3 March 2008Opening the seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on its members to ensure that all nations are held equally accountable for the protection of rights as the new body begins its first-ever universal review of their performance. “No country, however powerful, should escape scrutiny of its record, commitments and actions on human rights,” Mr. Ban said, hailing the start of the Universal Periodic Review, under which all UN Member States – at the rate of 48 a year – will be reviewed to assess whether they have fulfilled their human rights obligations. “The Review must reaffirm that just as human rights are universal, so is our collective respect for them and our commitment to them. It must help prevent the distrust that surrounded the work of the Commission on Human Rights in its final years,” he added, recalling the accusations of bias and politicization that dogged the predecessor body whose work was taken over by the new Council in 2006. Looking back at progress since the issuance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary in December, Mr. Ban said that it had become clear that commitments and accountability are crucial factors in the effort to make those rights a reality for all. That accountability, in turn, depends on the collective scrutiny of international organizations, governments and civil society, he said, calling it “a duty of the highest order for each individual State, and the raison d’être of the Human Rights Council.” As for the record of the Council itself, Mr. Ban said that the establishment of its mechanisms and procedures had been on the right track over the nearly two years of its existence. But he posed the question to Council members of whether they were fully meeting the high expectations of the international community, which included the application of human rights values “without favour, without selectivity, without being impacted by any political machinations around the world.” “If you meet this benchmark,” he said, “you can count on my fullest support and defence in the face of criticisms and attacks, wherever they may come from.” The Council’s seventh session, including a high-level portion for the views of government representatives, as well as expert panels and presentations by Special Rapporteurs, will run through 28 March.