The United Nations and human rights

October 10, 2005 - nr.38
Summary

 

In this advisory report, the AIV starts from the assumption that respect for human rights is a matter of international concern and that discussing the human rights situation in all countries at international level, particularly at UN level, is a matter of vital importance. In order to achieve this, the UN monitoring mechanisms should be maintained and strengthened. The present report makes a number of recommendations in this regard. In addition, the process of mainstreaming human rights in all UN activities, which has been initiated by the UN Secretary-General, should be actively supported and expanded. Human rights should be the leaven in all UN activities. All sectors of the United Nations are relevant to human rights. In this context, it speaks for itself that UN activities in the field of human rights are not an end in themselves, but a means to realise both the civil and political rights and the economic, social and cultural rights of all. The results that have so far been achieved in this area should be applied more explicitly in all areas of the UN system, and the OHCHR can play an important role in this regard.

The conclusions and recommendations contained in this report are as follows:

Country resolutions

  • It is very important that the CHR will also be able to examine and express its opinion in the future concerning human rights violations, wherever they may occur. Country resolutions and chairperson’s statements are important in this context and should therefore be maintained, although they should be deployed with appropriate care and restraint and stripped as much as possible of politicisation. In addition, country resolutions and chairperson’s statements should be deployed in close coordination with other instruments developed by the CHR, such as thematic rapporteurs.
  • The AIV has serious doubts concerning the desirability of switching to a cyclical system of decision-making in relation to country resolutions, as is customary in the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), in the context of the CHR. The main concern is the risk that this might reduce the pressure on the countries concerned and create the impression that serious human rights violations have not taken place there during the years in which they are not discussed.
  • The AIV does not support the suggestion (which also appears in the request for advice) to table country resolutions in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. This would only shift the battlefield and increase the number of participants in the debate. The CHR is traditionally the main UN body dealing with human rights issues. The AIV believes that it should remain so, and therefore favours investment and changes in the CHR’s functioning.
  • The transfer of country resolutions from item 9 (country resolutions) to item 19 (technical assistance) of the CHR’s agenda only makes sense if accompanied by a stepping up of CHR monitoring of the human rights situation in the country concerned. In such cases, the government of the country concerned must have a genuine political will to improve the human rights situation. In addition, the OHCHR should be allowed to provide active assistance.
  • The final texts of the chairperson’s statements may be hard to find, but despite their shortcomings they remain one of the instruments in the CHR’s ‘toolbox’ that will continue to be valuable in the future. If they were published separately every year in the CHR’s annual report, these statements would start to carry more weight.
  • The proposals for a single report on the human rights situation in all countries fall into two categories. The first takes the form of a compilation of reports and recommenda- tions by special rapporteurs, working groups and treaty bodies. A technical compilation of this kind could be assembled by the OHCHR. Reports in the second category could also include information from NGOs. Both types of report should be discussed periodically in the CHR, after which it could formulate recommendations. The AIV is aware that this approach also has its limitations, as it would allocate to the CHR a task that independent experts are better equipped to perform. In addition, this method fails with respect to countries that have not ratified the main human rights conventions and do not cooperate with fact-finding missions by special rapporteurs. For such states, at any rate, the option of adopting country resolutions should remain open.
  • The AIV recommends examining how concerns expressed in the CHR can be taken into consideration in the formulation of Dutch and European development cooperation policy. A country’s human rights situation should be a matter of continuous interest, and this should result in additional activity in that area or in the restriction or suspension of cooperation if there are insufficient prospects for improvement, depending on the specific situation.

The ‘1503 procedure’

  • It should therefore be subjected to a critical examination, for example on the basis of a study by the UN Secretary-General, especially with respect to the absence of feedback to the complainants.

Bloc formation

  • Union could reach agreement at an early stage on the texts and statements it intends to submit. At the very least, the EU decision-making process should be made more transparent through the publication of policy intentions and criteria.
  • The European Union runs the risk of acting in a way that is too cautious or too balanced. The Netherlands, which has a reputation to maintain in the field of human rights, can make an important contribution to improving the functioning of the EU consultations. The AIV urges the government to continuously consider when and at what level initiatives may be developed, so that its involvement remains visible. At the very least, the EU decision-making process should be made more transparent through the publication of policy intentions and criteria. When exploring the possibilities for developing independent initiatives, finally, the Netherlands should also consider the merits of the rules relating to decision-making by unanimity.

Expanding membership

  • The AIV does not advocate increasing the number of members of the CHR in order to reduce the problem of selectiveness in the discussion of human rights violations. The CHR does not function optimally mainly because it lacks time and political will. The key to improved functioning therefore lies in making rational choices during elections. Much can be gained by electing countries that can play a positive role in the field of human rights. The US initiative to make democracies around the world more enthusiastic about joining the CHR therefore merits support. ECOSOC could adopt a resolution to the effect that countries that have been assigned a special rapporteur at some point during the past five years will not qualify for membership of the CHR for a certain period. An attempt could also be made to establish a rotation system within the regional groups. As a result, all countries would know that they will become members at some point. It would also ensure that countries that in some cases have already been members for decades would be forced to give up their seats.

Thematic and country rapporteurs

  • The AIV concludes that thematic and country rapporteurs should be able to publicise the human rights violations and issues they have identified more widely. Reporting and communication should be improved and better funded.
  • The AIV believes that the possibility of rationalising the number of special thematic rapporteurs should be examined by periodically checking whether there are obvious overlaps in certain areas.
  • The CHR should not be allowed to appoint special rapporteurs, to ensure that the selection of these independent experts is not determined primarily by political factors. On the other hand, the selection of thematic rapporteurs in even closer cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is worth considering. This would strengthen the latter’s position and might also strengthen cooperation between the OHCHR and the rapporteurs.

Treaty bodies

  • Certain treaty bodies have too little time to do their work properly. A number of them now have an increasing backlog with regard to the processing of country reports. The AIV considers it important that, in such cases, the treaty bodies are given the opportunity, financially and otherwise, to meet more frequently. The AIV advises the Dutch government to support the proposals by the CRC and CEDAW to meet not twice, but three times per year. The CRC’s proposal to meet in two parallel chambers to discuss country reports also deserves support.
  • It is regrettable that CEDAW meets exclusively in New York, where its support staff is located. It is advisable that CEDAW meet alternately in Geneva and New York, as an initial step, in emulation of the committee that monitors compliance with the ICCPR. The next step should then involve its relocation to Geneva. The support staff should become part of the OHCHR in Geneva while maintaining the quality of the services provided.
  • There is sometimes cooperation between the above-mentioned rapporteurs and the treaty bodies, but at other times there is no cooperation at all. The AIV recommends that the government lend its support to providing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights with the facilities he or she needs to ensure that these activities will be coordinated more effectively in the future.
  • The AIV repeats its earlier recommendation that the government should support normative activities in the form of an optional protocol to the ICESCR and recommends striving towards strengthening cooperation that transcends groups.

Non-governmental organisations

  • The number of GONGOs (government-organised NGOs) is increasing. This is a worrying development, and the AIV urges the Dutch government to continuously raise this issue in the relevant forums, including the NGO Committee in New York. In the AIV’s opinion, the relevant ECOSOC criteria are sufficiently clear and easy to employ in order to exclude GONGOs. It is ultimately the member states that have to make the choices, and they should therefore be called to account on a continuous basis regarding the faithful application of these criteria.
  • Opportunities for the productive exchange of recent and relevant information between governments and NGOs are not fully exploited. This should be avoided wherever possible. The AIV therefore recommends that the Dutch government continue pushing, both independently and within the EU framework, for the greatest possible transparency towards NGOs.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

  • The OHCHR still receives too little funding and therefore has a permanent shortage of sufficiently qualified personnel. The AIV regrets that the most important UN mechanism for the promotion of human rights receives such inadequate funding and that there is no prospect of improvement in the short or medium term. Strengthening the position of the OHCHR should be – and remain – one of the key goals of Dutch human rights policy.

With regard to mainstreaming the AIV has reached the following conclusions:

  • The AIV will continue using the term ‘mainstreaming’ (which is also used in the request for advice). The AIV starts from the premise that, in theory, mainstreaming is something that is good and worth pursuing.
  • The concept of mainstreaming human rights has been much discussed in recent years, but it remains a difficult concept to put into practice.
  • Within the United Nations, two levels of mainstreaming can be distinguished: (a) within the UN system and (b) in the countries where UN activities take place. In light of the general tenor of the request for advice, this report focuses mainly on level (a).

Mainstreaming in the field of development cooperation

  • The AIV’s advisory report on a human rights based approach to development cooperation, which examined the issue at hand at length, is still relevant. The present report therefore focuses primarily on developments since the publication of the previous report in 2003. For the record, the AIV refers once more to its recommendations concerning the mainstreaming of human rights into Dutch policy.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has an important role to play in this area. The OHCHR must keep a clear record of all the human rights approaches of (by) the UN organisations and closely monitor how they operate in practice. If problems arise, the OHCHR must intervene at the earliest possible opportunity. For this reason, among others, it is important for it to keep in close touch with all the operational organisations in the field.

Mainstreaming in the field of peace and security

  • The government should lend active support to strengthening the capacity of the OHCHR, both in Geneva and in New York, in order to develop the human rights component of UN peace operations in an effective and dynamic manner.
  • The AIV regrets that the Netherlands has not yet acceded to the (second) Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and calls on the government to take the necessary steps to this end.
  • The AIV acknowledges the tension between the promotion of human rights in general and the promotion of the national security of states, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism. However, if this fight leads to violations of human rights, whether temporary or otherwise, such practices should at all times be subject to judicial review at national or international level, with due regard for internationally recognised human rights and, in particular, the rule that states may not derogate from certain rights, even in times of armed conflict.

Mainstreaming in the field of international economic and financial relations

  • With regard to the WTO, the AIV focused on whether the organisation should care about UN human rights standards as a whole. The AIV answers this question in the affirmative.
  • In the AIV’s opinion, it would be a good idea for the government to bring a case – preferably within the EU framework – before the WTO’s supervisory bodies concerning a situation in which one or more WTO member states are profiting from the systematic violation of human rights. A decision by a WTO panel could determine whether such practices violate WTO law and internationally recognised human rights. The AIV recommends the government to significantly improve the access of socioeconomic interest groups and NGOs to the work of the WTO, or simply to facilitate such access in the first place.
  • The AIV follows the approach of the Secretary-General, who is of the opinion that many human rights norms constitute peremptory law from which the World Bank, the IMF and other financial institutions cannot derogate.
  • In the AIV’s opinion, the World Bank and the IMF should strive to mainstream human rights further into their activities. The ‘Guiding Principles on World Bank, IMF and Human Rights’ can serve as a good starting point in this regard.
  • The AIV is of the opinion that the issue of multinational corporations and human rights merits a separate advisory report.

In general, the AIV notes that any evaluation of the mainstreaming process should take account of the fact that it is a relatively new phenomenon. Human rights are integral to the promotion of peace and security, economic prosperity and social equity. The main issue at present is to identify ways to give this process a powerful boost. The process of mainstreaming human rights is an issue not only for the UN human rights bodies, like the CHR and the OHCHR, but also – in particular – for other UN organs, like the Security Council, the UNDP, the UN Secretariat’s political and peacekeeping departments and the specialised organisations. That is where the awareness that human rights are relevant to many of their activities and programmes must gain a foothold. This will be extremely difficult and will require a great deal of effort from all concerned. The government must support the Secretary-General’s aim to mainstream human rights into all UN activities. The AIV realises that it is not realistic to expect swift or easy success in this area, as it is a long-drawn-out process. The CHR and the OHCHR have an important initiatory and participatory role to play and deserve the full political and financial backing of the Netherlands.

Advice request

Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
Postbus 20061
2500 EB Den Haag

The Hague, 22 August 2003

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

Over the past ten years, there have been major changes within the UN in the field of human rights. At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, for instance, a High Commissioner for Human Rights was appointed and the universality of human rights affirmed. Moreover, the notion of the indivisibility of all human rights - economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights - has continued to evolve, a great many more countries have ratified human rights conventions and the mainstreaming of human rights in the UN system as a whole is being actively pursued. The Netherlands has done much to further these developments, and it broadly endorses the proposals to strengthen the system of human rights made by the UN Secretary-General in his report of September 2002 'Strengthening of the United Nations: an agenda for further change'.

These relate t

  • The integration of human rights throughout the UN system, with emphasis on strengthening UN human rights-related actions at country level. This is an excellent step towards using UN instruments as a whole to promote and protect the rights of citizens in individual countries.
  • Streamlining the procedures for reporting on compliance with human rights conventions. However, combining the mandatory reports to the six human rights treaty bodies in a single report seems less desirable. At a seminar on treaty body reform organised by the Liechtenstein government and the High Commissioner's Office (4-7 May 2003) most countries opposed this idea on the grounds that a single report might hamper rather than facilitate reporting. It might be worth considering reports focusing more on specific themes.
  • The re-examination of special procedures (rapporteurs, independent experts, working groups) set up by the Commission on Human Rights with a view to increasing their effectiveness. The High Commissioner has already introduced a few improvements in this respect, amongst others in the field of clerical and policy support for rapporteurs.
  • The strengthening of management at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Here, too, much has been achieved, and progress is still being made.

The Commission on Human Rights continues to play a key role in all these developments. However, the Secretary-General noted in his report that the Commission's credibility was in danger of being eroded. The Netherlands, together with the other EU partners, shares his concern about the way in which this body functions. In recent years there has been an increasingly polarised atmosphere, and some member states have even resorted to destructive tactics designed to undermine the Commission's effectiveness. Use of the country resolution instrument under agenda item 9 (widely perceived as 'naming and shaming') is meeting with increasing resistance from some regional blocs. The European Union, which takes most country initiatives, thus threatens to become isolated. Within the EU, some countries have come to question the effectiveness of country resolutions.

The Advisory Council previously issued an advisory report on the functioning of the Commission in September 1999. We should now like you to consider, in particular, the following questions.

  1. How could the Netherlands promote the observance of human rights more effectively and in a more integrated way, using the UN system as a whole (including the Security Council, General Assembly, functional committees, funds, programmes and perhaps specialist agencies)?
  2. What role can the Commission play in the process of mainstreaming? How can the Commission, which has done much to set standards, be deployed now, in the 21st century, to ensure that they are actually applied?

In this respect, the Advisory Council might consider the following questions more specifically:

  • Is it desirable to distinguish clearly between Commission initiatives and those of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly? For instance, is it worth considering tabling country resolutions in the Third Committee (which is less polarised), leaving the Commission to occupy itself more with matters of implementation, technical co-operation etc?>
  • How, and in what fields, could the Netherlands promote closer co-operation and a better division of labour between the Commission's special procedures and treaty bodies, taking account of existing budgetary restrictions?
  • How could better monitoring and follow-up of treaty body recommendations be promoted and what role could the Commission and the Third Committee play in this respect?
  • How could the Commission's system of special procedures be improved? The High Commissioner can help determine the level and quality of support for these procedures, but it is the Commission that determines mandates. How could mandates be streamlined in the interests of greater effectiveness without playing into the hands of 'malicious' countries?
  • Last year the Committee for Sustainable Development introduced a working programme with two-year cycles, with a 'review' year (in which a number of themes are investigated) alternating with a 'policy' year (in which resolutions are adopted to tackle problems that have been identified). Could this be a useful working method for the Commission?

We look forward to receiving your advisory report.

Yours sincerely,

(signed)(signed)
Jaap de Hoop SchefferAgnes van Ardenne-Van der Hoeven
Minister of Foreign AffairsMinister for Development Cooperation
Government reactions

To the President of the House of
Representatives of the States General
Binnenhof 4
Den Haag

Human Rights Division
Human Rights and
Peacebuilding Department
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
Postbus 20061

Date   1 March 2005

Re     Response to the AIV advisory report, ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’
 

We are pleased to present you with the response to the AIV advisory report ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’ of September 2004.

 

Bernard Bot    Agnes van Ardenne-van der Hoeven
Minister of Foreign Affairs    Minister for Development Cooperation

 


 

Response to the AIV advisory report ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’

The AIV advisory report ‘The United Nations and Human Rights’, published in September 2004, comes at an opportune moment. The reform of the UN and human rights are high on the international agenda, after publication of the report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (HLP) in December 2004.

The Netherlands attaches great value to this issue and, as holder of the EU presidency, sent a letter to the HLP in September 2004 urging that special attention be devoted to human rights, including the problems in recent years associated with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The Netherlands also organised a special session of the Council Working Group on Human Rights (COHOM) concerning EU involvement in the CMR, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly and the HLP’s recommendations in the field of human rights to date. For this meeting, the Netherlands brought together all the proposals made in recent years on this issue, including the AIV advisory report and an informal advance copy of the HLP report, in order to formulate an EU position. The meeting resulted in a letter from the EU to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. The EU is working on a definitive response to the HLP report.

We would like to make the general observation that, while the first key question of the request for advice asked how the Netherlands could promote respect for human rights using the UN system as a whole, the advisory report often answers the related questions from a general UN perspective (except in the sections on bloc formation and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). This means that it is sometimes unclear what the AIV believes the Netherlands, as a donor and a member of the EU and CHR, can or should do to promote human rights. The second key question concerns the CHR’s role in ensuring that human rights are actually upheld and in mainstreaming human rights throughout the UN system. In this context, we would point out that the Netherlands regards attention for human rights in the broadest sense throughout the UN system so important that it is considering developing its own initiative to mainstream human rights during the next session of the CHR.

With regard to the specific recommendations of the AIV, we would like to make the following observations, based on the questions as formulated in the advisory report:

  1. First key question of the advisory report: How can the Netherlands promote the observance of human rights using the UN system as a whole (including the Security Council, General Assembly, functional committees, funds, programmes and possibly specialised agencies)?

Country resolutions

  • The government shares the basic assumption of the AIV that it is crucial for the CHR also to be able to examine and express its opinion in the future concerning human rights violations, wherever they may occur. Despite the recent trend for ‘no-action’ motions, country resolutions and chairperson’s statements remain valuable instruments. They form an essential part of a broader foreign policy aimed at protecting and promoting human rights. Of course, the government deploys these instruments with due care. Restraint, as advised by the AIV, does not seem appropriate to us in this context. Even if resolutions are defeated or not discussed as a result of no-action motions, they send an important signal to the government concerned and are a support for human rights activists. For the Netherlands, therefore, the chance of success of a resolution is not a condition per se for submitting a resolution to the CHR (or the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly).
  • The increasing use of no-action motions against country resolutions is a troubling development (e.g. the joint resolutions submitted by the EU and others on Belarus, Sudan and Zimbabwe during the Third Committee). As the AIV rightly states, since the founding of the UN, human rights are no longer an internal matter. This does not mean that the EU should yield to pressure for no action motions, but that it should coordinate better with like-minded member states within the CHR and lobby more effectively, at high political level if necessary. The effectiveness of the latter was demonstrated by the successful EU lobby against a no-action motion against the Turkmenistan resolution during the plenary session of the UN General Assembly. The Personal Representative on Human Rights of the EU High Representative Javier Solana, recently appointed at the initiative of the Dutch EU presidency, should make such lobbying and EU efforts within the CHR more effective in general. The Netherlands will work steadily towards this.
  • Dealing with countries under item 9 or 19 of the CHR’s agenda mainly depends on the aim of the resolution. The government agrees with the AIV that dealing with countries under item 19 is only possible if the government concerned genuinely intends to cooperate and improve the human rights situation, and if this is accompanied by stepping up CHR monitoring of the human rights situation.
  • The Netherlands and the EU, like the AIV, are in favour of an annual report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report could include the implementation of resolutions and CHR chairpersons’ statements per country, as well as reports and recommendations of the special mechanisms and treaty bodies, although it could also take other forms. Publication by the OHCHR of such a compilation of reports and recommendations from official sources will probably encounter political resistance from countries that violate human rights. Even more so if the reports of NGOs are included in this compilation, as the AIV suggests. Although, in principle, we are sympathetic towards this suggestion, we think it is still too ambitious. Furthermore, the drawbacks identified by the AIV of a compilation of this kind when it comes to countries that refuse to cooperate with the special mechanism can partly be overcome by explicitly mentioning such countries in the report. On behalf of the EU, the Netherlands has expressed support for an annual report in a letter to High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.
  • The government agrees with the AIV that concerns expressed in the CHR about human rights situations should be taken into account in the design of Dutch and EU development cooperation. This already occurs. The human rights situation and good governance are important considerations when drawing up the Dutch list of partner countries for development cooperation. Moreover, Dutch efforts in these countries continue to focus on improving the human rights situation. The core of the human rights approach lies in the combined and mutually reinforcing use of political and development cooperation instruments precisely in partner countries with which the Netherlands has close ties. The deployment of development resources is possible in non-partner countries through a facility for funding strategic activities (FSA) in the field of human rights and good governance, always in combination with the deployment of political resources.

Bloc formation: EU cooperation

  • The AIV recommends improving EU cooperation in the CHR and making the decision-making process more transparent. In recent years, substantial progress has been made in reaching agreement earlier and more effectively on common EU positions in the CHR. This need has become more urgent in an enlarged EU with 25 member states. Timely prioritisation at higher political level could increase the effectiveness of the EU. The Dutch presidency made an effort to streamline decision-making within the EU.
  • The government shares the AIV’s view that the EU should not act in a too cautious or too balanced way. The Dutch presidency demonstrated that the EU could take strong action in the field of human rights, given the large number of country resolutions submitted by the EU in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in 2004.
  • The AIV also urges the government to continuously consider the scope for developing national initiatives. In the field of specific themes, in particular, EU member states can take more far-reaching measures by acting independently rather than collectively within the EU. The Netherlands is very active in the UN General Assembly in the field of violence against women, as shown by recent resolutions against honour crime, domestic violence and a study by the UN Secretary-General on all forms of violence against women. The Netherlands is considering developing a national thematic initiative on mainstreaming human rights within the UN for the upcoming CHR meeting. As regards country situations, however, the Netherlands prefers to act within the EU, given the greater political impact.

Expanding CHR membership and the recommendations of the High Level Panel

  • As mentioned in the introduction, the HLP report fanned the discussion on the functioning of the CHR by making concrete recommendations to make CHR membership universal and set up a Human Rights Council. The EU will formulate a common position on this. The AIV rejects universal membership and believes that the CHR does not function as well as it should mainly due to lack of time and political will. As far as time is concerned, we believe that better agenda management could make the CHR more effective. Universal membership would not require more time, given that non-members can also intervene in the CHR in its current form. Although the government agrees that the lack of political will (or the conflicting political objectives of the different CHR members) is one of the main reasons why the CHR does not function optimally, it welcomes the discussion sparked by the HLP’s recommendations.
  • The government is pleased that the HLP addresses the issue of the CHR’s effectiveness and legitimacy. These have, after all, been increasingly undermined in recent years, mainly by a number of member states that have committed serious human rights violations and done everything in their power to prevent discussion or the adoption of resolutions against them in the CHR. The CHR therefore needs to make a new start. Universal membership offers potential advantages but is not the solution to all the problems. A number of institutional consequences, such as the relationship between a CHR with universal membership and the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC, for example, also need to be carefully examined. A CHR with universal membership would, after all, strongly resemble the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. Calling into question the Third Committee, however, also challenges the structure of the UN General Assembly. The relation between ECOSOC (with a limited number of member states) and its functional committees including the CHR also raises institutional questions. On the positive side, the HLP has sparked off a debate on this subject, and perhaps even created a momentum for change.
  • In response to the AIV’s suggestion to establish a rotation system for membership, we would point out that, in order to eliminate time-consuming campaigns, the Netherlands and Canada have done their best to establish a system of this kind within the Western group, as yet without success. In addition, the focus of the discussion has now shifted, following the publication of the HLP report. Rotation systems are not a panacea; they cannot prevent worst offenders becoming members of the CHR.
  • Furthermore, it is almost impossible to specify criteria for CHR membership. It is exceptionally difficult to reach agreement on a definition of a democracy or a country that observes human rights that is acceptable to everyone. Laying down membership criteria is also inconsistent with the custom within the UN of maintaining a dialogue with all countries, including those with a bad human rights record. Although a CHR composed of as many democratic countries as possible (as recommended by the AIV, in accordance with the US initiative ‘Community of Democracies’) could make it easier to adopt resolutions against certain countries, but these countries would almost certainly ignore them.
  • Finally, the government is genuinely interested in developing the HLP’s recommendation to establish a Human Rights Council in the longer term. This recommendation is consistent with the views of the Swiss Professor, Walter Kaelin. According to the HLP, such a council – no longer subordinate, but on a par with ECOSOC and even the Security Council – would reflect the increasing importance of human rights within the UN and bring the discussion to a higher political plane. The number of members of such a council, its mandate and relation to other bodies within the UN such as the General Assembly, the Security Council and ECOSOC, and the consequences for the CHR and Third Committee, would all have to be given serious consideration.
1.1.Is it desirable to distinguish clearly between the CHR’s initiatives and those of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly with respect to, for example, country resolutions?
  • The government does not share the AIV’s view that there would be no added value in allowing the Third Committee in New York to deal with country resolutions. The successful Iran resolutions submitted by Canada over the past two years in the Third Committee show that this body has become an important forum for human rights issues including country resolutions. Some initiatives have a higher chance of success in New York than in Geneva due to the universal composition of the Third Committee. The government does not advocate the total transfer of country resolutions from Geneva to New York, but rather recommends making effective use of both channels, depending on the chance of success of political efforts.
I.2.How can the Netherlands promote closer cooperation and a better division of labour between the CHR’s special procedures and the treaty committees?
  • The AIV notes that there is sometimes cooperation, but sometimes no cooperation at all, and recommends that the government support the OHCHR in order to ensure that the activities of the special rapporteurs and the treaty committees are coordinated more effectively. The government would point out that it already lends considerable support to the OHCHR and that the AIV does not make any further recommendations in this regard.
I.3.How can better monitoring and follow-up of treaty-body recommendations be promoted and what role can the CHR and the Third Committee play in this respect?
  • The AIV points to lack of time as the main problem of the treaty bodies. It therefore advises the government to support the proposals by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to meet more frequently. The recent UN General Assembly decided, at the insistence of the EU, that the CRC would meet in two parallel chambers to discuss country reports. The government also supports CEDAW’s proposal to meet not twice, but three times a year. The UN General Assembly is expected to reach a decision about this in 2005. Implementation of these proposals will lead to higher costs.
I.4.How can the CHR’s system of special procedures be improved, and what role can the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the CHR play in this regard? How can the mandates be streamlined?
  • The AIV concludes that thematic and country rapporteurs should publicise the human rights violations they have identified more widely, and that reporting and communication should be improved and better funded. The government notes that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights allocates part of the Dutch financial contribution of €3 million to such reporting and communication by the special rapporteurs. Transparency of reporting could be increased if the HLP’s recommendation that the OHCHR publish an annual report, which could be based on this reporting, is implemented.
  • The AIV believes that the scope for rationalising the number of special thematic rapporteurs should be examined by means of periodic checks for obvious overlaps in certain areas. The government shares this view, as is clear from the request for advice. The AIV does not give a direct answer to the question of how the mandates can be streamlined.
  • The Netherlands agrees with the AIV that the CHR should no longer appoint special rapporteurs and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be given a greater role in order to prevent political appointments.
  • The AIV believes that strengthening the position of the OHCHR should be – and remain – one of the key goals of Dutch human rights policy. The Netherlands has for many years advocated a greater regular UN contribution to the OHCHR in the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly. The Netherlands itself supports the OHCHR with an unearmarked annual contribution of €3 million. In 2004, it was the third largest donor after the United States and the European Commission.
I.5.Could a two-year cycle consisting of a policy year and a review year – as in the Committee for Sustainable Development – also be applicable for the CHR?
  • The government agrees with the AIV that there should not be a switch to the cyclical submission of country resolutions because human rights situations are constantly changing and too politically sensitive to be examined only once every two years.
  • The government is considering, however, whether it is advisable to discuss a country just once a year, i.e. either in the CHR or the Third Committee, if this is justified by the human rights situation. If it can be assumed a country is more likely to respond to a message from the UN in New York than from Geneva, discussion in the Third Committee should suffice.
  1. The second key question concerns the role of the CHR in ensuring that human rights are actually observed and in the mainstreaming process.

Mainstreaming in general
The AIV distinguishes two levels of mainstreaming, within the UN system and in countries where UN activities take place. The advisory report focuses mainly on the UN system itself. The Netherlands recognises and fully endorses the importance of mainstreaming human rights at all levels of the UN. For this reason, it is considering tabling a resolution to that effect at the next session of the CHR. The resolution would have to be based on a broad concept of human rights mainstreaming (within the UN’s four main fields of activity: peace and security, economic and social affairs, development issues and humanitarian affairs). In the context of the HLP report, the government believes that the time is ripe for such a resolution.

Mainstreaming in the field of development cooperation

  • The AIV refers to its earlier advisory report on mainstreaming human rights in development cooperation and underlines that the OHCHR has an important role to play in this area. The Netherlands fully endorses this and its support for the Office aims to facilitate and strengthen this role where possible. The process of mainstreaming human rights within the UN should not, however, be limited to the OHCHR. Other UN agencies, such as UNDP, should certainly also play a role.

Mainstreaming in the field of peace and security

  • The government agrees with the AIV that the capacity of the OHCHR, in both Geneva and New York, should be strengthened in order to mainstream human rights into UN peace operations in an effective manner. Increasingly, human rights are an important concern in decision-making on peace operations. The Security Council’s resolution on children and armed conflict illustrates its involvement with human rights. Actual mainstreaming of human rights into the daily activities of the Security Council, however, will depend on more than just strengthening the capacity of the OHCHR. The government therefore supports the HLP’s recommendation that the Security Council ask the OHCHR to prepare regular reports on the implementation of human rights provisions from Security Council resolutions.
  • The government agrees with the AIV that if measures taken in the fight against terrorism lead to temporary restrictions on human rights, such measures should at all times be subject to judicial review at national and international level. Even in times of armed conflict, states may not derogate from certain rights.

Mainstreaming in the field of international economic and financial relations

  • The government shares the AIV’s view that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cannot derogate from UN human rights standards. In the government’s view, if these institutions are to honour their mandates they are bound to act in accordance with internationally recognised human rights.
  • The government accepts the AIV’s recommendation that both the IMF and the World Bank should continue to mainstream human rights into their daily activities. It agrees with the AIV that, in the past few years, both organisations have made progress in this area by focusing more explicity on all aspects of poverty reduction, which has led in any case to the mainstreaming of social and economic rights. In addition, the World Bank, by establishing safeguards when granting loans, imposes clear requirements concerning the observance of human rights in general. Both organisations make increasing use of instruments such as the Poverty and Social Impact Assessment (PSIA), which sheds light on the effects of their policies on the social human rights of the poorest members of society. Internationally, the Netherlands contributes to the popularisation and harmonisation of this instrument by the World Bank and IMF. In addition more and more bilateral donors are carrying out PSIAs, sometimes in cooperation with one of the IFIs. The aim is to increase involvement of partner country governments and civil society in PSIAs. The World Bank, in cooperation with DFID, is working to develop a new methodology for PSIA, which pays greater attention to political and institutional aspects of the programmes proposed. Bilateral donors regularly produce findings on the effectiveness of PSIAs.
  • The AIV believes that the WTO should take into account UN human rights standards as a whole in its decision-making. The government supports this recommendation in principle, but notes that, given the member-driven nature of the organisation, this is mainly a matter for the WTO members themselves, not the WTO secretariat. The government is of the opinion, however, that all WTO members should, where appropriate, take UN human rights standards into account when negotiating new disciplines, as is currently the case in the Doha round, and regular decision-making in WTO matters. The government shares the AIV’s concern about the observance of international labour standards on, for example, forced or child labour and the right to organise in some countries. The WTO has not been able to reach any agreements about this in recent years because developing countries fear it may lead to new trade barriers.
  • The government prefers a constructive dialogue with WTO partners on international labour standards to the AIV’s suggestion of a test case in the context of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, with the objective of forcing a decision. Quite apart from the extremely small chance of success of such a test case, it could also adversely affect the dialogue recently launched in the ILO on international labour standards and relations with the WTO. Furthermore, in the settlement of disputes, the highest Appellate Body takes account of other international law relevant to the case when interpreting WTO rules.
  • The AIV recommends improving the access of socioeconomic interest groups and NGOs to the work of the WTO. The government thinks that these organisations should express themselves primarily through national delegations, and will ensure that their voices are heard in the Dutch standpoint in preparation for the EU contribution to this forum.
  1. The AIV made a number of recommendations at its own initiative, to which the government responds briefly below.

The 1503 procedure

  • The 1503 procedure should be subjected to a critical examination, as suggested by the AIV. In recent years, the procedure has increasingly dealt with country situations rather than individual complaints (which are symptomatic for a particular country), increasing overlap with the work of the CHR. Independent experts can also be appointed on the basis of the 1503 procedure, as in the case of Uzbekistan last year. Although we should welcome the fact that there are various mechanisms for achieving a particular objective, it is doubtful whether this makes the system more transparent and effective. The government therefore aims for a clearer distinction between the treatment of country situations in the CHR and individual complaints in the 1503 procedure.

NGOs

  • The Netherlands and the EU support the proposals of the Cardoso Report (the report of the panel of eminent persons on UN-civil society relations) to make the accreditation system for NGOs more transparent, in which the Secretariat can play an important role. The functioning and future of the NGO committee should be examined in this light.
  • The government will of course continue to push for the greatest possible transparency towards NGOs. This was given concrete form during the Dutch EU presidency partly by talking to NGOs after the meetings of the Human Rights Working Group (COHOM). On several occasions, NGOs also attended part of these meetings.

Other subjects

  • As you know, the government still has reservations about the expediency of an optional protocol to the ICESCR.
     
  • The government has started the ratification procedure for the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has presented it to the House of Representatives.
Press releases

Press release related to this report has not been translated.