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Ban Ki-moon on Human Rights Council

This week saw the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although immense progress has been made in those 60 years toward the aim of universal respect for fundamental rights, it is often asserted that major setbacks have occurred in the area of civil liberties over the last eight years or so. While these setbacks are often down to state action, or perhaps due to lack thereof, it may be called into question whether the international bodies set up to secure the respect for human rights have done enough themselves.

Maybe it was such concerns that led Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, to criticise the UN’s Human Rights Council in a speech during the celebrations of the Universal Declaration. About the Human Rights Council, Ki-moon said that “its Members, must rise above partisan posturing and regional divides. The Council must address human rights abuses wherever they occur.”

The Council has recently come under heavy attack for being made up of states that commit grave human rights violations themselves, while also trying to curb fundamental rights of freedom of speech, with reference to a need for respect for religion. Similarly, the Council has been criticised for focusing too much on Israel, while ignoring more serious situations in, for instance, Sudan, Tibet and Burma. Some of this criticism is certainly correct. It is, for example, hard to take accusations of human rights violations against, say Israel, serious when they come from Sudan, whose government is itself subject to allegations of having committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In this light, Ki-moon’s criticism is welcome, as it indicates that he is aware of the limitations of his own organisation – something his predecessor often lacked. Furthermore, the credibility of the Human Rights Council is extremely important if the Council is to have any impact at all. After all, the aim of universal respect for human rights is indeed a laudable course.

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