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Statement of Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to The U.N. Human Rights Council

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Read by Karin Ryan, Human Rights Program Director, The Carter Center
Geneva, Switzerland
Since 1993, my colleagues at the Carter Center and I have worked together with governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to improve the United Nations' system for protecting human rights throughout the world. Since the end of the Cold War we have believed that the United Nations must play an increasingly important role in monitoring governments' compliance with human rights treaties and agreements to which leaders have committed their nations. The high standards of conduct codified in such documents have stood as unfulfilled promises to too many for too long. Though I cannot join you personally during this session, I wanted to share some thoughts and concerns about the work of the Council, for which we all have such high hopes. We have worked closely with many of you during the General Assembly debate on the formation of the Human Rights Council, believing that the time was right to introduce important new elements, including the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, while strengthening the most positive aspects of the Commission, such as the system of Special Procedures.

There are encouraging developments, including the newly transparent and competitive system for election of members. It is only right that governments must offer their peers concrete human rights commitments to be considered most worthy during the election. I consider the interactive dialogue between governments, independent experts, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and NGOs a noteworthy innovation that could be replicated in other policymaking bodies throughout the world.

However, I express strongly my disappointment about the early record of this body on some issues of grave importance. The singular focus on the violations committed by Israel, while failing to address with the same vigor serious human rights abuses in many other parts of the world, has been counterproductive. In recent times I have spoken out about the human rights record of the United States, as well as that of Israel. I have done this out of my desire for a more universal standard of justice and peace.

While the Council did address another important human rights crisis by authorizing a fact-finding mission to Darfur, it failed to take meaningful action that would lead to an early deployment of peacekeepers to protect civilians or that could lead to progress toward a negotiated agreement between the warring parties there. These two actions would result in the protection of those who have suffered so greatly.

The way forward must be to strengthen the best aspects of the Commission on Human Rights. The Commission played a key role in stigmatizing South Africa's policy of apartheid, among other terrible crimes. If the Council weakens or relinquishes this role, what is left for it to do? If the Council takes action in the near future on the following issues, many of the serious concerns about the future of this body will be alleviated.

1. The Council should adopt a more fact-based approach to reviewing country situations. No country should be off-limits for criticism. Every government has obligations to improve its policies and practices. But delegations and regional groups should not deflect attention from human rights problems in their own nations and regions by suggesting that more serious problems lie elsewhere.

2. All efforts must be made to maintain the independence of the Special Procedures, including the maintenance of the appointment system that ensures the identification of highly qualified experts. These investigators are essential to obtaining unvarnished information and analysis of human rights problems that fall within their mandate. It does not make sense to weaken this system by placing inappropriate constraints on these mandate-holders through an onerous code of conduct. Governments must cooperate with these and other fact-finding efforts of the Council. Along these lines, the United States should reach an agreement with those Special Procedures that have requested access to detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay. The Council should have adopted a more forceful endorsement of the fact-finding mission to Darfur. As a matter of principle, governments should not be able to interfere with such independent investigations by blocking access.

3. The Universal Period Review mechanism under consideration is one of the most hopeful aspects of the reform effort and must apply to all countries on the basis of a universal standard. It should be a transparent process because its success depends on both an effective preparatory process accessible to independent human rights experts as well as on effective follow-up.

Last year, when prospects looked dim for the creation of the Council, I, together with other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, supported the resolution that had been carefully crafted by the President of the General Assembly. I still believe in this agreement, but the enterprise will fail if this body abandons the victims of the world's worst human rights violations.

Read more about the Carter Center's Human Rights Program >


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