The U.N. Commission on Human Rights has ended more than 60 years of work. During a concluding session, U.N., governmental, and non-governmental representatives looked forward to the Commission's replacement body, the U.N. Council on Human Rights.
The Peruvian chairman of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights called the 62nd and last session of the Commission to order. He then asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, to talk about the commission's legacy and lay down the vision of the new Council on Human Rights, which came into being with a U.N. decision earlier this month.
"History was made on the 15th of March. For, without question, the creation of the Human Rights Council was a moment of historical importance," she said.
She paid tribute to the member states that overwhelmingly approved the creation of the new Council to replace the Commission.
High Commissioner Arbour said a strong global human-rights body, operating in a frank and cooperative environment is needed to protect the rights of all people.
"There are millions of people all over the world, right now, who are looking to the United Nations for protection and redress against the violation of their rights, and deprivation of their freedoms. It is to them, and to future generations, that the work of the Human Rights Council must be dedicated," noted Arbour.
The discredited, outgoing Commission has been criticized for admitting known human-rights violators, such as Sudan and Cuba, into its membership ranks.
Human-rights activists have accused the Commission of political cronyism and of engaging in double standards. They were in the vanguard of those calling for a strengthened, less corrupt body to replace the Commission.
Arbour acknowledged the Commission's flaws, but, noted some of its accomplishments. These include the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two international covenants that have come to be known as the International Bill of Human Rights, all of which were adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
"Taken on its own, the creation of the International Bill of Human Rights would stand the test of time as one of humankind's most vital gifts to itself," she said. "But, the Commission has gone much further in the formulation of other core human rights treaties and norms. Standards pertaining to women, children, human rights defenders, as well as violations such as genocide, racial discrimination, torture, and the right to development, to name just a few, are now part of the international framework of protected rights and liberties."
Arbour's eulogy was followed by representatives of governments and human-rights groups that agreed the Commission's historical legacy was mixed. While criticizing some of its actions, they praised the Commission for being one of the few forums in which the often silenced voices of the abused could be heard.