NGO COALITION URGES UN DEMOCRACY CAUCUS TO ENSURE STRONG MEMBERSHIP MECHANISM FOR PROPOSED HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL


The Democracy Coalition Project, Freedom House and the Transnational Radical Party is calling on the 16-member Convening Group of the Community of Democracies to lead efforts for successful reform of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Specifically, the organizations urged the Community’s UN Democracy Caucus to ensure a strong Human Rights Council by supporting an improved membership mechanism, including criteria that member states abide by the highest standards of human rights and elections to the body by an individual and direct vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly.

“The UN Democracy Caucus has a special responsibility to lead the global effort to promote the values of human rights and democracy enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Warsaw Declaration,” said Matteo Mecacci, the Transnational Radical Party’s representative to the UN.

The Human Rights Council is being established to replace the Commission on Human Rights, an institution that critics say has lost its credibility in protecting human rights. Negotiations on the structure and functions of the new Council are reaching a critical stage and key elements are still under debate among member states. President of the General Assembly Jan Eliasson will present a new draft resolution for consideration by member states next week.
“With so much of the final text for the Council still in dispute, it is absolutely vital that the Caucus’ leaders weigh in now and insist on a new and improved human rights body,” urged Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

In addition to strengthened membership procedures, the letter calls for support of a regular meeting schedule of up to 12 weeks a year so that the Council can fulfill its mandate on a year-round basis, rather than one six-week session, as well as procedures to suspend members who are found to be in serious violation of their human rights obligations.

“If the Human Rights Council is to be an effective promoter of human rights, election to the Council must become more selective by holding members to the highest standards of human rights,” said Ted Piccone, Executive Director of the Democracy Coalition Project. “Democratic governments have a key role to play in building on the UN’s record in protecting human rights.”
The Community of Democracies was founded in 2000 when over 100 nations met in Warsaw, Poland and committed themselves to working together to promote democracy and human rights around the world. For more information on the Campaign for a UN Democracy Caucus, visit www.democracycaucus.net.



To: Foreign Ministers of the Convening Group of the Community of Democracies and Respective Permanent Representatives to the United Nations


As you know, the negotiations for the creation of a new Human Rights Council have now entered a final stage. While we write, the results of the ongoing consultations in New York can still result either in success, with effective reform of the Commission on Human Rights, or in failure.

We call on you as representatives of democratic countries to play an active role in securing a successful outcome of this process; a process that is rightly considered by both Governmental and non-governmental actors essential for shaping the future of the United Nations.

The Community of Democracies must act as a leader in ensuring that the aspirations of all those who believe that the United Nations can effectively advance democratic values and protect human rights are fulfilled. Such a role is heralded by the commitments undertaken by your Governments at the Ministerial Conferences of the Community of Democracies over the last five years. We believe that now is the time to satisfy those commitments.

We reiterate our appreciation to Mali for coordinating the statement issued by the UN Democracy Caucus on November 17, and now call on you to ensure that the voices of the world’s democracies are heard clearly at this critical stage of the negotiations.

While the February 6 text includes important elements for a new Human Rights Council, which should be confirmed, we would like to emphasize the following essential elements that should be included in the resolution that will establish it:

· The resolution must ensure an improved membership mechanism in which States engaged in gross, systematic human rights violations are not elected. We believe that this objective can be secured by ensuring an individual and direct vote of two-thirds of the General Assembly, by requiring regional groups to put forward more candidates than the number of seats allocated to their region, and by considering a candidate’s human rights record and its pledges to abide by the highest human rights standards and cooperate with the Council when voting. While this requirement will not make it more difficult for most states to get elected, it serves as an objective tool for excluding the worst human rights abusers. In so doing, the two-thirds vote on clean slates requirement and membership criteria would redress the credibility deficit that plagues the current Commission on Human Rights. In addition, this requirement would serve to deter regional groups from putting forward candidates who have poor human rights records.

· In order to maintain a Council membership made up of governments that abide by the highest standards of human rights, procedures should be established for the Council to suspend the privileges of countries that are found by the Council - either through periodic review of their records or through situation-specific resolutions - to be clearly involved in human rights violations.

· The resolution should provide that the Council schedule no fewer than six meetings per year for a total duration of no less than twelve weeks, especially given the time and resource demands that a universal review mandate will add to the work of the Council.


As Members of the Convening Group of the Community of Democracies, you have a special responsibility to lead the global effort to promote the values of human rights and democracy enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Warsaw Declaration. We urge you to speak out collectively as leaders of the Democracy Caucus in support of the above essential points to ensure that the Human Rights Council is equipped to protect the rights of men and women around the world.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

Sincerely,

Ted Piccone, Executive Director Democracy Coalition Project
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director Freedom House
Matteo Mecacci, UN Representative Transnational Radical Party