Just Another Forum?
Martin, Joseph Paul, Harvard International Review
Ambassador Blaise Godet ("Reforming Human Rights," Winter 2008) defends the early steps of the Human Rights Council (HRC) as it tries to avoid the criticisms that resulted in the demise to the Human Rights Commission. However, there are still many potential issues that need to be addressed. Will it ever be able to rise above being a mere debating forum that relies on the "real" decisions being left to the Security Council and the day-to-day work to the rest of the UN?
The human rights movement today is an effort to bridge the gap between norms of social justice and day-to-day reality. The international movement encompasses a multiplicity of institutions: rich and poor states, domestic and international civil society networks, and inter-governmental organizations. If it has a hub, it is the UN, within which the HRC is but one of many bodies that deal with human rights. Compared with the others, the HRC does not yet rank highly in terms of its contributions.
Like the UN itself, the most important facts about the HRC are that it exists and provides the world's states a standard forum for expressing their concerns. Moreover, it is the only UN body to fulfill just this function. There, its 47 state-members function rather like a legislative body.
In most UN settings, once it comes to setting concrete polices, human rights activists frequently feel outgunned by the other international priorities such as trade and commerce and militaristic approaches. Therefore, insofar as its sole priority is human rights, the HRC is an important space. However, Godet does not discuss access to the HRC for civil society, notably for human rights NGOs and abused populations, both of which have long been the driving forces in the movement. Their presence brought authenticity to the three great UN human rights conferences in Vienna (1993), Beijing (1995) and Durban (2002). Similarly, the participation of disabled persons in the drafting of the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities made it one of the most advanced of the human rights treaties. …