Commission on Human Rights
17 April 2000
The Commission on Human Rights carried on this evening with its annual review of the operation of human-rights mechanisms and consideration of possibilities for their improvement, hearing, among other things, praise for technical-cooperation programmes and requests for their expansion, and requests that further resources be given to relieve overburdened human-rights treaty bodies, which in some cases were years behind in considering States reports submitted to them.
A representative of the Ukraine said the country had submitted reports to four treaty bodies but it would be months or years before the documents were considered. The treaty-monitoring system was faced now with increasing numbers of reports and communications against a background of reduced or static resources, this official said; and if not addressed, these difficulties could jeopardize the effectiveness and credibility of the treaty bodies.
The agenda item on “effective functioning of human rights mechanisms” includes the topics of United Nations human-rights treaty bodies; national institutions and regional arrangements for human rights; and adaptation and strengthening of United Nations human-rights machinery.
Turkey, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan described the activities and mandates of national human-rights institutions or commissions.
By contrast, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) told the Commission that national human-rights bodies frequently failed in their announced roles because they lacked strong mandates, sufficient independence, sufficient money, or sufficient will. Those contentions came from the Asian Legal Resource Centre, the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, and Aliran Kesedaran Negara.
Earlier in the session, the Commission concluded debate under its agenda item on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Addressing the evening meeting were representatives of China, Cuba, Argentina, New Zealand, Turkey, Ukraine, Australia, Austria, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan.
The following NGOs also delivered statements: International Indian Treaty Council; International Young Catholic Students; Centre Europe – Tiers Monde; Pax Romana; Soka Gakkai International; Association for World Education; France Libertes; International Institute for Peace; World Federation of Trade Unions; African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters; Association for the Promotion of Employment and Housing; International Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims; Asian Legal Resources Centre; South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre; Consultative Council of Jewish Organizations; Canadian Human Rights Foundation; Aliran Kesedaran Negara; and Pax Christi.
AYE HLA PHYU, of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, said the National Human Rights Commission of India came into being through an ordinance on 25 September 1993. It primary function was to inquire into complaints of human-rights violations, but the Commission had no power to take binding decisions. Its recommendations had no legal sanction.
The National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had extensive powers, and there had been no record of inadequate resources. However, its performance had in no way impressed the nation. It suffered from an internal incapacity to act, while a situation of grave human-rights abuses prevailed in the country. It should try to help law-enforcement agencies cope with that anarchic situation by making recommendations, which its mandate allowed it to make. Generally, there was a serious lack of public confidence in the Sri Lankan Commission.
SUHAS CHAKMA, of South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, said National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region had manifestly failed to stand the test of time. The establishment of NHRIs had proved to be one more false god joining the pantheon of State-centric human rights initiatives. While members of the Asia Pacific Forum on NHRIs had adhered to some provisions of the Paris Principles on NHRIs, they had derogated in practice from the content. For India, with a population of 1 billion, a National Human Rights Commission having just over 250 staff members was woefully inadequate. While India’s NHRC had a shortage of staff, the 13,000 local human-rights officers of the Philippines Human Rights Commission had not been of much help in that country, either.
Lack of financial independence was one serious constraint of NHRIs. It was matter of serious concern that the Australian Government had made substantial cuts to the budget of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission suffered from problems of inadequate powers, restricted mandate, poor infrastructure, insufficient funding and overlapping mandates with similar institutions. In 1996, Nepal passed the Human Rights Commission Act, but the Government had not yet constituted the Commission. In Bangladesh, the Parliament had yet to see a similar bill. Finally, Malaysia had not ratified any of the major human-rights conventions.