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Reform of UN Human Rights Mechanisms and China
--Speech by Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the UN Ambassador LIU Zhenmin at International Law Association of New York University

2007/03/30

March 29, 2007

Mr. Chairman, Young Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be invited to the International Law Association of New York University and talk with you about "the United Nations and the challenges of the 21st century".

New York University was founded in 1831 by Albert Gallatin and a group of New Yorkers dedicated to education. Over the past century, NYU has become one of the most prominent universities in the world. With its motto of "to preserve and to excel", NYU has produced a total of 27 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni and now is very active in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. Today, in my capacity as Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, I would like to share with you my views on the reform of UN human rights mechanisms and perspective of China on human rights.

I. Why is it necessary to reform UN human rights mechanisms?

We having a saying in China, "for each illness you need to get the right prescription." When we talk about reform, we should first have a better understanding of the reason, objective and the scope of reform.

When the UN was founded in 1945, promoting and encouraging respect for human rights was taken as one of its purposes. UN Economic and Social Council established, in 1946, the Human Rights Commission, as one of its functional commissions, aimed at promoting respect for and realization of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. Over the 60 years of its existence until it was closed last year due to the establishment of the new Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Commission played an important role in building the international human rights system. Based on a draft prepared by the Human Rights Commission, the UN General Assembly adopted, On December 10, 1948, the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration, together with the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted in 1966, laid the foundation for the international human rights law. The Human Rights Commission also established a number of special mechanisms and procedures and drafted other human rights instruments, thus forming a comprehensive international structure for human rights protection.

Over the past 6 decades, the Human Rights Commission also accomplished a great deal in areas of de-colonization, elimination of the apartheid system and spreading human rights concepts and culture. However the Commission was always bothered by many "chronic diseases" and found it hard to shake off the shadow of the "cold war" thinking. It was long troubled by the political confrontation, and selectiveness and double standards prevailed, seriously damaging its reputation. It is exactly due to the above reasons that the United Nations cannot but carry out reform to its human rights mechanisms.

We believe that the reform should aim at reversing the practice of politicizing human rights issues, removing double standards, reducing and averting confrontation, and promoting and consolidating cooperation, so as to use more resources for technical cooperation and capacity building at national level for promoting respect for and protecting of human rights.

II. What kind of Human Rights Council should be established?

In the world today, peace and development are the two major issues yet to be resolved. People in some countries and regions are still plagued by wars, conflicts and poverty. The international community has never been more clearly aware that peace, development and the human rights are the foundation of collective security and prosperity, and the three pillars are closely linked and cannot be separated.

The establishment of Human Rights Council is decided jointly by members of the United Nations according to the needs of the times. It is a major achievement of the reform of UN human rights mechanisms. Resolution 60/251 adopted by the General Assembly has entrusted the Council with higher status, broader mandate and stronger capacity. Can the newborn Council meet the expectations? The whole world is waiting to see.

The Chinese government holds that all UN member states, especially members of the Human Rights Council, are obliged to show political will and take actions to build jointly a truly vigorous and effective Council. I now wish to talk more specifically on China's position in this area.

1. Human rights cannot be enjoyed without a peaceful environment. The Human Rights Council should continue to focus on massive and gross violations of human rights caused by armed conflicts, and to support the international community in doubling its efforts for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and combating all forms of terrorism.

2. Human rights cannot be enjoyed without sustainable development. The economic globalization has failed to bring equal share of benefits to all countries. Poverty, diseases and deteriorating environment have seriously restrained the level of human rights enjoyed by many developing countries. The Council should correct the problem of too much empty word and not enough actual deeds, a problem left over from the Human Rights Commission, and should mobilize the international community and the UN agencies to adopt effective measures to support developing countries especially the least developed countries, in realizing the right to development and in eliminating poverty, so that people of all countries can become active participants and equal beneficiaries of development.

3. Enjoyment of human rights needs a harmonious society. In many places of the world, there still exist discrimination and bias based on race, color, gender, language and religion. The Council should continue to focus on promoting rights for such vulnerable groups as women, children, disabled persons, migrant workers and ethnic minorities. The Council should commit itself to advance the universality of education of human rights, nurture a culture of mutual respect and inclusiveness, promote harmony among different cultures and religions, and build a harmonious society where people can all enjoy the same level of dignity.

4. Enjoyment of human rights needs constructive dialogue and cooperation. Political confrontation is the root cause of the damaged credibility of former Human Right Commission. The success of Council's future depends largely on whether relations of equality and mutual trust can be built among countries of different social systems and development levels to handle differences in a constructive manner. We therefore need to overcome many obstacles. Country review mechanism must be changed to ensure that all countries, big or small, strong or weak, will be treated as equals and receive the same respect for their different historical, cultural and religious background.

5. Enjoyment of human rights needs effective mechanisms to safeguard. Human Rights Commission left over a whole set of international human rights protection system. The Council, while preserving the positive elements of the existing system, should carry out bold reform to better serve today's needs. We are in favor of improving special mechanisms and procedures of the former Commission and clarifying their code of conduct so as to ensure their credibility, fairness and effectiveness. We support reinforcing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and hope that the Office will enhance geographical representation and professionalism of its staff to better offer advisory service and technical assistance to all states. We also hope that the Office will accept supervision from all states in an open and transparent manner.

Mr. Chairman,

To ensure proper functioning of the Human Rights Council and realization of universal enjoyment of human rights, we need not only more vigorous efforts of UN member states, but also support and participation from NGOs, academic institutions, private sectors and all other stakeholders, We look forward to an early conclusion by the Council of setting up rules and procedures, thus making greater contribution to common prosperity of mankind.

Thank you.

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