Since the creation of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, (to replace
the UN Commission on Human Rights – see Geneva Digest Feb-July
2006,) attention has focussed more on procedural issues than on substantive
issues. This fourth Session of the Council was no exception, and
such discussions continued to dominate the proceedings – although
the majority were held outside the main meeting in specific groups, each
concentrating on a different aspect of the new Council. Of great
interest and tension are the terms of reference for the annual review of
each state’s human rights performance during the previous year, as
well as the elections of new members. These discussions are ongoing and
will be finalised at the 5th Session to be held from 11-18th June.
Nonetheless, this fourth Session saw more progress in the substantive
regard than in previous Council Sessions. Two notable resolutions
1. Resolution on the ‘Situation of Human Rights in Darfur’
This resolution was a follow-up to a previous resolution establishing
a High-Level Mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur. The
High-Level Mission reported to the 4th Session of the Council, as requested,
but had been unable to visit Darfur itself.
After much negotiation, this follow-up resolution was adopted by consensus
and took note with regret that the High-Level Mission could not visit Darfur,
expressed deep concern at the seriousness of ongoing violations in the
region, and called upon all concerned parties to put an end to all acts
The main contribution of the resolution was to convene a group of special
procedures, presided over by the Special Rapporteur on the Sudan to work
with the Government of the Sudan, human rights mechanisms and the African
Union to ensure the effective follow-up and to foster the implementation
of resolutions and recommendations on Darfur, ‘taking into account
the needs of the Sudan in this regard’, and ‘to contribute
to monitoring the human rights situation on the ground.’
This group is mandated to report to the Council in its 5th Session.
The extent of state co-operation with the group will continue to determine
the effectiveness of any progress on the human rights situation in Darfur.
2. Resolution on ‘Combating Defamation of Religion’
On behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (a grouping of 57
states), Pakistan presented a draft resolution on combating the defamation
of religions. In view of the fact that Islamophobia results in the association
of Islam with terrorism, with inferiority to the West and with sexism,
the resolution called for a report on all manifestations of defamation
of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia
on the enjoyment of all rights.
The resolution was adopted with 24 votes in favour, 14 votes against
and 9 abstentions. Although states reiterated their condemnation
of defamation of religion, those who voted against or abstained explained
their objections thus:
- Some states felt that as defamation is not only suffered by Islam,
but happens worldwide and is not limited to certain religions, the scope
of the resolution should have been wider.
- It was argued by some that resolution should have been about discrimination
instead of defamation because discrimination falls under the scope of human
rights law by prohibiting any form of incitement to religious hatred, whereas
defamation is about the religion itself rather than the individuals who
practice a certain religion.
- Several states felt the resolution’s concept of defamation could
infringe on the right to freedom of expression, particularly as the resolution
stated that freedom of expression may be subject to limitations without
defining its criteria. It was also felt that the resolution did not envisage
roles neither for the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or
belief, nor for the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression
The follow-up of this resolution will be dealt with in the 6th Session
of the Council. The Anglican UN Office in Geneva will continue to
follow the developments of these discussions.
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