At the close of its 18th session (September 29), the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution creating a Special Rapporteur to help states deal with gross violations of human rights in transitional justice situations such as the recent Arab revolts.   

The 3-year mandate of the Special Rapporteur would gather information, promote good practices, conduct country visits and make recommendations to the Human Rights Council on a yearly basis.  It would specifically address the reluctance to act on politically-sensitive situations of transitional justice created when old regimes are being overthrown and new governments and justice systems are formed.

The resolution for the “promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence” was introduced by Switzerland, Argentina and Morocco and co-sponsored by some 75 other nations.  

Switzerland, which has been active on the issue for several years, called it a “major achievement” and emphasized that “the new special procedure will contribute to the fight against impunity, that it will enable the States to fulfill their obligations better and, above all, that it will be a channel allowing the voice of the victims to be heard and guaranteeing that their rights be respected.”

Supporters hope that the resolution will correct a gap within the UN system and particularly the Human Rights Council, which has had a spotty record of holding nations accountable for gross human rights violations.

Argentina’s representative, Alberto Dumont, called the mandate an important measure for his country “given its history and experience,” a message echoed by several other Latin American states.  

Russian delegate Alexey Goltyaev offered a contrary view, saying the Special Rapporteur’s work would have to be carefully confined to “the context of justice in transition periods,” and should operate “strictly at the request of states,” emphasizing the importance of national rather than international measures to establish truth and create guarantees of non-recurrence.

Cuban representative Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez was even more critical, seeing a double standard whereby “developed countries looked at issues of reparation only when it came to developing countries, while they imposed silence concerning violations carried out by their own authorities.”