2005.10.24: Human Rights Council

H.E. Ambassador Shin Kak-soo, Deputy Permanent Representative, at Informal Consultations of the Plenary of the General Assembly

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chair.

1. On behalf of the delegation of the Republic of Korea, I wish to comment briefly on the items under discussion today. To seek further progress in our discussion, I will try to be specific and concrete on the details of each item.

2. Let me start with the status of the proposed Human Rights Council. The main purpose of creating the Council is to upgrade the role of the United Nations in promoting and protecting human rights, without which security and development, two pillars of a safe and prosperous world, would be beyond our reach. The United Nations has worked continuously throughout its six decades to enhance respect for human rights, but now we have an unusual opportunity to bring the Organization’s primary human rights body to the next level by creating the proposed Council as a principal organ of the United Nations. By doing so, the lofty ideal of human rights for all individuals, so cherished by the drafters of the UN Charter, would be fully integrated into the work of the United Nations system.

3. On the other hand, my delegation also recognizes that amending the Charter to make the Council a principal organ would be a long and difficult process. We should not let the transition from Commission to Council create a vacuum in the UN’s human rights machinery. To deal with this concern, my delegation can go along with the practical interim solution of creating the Council as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly. However, this should not reduce its status as primary human rights body nor block its broader mandate and functions. Moreover, there should be a review mechanism by which we reserve the opportunity to make the Council a principal organ at a later stage.

Mr. Co-Chair,

4. Another important status issue for the Council is whether to make it a standing body. In our view, this question should be decided on the basis of the Council’s workload, which will be closely linked to its mandate and functions. But we should also keep in mind that giving the Council the status of a standing body will enhance the public’s perception of its significance. Given the Council’s broadened mandate and missions, my delegation is in favour of enabling the Council to hold meetings as the need arises. However, the risk of a conceptual tug of war requires us to seek a practical solution by combining regular and extraordinary sessions.

5. The frequency and duration of regular sessions should reflect the Council’s workload and the need to avoid overlapping with the Third Committee. A rough workload estimate from the Secretariat or the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be helpful in this regard. As to extraordinary sessions, we have to decide the conditions and triggers for convening them. In our view, the urgency and gravity of a given matter or situation should be the criteria, while it might be desirable to put in place multiple triggers, possibly including the Council’s Chair, a fixed number of its members or the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

6. Moving on to the size of the Council, Mr. Co-Chair, my delegation is of the view that it should strike a balance between the requirements of efficiency and representativeness. We believe that this can be achieved with about 40 members. We also recognize that reducing the Council substantially from the existing 53 Commission seats might require the introduction of term limits to accord small and medium States fair access to Council membership.

7. With respect to membership criteria, we should prevent this debate from stalling the whole process of setting up the Council at an early date. Despite the merit of enhancing the legitimacy of the Council, it would be very time-consuming and perhaps even impossible to find objective and applicable criteria acceptable to all of us. Rather, we should rely on more pragmatic means consisting of a combination of several elements in order to ensure a credible and legitimate Council.

8. First, my delegation considers it essential to lay down general criteria for Council membership comparable to those in Article 23 of the UN Charter. In combination with the pertinent phrase in Article 62, paragraph 2 of the Charter, we would like to propose the following criteria:

The General Assembly shall elect X Members of the United Nations to be members of the Human Rights Council, due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the promotion of respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all and to other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution.

9. Second, instead of imposing any qualification or disqualification on membership, my delegation supports electing members by a two-thirds majority of Member States present and voting. This high threshold will be sufficient to sift out countries with poor human rights records. To correct the problem of regional endorsement on a clean-slate basis that has often led to bad choices, a requirement for minimum competition within each regional group deserves serious consideration. If adopted, this compulsory competition system would enhance the quality of the Council’s membership and induce candidates to make stronger commitments to human rights.

10. Third, voluntary pledges of domestic and international contributions to human rights, together with an obligation to undergo peer review, might further enhance the legitimacy of the Council. We believe that these two mechanisms will increase the accountability of members while discouraging those with human rights problems from attempting to sit on the Council. Furthermore, the work of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has well demonstrated the value of voluntary pledges.

11. Another key issue for the composition of the Council is to ensure the equitable geographical distribution of seats, which has worked well as a means to obtain full representation for all regional groups in various UN organs. In this regard, the Asian Group’s unfairly low representation in the membership of the human rights bodies should not be repeated in the proposed Council. This is the right time to undo an injustice by giving the Asian Group its fair due as the largest regional group and the most populous region.

Mr. Co-Chair,

12. The items under discussion today are very important for the creation of an effective, legitimate and efficient Human Rights Council. We should exert our utmost to be flexible, pragmatic and willing to compromise in order to bring our negotiations to a successful conclusion. Let me close by assuring you of my delegation’s full cooperation in our efforts to achieve the early establishment of the Council.

Thank you.