WHAT ARE HUMAN RIGHTS?

  • Human rights are basic rights and freedom that belongs to every person in the world, from birth until death.
  • Human rights are standards that allow all people to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice, and peace.
  • Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, independent, equal and non-discriminatory.
  • International peace, security and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected.
  • The UN’s human rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.

WHY ARE HUMAN RIGHTS IMPORTANT?

  • Human rights reflect the minimum standards necessary for people to live with dignity.
  • Human rights give people the freedom to choose how they live, how they express themselves, and what kind of government they want to support, among many other things.
  • Human rights guarantee people the means necessary to satisfy their basic needs, such as food, housing, and education, so they can take full advantage of all opportunities.
  • Finally, by guaranteeing life, liberty, equality, and security, human rights protect people against abuse by those who are more powerful.

HUMAN RIGHTS- FACTS

In 2014, Amnesty International recorded and investigated human rights abuses in 160 countries and territories worldwide. While progress is being made in some areas, for many people the human rights situation is getting worse.

  • Three-quarters of governments restricted freedom of expression.
  • 58% of countries (93 out of 160) conducted unfair trials- denying justice.
  • 82% (131 out of 160) of countries tortured or otherwise ill-treated people.
  • War crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were carried out in at least 18 countries.
  • 28 countries around the world have laws which completely ban abortion even in cases where a woman’s life or health is in danger and in cases of rape.
  • Armed groups committed abuses in at least 35 countries, more than 20% of the countries Amnesty International investigated.
  • 78 countries have laws in effect that are used to criminalize consensual sexual relationships between adults of the same sex
  • Refugees and migrants were at particular risk during 2014. More than 3,400 people are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe. Of the 4 million refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria, 95% were being hosted in neighbouring countries.

WHAT IS THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL?

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe
  • For addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.
  • Investigates violation of human rights in UN member states.
  • It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva.
  • The Council is made up of 47 United Nations Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly.
  • The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • The members of the General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC's 47 seats.
  • The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms.
  • Members meet around three times a year to debate human rights issues and pass non-binding resolutions and recommendations by majority vote.
  • The council also carries out the Universal Periodic Review of all UN member states, which allows civil society groups to bring accusations of human rights violations in member states to the attention of the UN.

SOME OF THE ACHIEVEMENT OF COUNCIL

  • Mainstreaming human rights issues including the thematic human rights like freedom of expression, LGBT rights, etc.
  • Universal Periodic Review of all members where all members of the United Nations are reviewed based on reports from civil society actors or NGOs.
  • Resolution on climate change which noted that climate change has implications on effective enjoyment of human rights.
  • Draft resolution on abuses and violations of various international laws during Sri Lankan war.
  • Important actions that move the human rights agenda forward in North Korea, Iran and Syria.
  • Resolution condemning human rights abuses against the Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces and demanded that perpetrators be brought to justice.
  • Report on Eritrea's government of widespread human rights violations.
  • Review of alleged human rights abuses by Israel which has become a permanent feature of every session of the UNHRC.
  • Appointment of special rapporteurs for various issues.

It is in this aspect that international organizations like UNHRC gains prevalence. That these bodies have become politicized makes it harder for the world to address human rights concerns.

SHORTCOMINGS

  • Government representatives who advance national policies and have made the council highly politicized.
  • Made up of states not known for their human rights like Cuba, Venezuela, and China.
  • Remains toothless and its resolutions have no real impact. Justice continues to be denied to victims’ world over.
  • Seemingly anti Israel because of the disproportionate focus on Israel and the numerous resolutions passed by it.
  • Bloc voting where a group of states motivated by specific common point, vote together and dominate the proceedings of the UNHRC.

USA PULLS OUT OF UNHRC

The reasons cited by the US:

  • Disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel. Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.
  • Human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council.
  • The Trump administration is of the view that the UNHRC is a poor defender of human rights and has failed in its stated objectives.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE WITHDRAWAL

  • Decision would sideline the county from key global initiatives to protect human rights.
  • Seen as Trump’s America First policy and ignoring the sufferings of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
  • Will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world.
  • Disdain for multilateralism and diminishes the stature of the United Nations.
  • US withdrawal, the leadership vacuum would be taken over by China- which is not known for upholding human rights.
  • Move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY?

  • Criticized the decision for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy.The US should be leading the world on human rights, not retreating into isolation or turn a blind eye to human rights abuses.
  • It would make addressing human rights violations more difficult.
  • Given the state of human rights in the world, US should be stepping up and not stepping back.

CONCLUSION

By ceding a role at the HRC, a state reduces its ability to influence the agenda, and, a genuine engagement in the monitoring of human rights. Invoking sovereignty as the basis to disengage malafide.

Not just states but also individuals who are in need of a more robust defence of their rights stand to lose much. It is worth instead contemplating the need to reduce rhetoric and, increase substantive engagement with issues concerning the rights of individuals.

IMPORTANCE FOR UPSC MAINS

There have been three questions related to United Nations in the past three years. UNHRC could be asked this year.

  1. Discuss the impediments India is facing in its pursuit of a permanent seat in UN Security Council.    (2015)
  2. What are the aims and objectives of the McBride Commission of the UNESCO? What is India’s position on these?             (2016)
  3. What are the main functions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)? Explain different 'functional commissions attached to it.     (2017)