UN Human Rights Council Session Brings International Scrutiny to Iran, Cote d'Ivoire; Supports LGBTI Rights, Religious Freedom

As its sixteenth regular session drew to a close last week, some have begun hailing the renewed vitality of the Human Rights Council.  See, e.g. Dokhi Fassihian, Is the U.S. Prepared to Win at the UN Human Rights Council? We Just Did, The Huffington Post (Mar. 26, 2011); Frédéric Burnand, Human Rights Council Witnesses ‘Turning Point’, Swissinfo.ch (Mar. 25, 2011); Robert Evans, Frictions Seen Easing in Troubled U.N. Rights Body, Reuters (Mar. 23, 2011).

During the session, which concluded on March 25, the Human Rights Council adopted a number of significant resolutions, including the establishment of a UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran (the first new country-specific rapporteur created since the Human Rights Council replaced the defunct Commission on Human Rights in 2006).

The Council also issued a joint statement, endorsed by 85 countries, on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. [Human Rights First] As described by the U.S. Department of State, the joint statement:

adds new references not seen in previous LGBT statements at the UN, including: welcoming attention to LGBT issues as a part of the Universal Periodic Review process, noting the increased attention to LGBT issues in regional human rights fora, encouraging the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue addressing LGBT issues, and calls for states to end criminal sanctions based on LGBT status. The statement garnered support from every region of the world, including 21 signatories from the Western Hemisphere, 43 from Europe, 5 from Africa, and 16 from the Asia/Pacific region.

The Council also agreed to send a commission of inquiry to Côte d’Ivoire “to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations of serious abuses and violations of human rights committed in Côte d’Ivoire following the presidential elections.” [OHCHR]

The Council also voted to adopt a resolution to protect against violence and discrimination on religious grounds, while abandoning previous references to “defamation of religion”. [Human Rights First]  Article 19 and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s statements in support of the resolution can be read here and here, respectively.

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental subsidiary body of the United Nations General Assembly, comprised of 47 States,  which serves as a forum for States to discuss and address human rights concerns in the 192 United Nations Member States.  The 47 current members of the Human Rights Council are:

Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya (suspended by General Assembly Resolution A/65/265 on March 1, 2011), Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, and Zambia.

The Human Rights Council also creates and oversees special procedures, including working groups and special rapporteurs on particular issues or countries of concern, and undertakes the Universal Periodic Review – a process by which all U.N. Member States are to have their human rights records examined by the end of 2011 (and again in each ensuing four-year period).  In addition, the Council makes recommendations to the General Assembly for further action to be taken to protect human rights.

Elections of States to the Council are held pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which requires a majority vote of the members of the General Assembly by secret ballot to approve each country – although equitable geographic distribution requires that no region be disproportionately represented on the Human Rights Council. [UN]  States serve three-year terms, subject to a two-term consecutive limit.