Vienna, 16 June 2006 Press release

Plassnik at the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council


New chapter in UN human rights work

Vienna, 16 June 2006 - Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik will attend the inaugural session of the new UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, 19 June in her capacity as President of the Council of the EU.

"The Human Rights Council marks a new beginning in the work on human rights at the United Nations. A major step has thus been taken towards strengthening the protection of human rights all over the world and towards reform of the United Nations. One of the EU’s key objectives in this context is for the new Council to detect and respond effectively to human rights crises at an early stage and thereby contribute genuine added value in this area", Plassnik declared. "The first session should lay the foundations for the future work of the Council", she added.

The Human Rights Council, which will meet several times a year, has a mandate to continually monitor the human rights situation and immediately deal with any topical issues that arise. The human rights record of every country will be regularly examined in a "universal periodic review". The EU is keen to see a strengthening of the institution of independent experts and special rapporteurs, and the participation of representatives of civil society. "We want a Human Rights Council in which the voice of victims and human rights defenders is heard", she stressed.

At the first session, which will run until 30 June, the Human Rights Council will have to take a number of fundamental decisions on the concrete format of its mechanisms and procedures. A priority of the EU is the adoption of a UN Convention against enforced disappearance. It is hoped this will provide people in the custody of state authorities with better protection against unregistered arrests, which have led to torture and murder in numerous countries in the past.

Political representatives from more than 100 states will attend the inauguration of the Human Rights Council. In the margins, Foreign Minister Plassnik will also meet with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and the President of the International Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger.

The establishment of the UN Human Rights Council, which replaces the UN Commission on Human Rights that has been in existence since 1946, was voted by the UN General Assembly on 15 March this year. During the negotiations, the EU and the Austrian Presidency pushed for the creation of an effective and credible UN body for the protection of human rights worldwide.

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