Joint Inspection Unit on human rights: not so innocent as it sounds

April 7, 2015

In a long but excellent post in Universal Rights of 23 March 2015, Subhas Gujadhur and Marc Limon dissect the issue of the Joint Inspection Unit‘s [JIU] report at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (2 – 27 March) under the title: “The JIU report: what’s all the fuss about?”.

The background in short is that for years a number of countries – not by coincidence those that do not like the sometimes rather forthright pronouncements by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights -have tried to get more ‘control’ over its management and resources. They are in fact using the ‘backdoor’ of the UN inspection unit to get there.

This is a very important issue but one that is too much cloaked in UN jargon to make it to mainstream media. In the words of the authors:  “Casual observers of the Human Rights Council may have been forgiven.. for a degree of bafflement at repeated and sometimes quite excitable references to a three letter acronym: JIU.

So let me quote liberally from the post in question:

The report on the ‘review of management and administration’ of the OHCHR [JIU/REP/2014/7] was produced by the JIU in response to a request by the Human Rights Council in March 2013 (resolution 22/2) and the report’s author, Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare, hoped to be able to present is to the Council at is 28th session.

This may all seem innocuous enough. However, resolution 22/2 and the JIU report touch upon fundamental and extremely sensitive questions about the role, prerogatives and independence of OHCHR, and its relationship with the member states of the Council; and are part of a long-running struggle between two groups of states with very different views on what OHCHR is, what it is there to do, and how it’s work should be overseen.

Council resolution 22/2 (adopted by a vote, with developed countries against and developing countries in favour) requested the JIU to ‘undertake a comprehensive follow up review of the management and administration of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in particular with regard to its impact on the recruitment policies and composition of the staff.’ This resolution, like many previous ones with the same title, was pushed by Cuba and others in the belief that the staffing policies of the OHCHR favoured individuals from some regions (notably the West) over others.

In Cuba’s view, OHCHR had continuously failed to improve regional balance among its staff and thus, in order to strengthen accountability; it was asked to report and explain itself to the Council.

However, to others – especially Western states – asking the OHCHR to report to the Council on an administrative issue represented a worrying step towards making this supposedly independent entity answerable – and thus under the political oversight of – states sitting in the UN’s apex human rights intergovernmental body.

Similar differences of opinion have arisen, since the Council’s establishment in 2006, with regard to the financial resources of the OHCHR. Cuba and other developing countries have regularly expressed concern about where the Office’s money comes from (the UN’s regular budget or voluntary contributions from certain states), and how it is used and allocated (e.g. to certain field operations, to certain Special Procedures mandates). These concerns led Cuba and others to circulate a resolution in 2011, calling for greater financial transparency – though this was subsequently replaced by a Presidential Statement merely inviting the High Commissioner to provide more information on funding.

Central to the concerns of Cuba and others on both issues is a suspicion that the high proportion of individuals from Western states working at the Office (including at senior levels) together with Western financial support (especially where that support is ‘earmarked’ for certain purposes), gives the West undue influence over the OHCHR.

For its part, Western states, together with a number of states from other regions, suspect that Cuba and other leading countries of the Like Minded Group are intent on undermining the independence of the Office and bringing it under the political control of the Council (and thereby seeking to stop OHCHR criticism of states’ human rights records).

It should also be noted that the main author of the report is Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare, a former Ambassador of India to the Human Rights Council, who took position in the debates favoring the prerogatives of the Council over the OHCHR.

The report (more detail in the post itself) makes six recommendations:

  1. The GA should initiate an action-oriented review of the governance arrangements of the OHCHR through an open-ended working group/ad hoc committee […] so as to strengthen the capacity of member states to provide strategic guidance and to direct and monitor the work of OHCHR.
  2. The High Commissioner should update the existing action plan with specific measures, targets and timetables to broaden the geographical diversity of the professional workforce.
  3. The High Commissioner should develop a comprehensive strategy and related action plan to adapt specific circumstances and requirements of OHCHR’s human resource management strategy and policies.
  4. The Secretary General should, in the context of the Human Rights Up Front initiative, review the mandates of the different UN entities with human rights functions with a view of streamlining their work and mainstreaming human rights across the UN system.

The controversy even led to uncertainty that Mr. Gopinathan Achamkulangare would be allowed to present the report with some states (correctly, based on a legal analysis of relevant UN documents) arguing that discussing the management and administration of OHCHR is not part of the Council’s mandate as per GA resolution 60/251. In the end, the President of the Council and the Bureau announced that, as a courtesy, the JIU inspector would be allowed to present his report, but there would be no interactive debate with states.

By the time of the report’s presentation on 13th March, the Secretary-General had provided his comments on its findings and recommendations.[Note by the Secretary-General, A/70/68/Add.1] as follows:

  • The Secretary-General in effect rejected recommendation 1, arguing that ‘existing governance arrangements strike an appropriate balance between independence and accountability.’ The Secretary-General noted GA resolution 48/141 (1993) creating the post of High Commissioner, which decided that the High Commissioner would be appointed by the Secretary-General (i.e. is part of the secretariat). He also rejected the notion (used to support the view that while the High Commissioner is independent, the OHCHR is not and should operate under the political oversight of the Council) that the High Commissioner and OHCHR ‘have separate mandates and perform separate functions.’
  • Regarding recommendation 4, the Secretary-General noted that geographical diversity is a priority for the entire secretariat.
  • The Secretary-General also rejected recommendation 5 which called for the UN secretariat’s human resource management strategy to be ‘adapted to the specific circumstances and requirements of OHCHR’, on the grounds that ‘OHCHR is part of the Secretariat…and its staff members are subject to the same regulations, rules and policies as other departments.’
  • Finally, the Secretary-General welcomed recommendation 6 as a useful opportunity to strengthen the mainstreaming of human rights across the UN system.

There was some debate in which Western states, in line with the analysis of the Secretary-General, rejected key findings and recommendations in the report. For example, Norway noted that ‘existing governance arrangements strike an appropriate balance between independence and accountability,’ and underscored the importance of safeguarding the independence of the High Commissioner.

Countering this view, Pakistan on behalf of Like-Minded Group (LMG) states, expressed support for the JIU conclusions and recommendations, noting that oversight by a relevant intergovernmental body would contribute to ‘enhanced efficiency and effectiveness of the Office activities.’ LMG states therefore called for a clarification ‘of the respective roles of the different intergovernmental bodies with a view to streamlining the governance dynamics of OHCHR’ (i.e. in line with the JIU’s recommendations).

The post by Subhas Gujadhur and Marc Limon provides detailed and interesting background to the issue of imbalance in staffing and funding and rightly states that it “doesn’t take an international lawyer to understand that all these utterances are packed with possible political meanings, some subtle some less so, and have enormous potential implications for the functioning of the UN human rights system”.

——–

In this context, on 23 March a group of leading human rights NGOs (delivered by HRW, and supported by ISHRCivicusFIDHFORUM ASIAOMCT and EIPR), called in a statement to the Human Rights Council to resist Cuban-led attempts to micromanage and fetter the independence of the UN’s top human rights official.

The statement said that among its contradictory recommendations, the report proposes a mechanism to enable States to ‘direct and monitor’ the work of the High Commissioner and highlighted that creation of High Commissioner for Human Rights was one of the landmark achievements of the Vienna Declaration adopted by all States in 1994. For more than 20 years, successive High Commissioners have provided a strong and independent voice, committed to promoting and protecting human rights around the world, the statement said.

Today, that independence is under threat. The draft resolution, inaccurately titled “Composition of staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights” seeks to affirm and encourage follow-up to the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), which reviews the “Management and Administration” said John Fisher of HRW delivering the statement.

The independence of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office is axiomatic to his effectiveness. The High Commissioner must be free to speak without fear and without favour, unconstrained by the political agenda of any State or group of States,’ said ISHR’s Michael Ineichen. ‘This report must not be permitted to be used as a subterfuge to constrain the High Commissioner and his office at a time when both their monitoring and reporting, and their advice and technical assistance, are needed perhaps more than ever before.’

See the full statement here.

 http://www.universal-rights.org/blogs/128-the-jiu-report-what-s-all-the-fuss-about

Human Rights Council: Reject attempts to limit Office of the High Commissioner | ISHR.

One Response to “Joint Inspection Unit on human rights: not so innocent as it sounds”


  1. […] For those who missed it – and to illustrate why an independent Office is needed [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/joint-inspection-unit-on-human-rights-not-so-innocent-as-it…] – here is how Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has criticised the UK tabloid Sun for allowing […]


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