UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: ICJ assessment

Today the ICJ assessed the work of the 52nd session of the United Nations Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held from 31 July-18 August 2000 in Geneva.

The ICJ is pleased that its efforts to progress a number of important human rights issues were supported by the Sub-Commission.

The ICJ welcomes:

  • the adoption of a resolution on the death penalty affirming the prohibition on executing offenders who were minors (ie aged under 18) at the time of the commission of their offence. The ICJ stated that such executions were contrary to international law. This was reflected in the Sub-Commission’s resolution, which also called on the Commission on Human Rights to affirm the legal basis of such prohibition at its next session. The ICJ considers the resolution as an important step in the abolition of the death penalty for juvenile offenders;
  • the adoption of a resolution on the draft Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Sub-Commission’s resolution calls upon the Commission on Human Rights, inter alia, to establish an open-ended working group to discuss the further elaboration and adoption of this instrument to allow individual and group complaints on violations of economic, social and cultural rights. The ICJ is a principal proponent of the draft Optional Protocol;
  • the decision of the Sub-Commission’s Working Group on the Administration of Justice to prepare a study on the administration of justice by military tribunals. The ICJ called on the Sub-Commission to take action on impunity, recourse to military tribunals and attacks committed by the military against human rights defenders, especially in Colombia. It also advocated the right to truth for relatives of disappeared persons in Argentina. The ICJ recalled that the rule of law demands that perpetrators of human rights violations be held accountable for their actions in civilian tribunals;
  • the adoption of a resolution on the role of universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The resolution calls on the governments to cooperate in the prosecution of any perpetrator of such crimes including any former Head of State or Government. The ICJ recalled that impunity was inconsistent with justice and a violation of international obligations under international human rights law;
  • the adoption of a resolution on intellectual property rights and human rights. The ICJ’s joint intervention as reflected in the resolution highlighted conflictual interests between the intellectual property rights regime embodied in the TRIPS Agreement and provisions of international human rights law regarding the right to development and the fulfilment of economic and social rights. The resolution requests, inter alia, governments and international institutions to protect the social function of intellectual property;
  • the continuing attention of the Sub-Commission to the human rights implications of economic globalisation, including through the study process undertaken by Sub-Commission members Professor Oloka-Onyango and Dr. Udagama;
  • efforts of the Working Group on the working methods and activities of transnational corporations including the need for a framework for holding TNCs accountable for the impact of their activities on human rights.

The ICJ again draws into question the independence of some experts of the Sub-Commission. The patently partisan approach of some members weakens the credibility of the body.

Overall, however, the Sub-Commission through its expertise and studies makes a substantive contribution to the human rights agenda. The ICJ encourages the Sub- Commission to pursue its current range of thematic interests which adds real value to human rights discourse.

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