After weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the member states of the Human Rights Council yesterday moved to appoint 17 new Special Procedure mandate-holders. This was a critical moment for the Special Procedure mechanism, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the international human rights system, because the mechanism’s effectiveness is heavily reliant on the quality, expertise and reputation of those individuals who hold the mandates. With so many mandates – and so many important mandates – awaiting the appointment of new mandate-holders, it was crucial that the Council move swiftly and wisely to select the right people and to avoid protection gaps. (It is important to note that other sources have announced that 19 appointments were made, however in the view of the URG based on an analysis of the principle common characteristics of Special Procedures, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Persons is not a Special Procedure mechanism*).
The appointment of so many mandate-holders in one go is unusual. Normally, any given session of the Council will see only a few appointments. The reason there were so many on this occasion is cyclical and related to the establishment of the Council in 2006. General Assembly resolution 60/251 establishing the Council called on the new body to review the ‘mandates, mechanisms and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights in order to maintain a system of Special Procedures’. While this review was ongoing, the Council decided (in June 2006) to renew all mandates for one year. Thus in 2007-2008, a large number of existing mandates were renewed and new mandate-holders appointed. Most of these subsequently served two terms of three years, and thus their terms came to an end this year, necessitating the appointment of 26 new mandate holders: 17 (supposedly) in March, 5 in June and 4 in September. In addition to these re-appointments, a new Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic was appointed in January.
The second unusual aspect of yesterday’s appointments is that they should have happened last March, during the 25th session of the Council, rather than yesterday during a Human Rights Council organisational meeting. The reason they didn’t has to do with disagreements, during the March session, over whether all of those individuals selected for appointment were indeed the best candidates. The Council’s founding ‘Institution Building Package (IBP)’ identifies expertise, experience, independence, impartiality, personal integrity and objectivity as being of paramount importance when nominating, selecting and appointing mandate-holders. It also calls for due consideration to be given to gender balance and equitable geographic representation, as well as to an appropriate representation of different legal systems.
Based on these criteria, in March the Council’s Consultative Group (made up of one representative – usually an ambassador – nominated by each regional group) presented a list of its preferred candidates to the Council President for consideration, further consultation and ultimately appointment by the Council. However, disagreements between states over some of the preferred candidates’ suitability, and interconnected concerns about maintaining regional balance, led to all 17 appointments being postponed to allow for further consultations by the President.
With yesterday’s appointments, there are now 50 active Special Procedure mandates, and 74 mandate holders.
Assessments of whether the candidates with the most expertise and experience were appointed are naturally subjective, though there does seem broad satisfaction in Geneva at the quality of appointees to this crucial human rights mechanism.
Looking at other considerations mentioned in the IBP, after yesterday’s appointments, 55% of mandate holders (41) are male and 45% (33) female – an improvement on the previous gender balance (58%-42%). Interestingly, it appears this improvement was the result of a successful effort, during the process, to strengthen gender balance: whereas only 39% of eligible applicants were female, in the end 56% of selected candidates were female.
Gender Balance of Selection Stages (Jan-May 2014)
Data Source: OHCHR Website.
Note: Analysis includes applications for the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic, appointed in January.
Looking at regional distribution, while there has been a small increase in the proportion of mandate-holders from the Western Group (WEOG), there is, overall, a fairly good geographic balance – though when weighted for population it is clear that Africa (AG; 26%) and Asia (APG; 22%) remain under-represented.
One finding of the recent URG-Brookings Institution policy report on Special Procedures was that the mechanism has come to be dominated by Western-based academics. Today, this remains the case, although the number of mandate-holders based in the West has dropped from 48% to 45%, and the number of academics has dropped from 56% to 50%.
Diversity of Mandate Holders on 9th May 2014
Data Source: OHCHR Website, URG primary research and interviews.
* It is worth noting, in this regard, that the OHCHR’s own list of thematic mandates does not include the Expert Mechanism, see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Themes.aspx
Due to the fact that the professional location and occupations of some mandate holders could not be identified, the statistics above are subject to some variation.
Click here to read the full report Special Procedures: Determinants of Influence, co-authored by Universal Rights Group and Brookings Institution.
List of new mandate holders
Mr Juan BOHOSLAVSKY – Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
Ms Rosa KORNFELD-MATTE – Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons (mandate established at 24th Session of Human Rights Council)
Mr Bahame NYANDUGA – Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
Ms Leilani FARHA – Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to non-discrimination in that context
Ms Urmila BHOOLA – Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
Mr Philip ALSTON – Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Ms Hilal ELVER – Special Rapporteur on the right to food
Ms Victoria Lucia TAULI-CORPUZ – Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
Ms Maud DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO – Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
Mr Michel FORST – Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights defenders
Ms Yanghee LEE – Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Mr Makarim WIBISONO – Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1969
Mr Sètondji Roland Jean Baptiste ADJOVI – Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Member from the African Group)
Mr José GUEVARA – Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Member from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States)
Ms Houria ES SLAMI – Working Group Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (Member from the African Group)
Ms Alda FACIO – Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice (Member from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States)
Mr Saeed MOKBIL – Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (Member from the Asia-Pacific Group)
Ms Marie Thérèse KEITA BOCOUM – Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic (mandate established at 24th Session; mandate holder appointed on 20th January 2014 during a special session on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.)
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