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  5. Seminar on "Participation of the Civil Society in UN Human Rights Mechanisms"

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FOCUS March 2021 Volume 103

Seminar on "Participation of the Civil Society in UN Human Rights Mechanisms"

The Research Center for Sustainable Peace of the University of Tokyo and the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) jointly held an online seminar on 27 January 2021 entitled “Participation of the Civil Society in UN Human Rights Mechanisms - on the occasion of the publication of the book The United Nations Commission on Human Rights – ‘A Very Great Enterprise,’ with Mr. John P. Pace.”

Mr. John P. Pace, the author of the book, was the main speaker in the seminar.  Mr. Pace, in his long professional career at the United Nations from 1966 to 1999, assumed various executive and operational responsibilities in the area of human rights at the United Nations, including Secretary of the Commission on Human Rights and Coordinator for the World Conference on Human Rights held in 1993.

The book thoroughly details what happened in the field of human rights since the start of the United Nations Organization in 1945 and also gives a wide and long perspective of international human rights in their historical development. The book, based on the many years of invaluable experience and in-depth knowledge of the author, presents an orderly and clear picture to the disorderly and often controversial realities of human rights and the United Nations actions thereon.

The book covers every session of the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Council since 1947 to 2019. All topics addressed and actions taken by the United Nations human rights organs were streamlined and referenced with more than nine thousand official documents. According to the author, “The book describes the facts and refrains from evaluating those facts to enable the reader to assess the work accomplished thus far and therefore to define what needs to be done in the future.”

In his speech, Mr. Pace emphasized the crucial role played by civil society in the work of the Commission on Human Rights. He pointed out that since the transition from the Commission on Human Rights to the Human Rights Council in 2006, civil society was no longer a participant but a part of a group referred to by the Council as “other stakeholders.” But in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), civil society was not allowed to take part in the main phase of the review. Mr. Pace expressed his concern that civil society contribution to the Council was in serious jeopardy, in contrast to the reality that in the international community civil society had gained momentum in advocating for human rights protection and promotion. In this context, Mr. Pace proposed that a Permanent Human Rights Council with a Chamber of Norms and Standards composed of the main Treaty Bodies and a Chamber for Civil Society be seriously considered.

A panel discussion followed Mr Pace’s speech with Ms. Atsuko Miwa, Director of HURIGHTS OSAKA and Professor Saul Takahashi of Osaka Jogakuin University.

Ms. Miwa stressed that human rights must be upheld during the pandemic and that the pandemic could reconfirm the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Professor Takahashi stated that the so-called “new normal” might be unsustainable considering, for example, that many people do not have good access to internet and the required technology for online seminars.

The panelists agreed that better engagement between civil society and the United Nations human rights mechanisms, such as UPR and the human rights treaty bodies, could be achieved.

Finally, concerning the universality and better understanding of human rights, Mr. Pace gave a reminder that human rights principles and norms are firmly based on the conviction that all humans are equal in dignity and rights. Professor Takahashi and Ms. Miwa concurred that in Japan human rights were trivialized as “kindness” or “sympathy” which made proper understanding of human rights more difficult.


For more information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.