UN Human Rights Council: A Step Forward or a Step Back?

Women in Action, August 2007 | Go to article overview

UN Human Rights Council: A Step Forward or a Step Back?


Across the globe, women continue to face human rights violations, especially in armed conflict situations where violence against women remains one of the most massive-scale violations of human rights. A year since the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has been established, human rights activists are critically looking at the Council but still seeing the same flaws that its predecessor had.

In 2006, the establishment of Human Rights Council--which replaced the ineffectual Human Rights Commission--gave renewed hope for social movements and civil society with its positive reforms such as the Council's readiness to hold emergency sessions, better links to the General Assembly, and the new Universal Periodic Review, among others.

The Commission was noted for its members' unwillingness to accept criticism of its human rights practices, nonrestriction of gross human rights violators to become members, and the lack of effective action on emerging human rights crises. And the Council, critics say, seems to be heading the same path as that of its predecessor.

Integrating gender in the agenda

Over 150 women's and human rights groups signed a petition urging the Human Rights Council to integrate gender and women's human rights into its work. The call was made in conjunction with the Fourth Regular Session of the Human Rights Council on March 28, 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland. About 56 states, with the same sentiments as that of the civil society organisations, are also calling for gender integration in the Council's agenda setting, universal periodic review (UPR), and in the work of the Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteurs, and working groups.

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Among the recommendations are the following:

1 On the Agenda and Programme

* Ensure at least one full day of discussion every year on the human rights violations suffered mainly or exclusively by women.

* Ensure adequate planning and capacity building for the Council to address the differential impact on women and girls of all human rights situations under its consideration.

2 On the Review of the Special Procedures:

* Mandate gender integration and the explicit consideration of women's and girls' human rights under each relevant Special Procedure, and ensure adequate capacity building to allow for such integration.

* Continually identify protection gaps in areas of human rights violations that mainly or exclusively affect women and girls, and create a means to address these gaps.

3 On the Universal Periodic Review:

* Integrate respect for human rights of women into the criteria on which states will be reviewed, whether qualitative or quantitative, with particular focus on gender-specific human rights violations.

* Explicit evaluation of the gender-specific criteria of the review in the UPR outcome mechanism for each state, utilising analysis and observations from treaty bodies and Special Procedures as appropriate.

Women's groups signatories to the petition include the following:

* Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD),

* Asia Pacific Women's Watch (APWW),

* CEDAW Watch-Philippines,

* Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL),

* Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN),

* African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET),

* International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW),

* Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM),

* MADRE,

* Network of Popular Education Between Women (REPEM),

* Thai Women Watch (TW2)-Thailand,

* Women and Gender Institute (WAGI) of Miriam College,

* Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML); and

* Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). …

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