new Coordination Committee. Of keenest interest was
the question of SP-state cooperation, the importance of
country visits by SPs, and the need for impartiality and
restrained use of the media by Special Rapporteurs. Many
states also argued that draft SP reports must be no longer
than 20 pages or so, and must include concrete, realistic
recommendations, listed in order of priority. The report
would be submitted to the state in question early enough to
allow a formal reply from the state, which would then be
incorporated into the final report. Lively debate focused
around the importance of states issuing standing invitations
for mandate-holders to visit. The UK, in its capacity as EU
president, argued that SPs must hold regular meetings with
states as a venue for further discussions. The EU suggested
that an updated manual of best practices and standard
operating procedures would heighten the efficiency of special
procedures. Australia argued that the agreement to increase
the regular budget of OHCHR should include a funding increase
for mandate holders and their staffs. Australia thought the
establishment of an advisory panel on special procedures
could be potentially useful. Russia said that country visits
were "the most important working method," but country visits
must not be imposed upon reluctant countries.
4. This session debated ways to strengthen follow-up to
mandate-holders' activities. There was general agreement
with the idea that the method of presenting a
mandate-holder's findings influences follow-up, but there
were differing views as to whether a given state was largely
responsible for follow-up, and what constituted a successful
after-action. Amnesty International argued that
communications should remain pending until a mandate-holder
decides that a government has answered satisfactorily. A
smaller NGO argued that the implementation of recommendations
was the exclusive responsibility of states. The EU position
called for all states to submit information on their
implementation of recommendations made to them. Costa Rica
argued for the publication of statistics on implementation by
states of a report's recommendations. Cuba's intervention
drew a distinction between the two categories of SP:
thematic ones, whose validity it acknowledges, and
country-specific ones, which it considers illegitimate and
the source of the politicization of the CHR. By Cuba's
lights, only thematic resolutions require follow-up by a
country. Russia highlighted that a SP recommendation is just
that, a recommendation only, not sacred texts where rigid
adherence will solve all problems noted. Jean Ziegler,
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, used his
intervention to attack the World Bank and IMF for their
"decision to privatize water," with a direct impact on
people's survival, and criticized the WTO for being "too busy
to see me."
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Cooperation With and Support From the OHCHR, UN Specialized
Agencies, NGOs, and National Institutions
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5. The final session of the Special Procedures seminar
discussed SP cooperation with the UN and other institutions.
The discussion focused on the necessity that experts have
subject area expertise and impartiality, and the need for
trained, professional support staff. UNHCR discussed the
utility of SP interviews in determining refugee status, and
the overlap between aspects of UNHCR's work in refugee
protection and some aspects of SPs. The EU called for
increased cooperation between the SPs and the human rights
treaty monitoring bodies. The EU also called on all states
to protect those cooperating with SPs from negative
Text of U.S. Statement
6. PolCouns gave a statement during the final session in her
capacity as delegation head. Text follows below.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
I wish to confirm my government's strong support for the
Special Procedures. We see the reform process currently
underway in the United Nations and the decision to establish
a Human Rights Council as opportunities to review the
existing mechanisms, with a view toward making the Special
Procedures a more effective tool in the promotion and
protection of human rights.
In this regard, the United States believes that a thorough
review of all existing mandates would be appropriate to
determine their continued validity and applicability to
current situations. Such a review would allow the new Human
Rights Council to maintain the best of the valuable work of
the Special Procedures. It should also eliminate duplication
by consolidating work under the most appropriate mandate
holder. This would lessen the demand for scarce resources
from OHCHR.
My government believes that it is necessary to assure that
adequate resources, including well-trained and professional
staff, are allocated by OHCHR to support the work of the
Special Procedures. We encourage states to consider
seriously the resource implications of creating new mandates
or of continuing existing mandates.
The United States encourages adherence to clear criteria for
the selection of mandate holders, as have many other nations.
Emphasis should be placed on professional expertise and
experience, independence and impartiality. There should be
no conflict of interest between a candidate's responsibility
as a mandate holder and his or her professional commitments.
Nominees must not hold government positions. We support the
recommendation that mandate holders be limited to six-year
The United States also welcomes and supports the numerous
calls made during this session for enhancing the work of the
Special Procedures through the formulation of Standard
Operating Procedures and Best Practices. Among the many
elements to be included in such a document should be minimum
general criteria for allegations to be considered by a
mandate holder. The criteria should include exhaustion of
reasonable domestic remedies and a reasonable amount of
documentary evidence.
A number of delegations have highlighted the importance of
communications between mandate holders and states. In order
to enhance the value of such communications, we believe
communications should be forwarded only with the mandate
holders' explicit knowledge and approval. Letters should
include a reasonable deadline, such as 60 days, for a
response to a standard communication and less time as
appropriate for urgent appeals. They should also include as
much information as possible. Mandate holders should
coordinate their communications, issuing joint communications
where possible, to avoid duplication of efforts.
To maintain their value, reports of the Special Procedures
should be concise, comprehensive and focused ON the mandate
of the relevant procedure. They should also be made
available to the concerned states before being made public.
Comments or replies from the concerned states should be noted
and accurately summarized.
I would like to address one final issue that has been raised
during these discussions -- the creation of an Advisory
Panel. The United States believes that the review of the
current system, the formulation of Standard Procedures and
Best Practices, and OHCHR's efforts to strengthen and improve
the procedures would obviate the need for such a Panel. We
are also concerned that the creation of an additional body
would add another layer of bureaucracy to the process and
further burden OHCHR's resources.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
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