- Only 13 of 47 HRC Members Voted Positively. Out of 47 HRC member states, only a minority of 13 had positive voting records in our study of actions taken on 30 key resolutions adopted in the past year. In order of highest ranking, these were Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, France, Slovakia, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Japan, Switzerland, Ukraine, Bosnia, and the Republic of Korea. (See scorecard at Table 1 and full chart of resolutions at Table 4.)
- Majority 34 of 47 HRC Members Voted Negatively. A majority of 34 out of the 47 HRC member states had negative voting records—casting ballots against independent human rights mechanisms or basic principles such as free speech—or supported counter-productive resolutions sponsored by repressive regimes. From bad to worse, these were: Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Mauritius, Uruguay, Brazil, Zambia, Cameroon, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Bolivia, Gabon. Senegal, Angola, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Bahrain, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Djibouti, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, South Africa, China, and Egypt. (See scorecard at Table 1 and full chart of resolutions at Table 4.)
- 18 of 30 Key HRC Resolutions Were Counterproductive. Analyzing 30 key UNHRC resolutions of the last year, this report finds that a majority of 18 were actually counterproductive to human rights. (See Key Actions chart at Table 4.) These include resolutions that praised Sri Lanka after it killed an estimated 20,000 civilians; praised Sudan for its “progress”; defined any discussion of terrorism committed in the name of Islam as a form of “defamation” and “racism”; undermined UN mechanisms designed to hold countries accountable, such as independent rights monitors; and that effectively granted exculpatory immunity to Hamas terrorism. Since its creation in 2006, the UNHRC has devoted 27 of its 33 censures to one-sided and unconstructive resolutions criticizing Israel.
- HRC Turned Blind Eye to the World’s Most Serious Violators (And the Lesser Ones, Too). The UNHRC turned a blind eye to the world’s worst violations, granting impunity to all of the worst violators, except for two, Burma and North Korea. The UNHRC failed to adopt any resolution, special session or investigative mandate for Belarus, China, Cuba, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Zimbabwe—all on Freedom House’s list of the 20 world’s worst abusers. The same holds true for Iran, despite ongoing show trials and executions. (See Worst Abusers chart at Table 3.)
- Half of 2010 HRC Membership is Non-Democratic. Although UNGA Resolution 60/251 provides that countries should be elected based on their human rights records, 24 out of 47 current members (51%) fail to meet basic standards of democracy and human rights. (See Table 2: 2010 HRC Membership.)
- High Commissioner Soft on Worst Abusers. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay should reconsider her human rights priorities. Since being appointed in 2008, Ms. Pillay criticized 25 countries rated Free by Freedom House. Yet she has only criticized 14 countries rated Not Free, and only 9 countries rated Partly Free. She failed to make any statements whatsoever for victims in 34 countries rated Not Free and in 50 countries rated Partly Free.
The U.S. is the de facto leader of the opposition at the UNHRC, a group of approximately 12 democracies on the 47-member council that routinely oppose regressive measures and defend legitimate human rights principles and positions. As such, the U.S. bears the chief responsibility to refocus the work of the council and ensure that it fulfills its promise to effectively protect human rights around the globe. Toward that end, UN Watch urges the U.S. to take the following concrete steps.
Hold Worst Violators to Account
- The U.S. should lead its friends and allies at the UNHRC to seek accountability from—at a minimum—the world’s most serious violators. Strong U.S. leadership is required to refocus the council’s program of work toward a more objective set of priorities that will address the most pressing human rights abuses. The U.S. in concert with its allies should seek ways to break the system of regional and ideological bloc voting, encouraging countries to vote according to human rights criteria. Accountability should be achieved by initiating measures that can be effective with or without majority support.
- The U.S. should introduce country-specific resolutions. At every regular session, the U.S. and its allies should initiate measures that meaningfully name rights-abusing countries, unequivocally condemn their abuses, and directly attribute responsibility to the perpetrators. Alarmingly, the program of work for the upcoming March 2010 session indicates the UNHRC’s continuation of its policy of neglecting urgent human rights situations that require attention. Instead it remains focused on counter-productive resolutions, such as those curbing freedom of speech regarding discussion of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. Determined U.S. diplomacy proved its potential in June 2009 when it led adoption of a resolution on Sudan that, while flawed, successfully preserved the investigative mandate on the Khartoum regime. At the same time, it is a reality that a large bloc at the UNHRC—comprised of the 51% of council member states who are non-democracies, along with several free countries that vote with them—systematically oppose country censures. (They make an exception, however, for resolutions against Israel.) Even if these resolutions are likely to be defeated, however, the very tabling of resolutions, with the ensuing diplomatic commotion and media attention, can accomplish the desired goal of turning a needed spotlight on abuses.
- The U.S. should convene special sessions to address urgent situations of gross human rights violations. Support from only one third of the membership, or 16 states, is sufficient to convene a special session. While obtaining this amount of signatures is never guaranteed, it is certainly achievable with a modest amount of U.S. diplomacy. Once the session is convened, it is true that any attempt to adopt a censure resolution may well be defeated, as happened at the May 2009 special session on Sri Lanka. Yet the very convening of an urgent session turns a powerful international spotlight on the violator.
- The U.S. should oppose, however, the increasing convening of special sessions that serve no meaningful purpose. Sessions on the world financial and food crises—issues lying far outside the competence of the UNHRC—were designed to point an accusing finger at the West, and to create the false image of a council that seriously responds to pressing developments. The January 2010 session concerning the Haiti earthquake, initiated by Brazil, also fell in this category.
- The U.S. should initiate the creation of new country-specific mandates for countries that commit gross violations of human rights, and reinstate those mandates that were wrongly eliminated (e.g., Cuba, Belarus, Liberia, DRC).
- The U.S. should take the floor more often and more strongly to denounce gross human rights violations. While resolutions, special sessions and mandates are more powerful remedies, every speech has its own impact.
Vigorously Protect Freedom of Speech
The U.S. should defend freedom of speech and vigorously oppose the OIC-sponsored campaign to ban the ““defamation of religion,” an effort to silence any discussion on Islam and women’s rights, to silence debate of Islamic-related terrorism by characterizing it as a form of “defamation” and “racism,” and to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws. This OIC campaign includes (1) annual UNHRC resolutions; (2) a latest attempt, led by the UNHRC’s Algerian-chaired “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards,” to alter the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) through adoption of a new protocol; (3) the repeated commissioning of reports on “defamation” from the Special Rapporteur on racism and other UN officials; and (4) the twisting of the mandate on freedom of expression by requiring the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression to investigate the so-called “abuse” of that freedom.
End Unequal Treatment of Israel
The U.S. should fight the council’s obsessive adoption of one-sided and unconstructive resolutions and special sessions against Israel. To date, more than 80% of all the UNHRC’s condemnatory resolutions (27 out of 33) have been against Israel, while Hamas, Hezbollah and other violators enjoy exculpatory immunity. The U.S. should demand that the council move to a balanced approach consistent with its founding principles of “ensuring universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues, and the elimination of double standards and politicization.” In dealing with the Middle East in a non-selective manner, the council should hold Israelis and Palestinians alike accountable for their human rights records.
The U.S. should continue to oppose the UNHRC’s Agenda Item No. 7, which permanently singles out Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment at every session. This item was adopted in June 2007 over the objections of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and Canada. The U.S. should preface its interventions delivered under this agenda item with an objection on principle to the item itself.
The U.S., which recently played a noteworthy role in the successful admission of Israel into the JUSCANZ consulting group of non-EU Western democracies at the UNHRC, should continue to work toward including Israel in the council’s group of Western and other nations (the Western Human Rights Group), ending the anomaly whereby Israel is the only country excluded from participation in any of the UNHRC’s regional groups.
Defend the Rights of NGOs
- The U.S. should forcefully defend human rights NGOs at the council, and preserve their historic role as independent voices at the UNHRC that can hold governments accountable.
- Specifically, the U.S. should strongly object whenever states interrupt and harass NGOs during oral interventions, and encourage the UNHRC President to discipline such abusive behavior. Egypt, Pakistan, Cuba, Iran and China are some of the states that have often interrupted legitimate NGO interventions.
- The U.S. should defend NGOs from intimidation by the UN’s 19-government Committee on NGOs in New York, which is increasingly misusing its approval and quadrennial review procedures, unduly politicizing what should be a strictly professional and technical process.
Oppose Election of Violators to the Council
- The U.S. should encourage countries with the strongest record of commitment to human rights to run for UNHRC election in their respective regional groups.
- The U.S. should encourage countries to choose candidates based on their record of protecting human rights at home and at the UN, and not based on political factors.
- The U.S. should lobby UN member states to defeat the election of unqualified candidates such as Iran, which is running for one of the Asian Group’s seats in the May 2010 election.
Encourage Positive Work of the High Commissioner
- The US should defend the positive and independent work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) from escalating attempts by the UNHRC to control its activities and agenda.
- The U.S. should encourage High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to speak out more often and more forcefully to defend victims of the most serious violations. Her record in this regard is mixed, and needs improvement. Ms. Pillay, since being appointed in 2008, criticized 25 countries rated Free by Freedom House. Yet she has only criticized 14 countries rated Not Free, and only 9 countries rated Partly Free. She failed to make any statements whatsoever for victims in 34 countries rated Not Free and in 50 countries rated Partly Free.
- The U.S. should continue to defend the UNHRC’s independent rights monitors (the special procedures) from efforts to intimidate them or influence their work.
Strengthen the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
- The U.S. should use the UPR to ask meaningful questions of every country reviewed, pointedly addressing violations and providing constructive recommendations.
- The U.S. should call out those countries that systematically misuse the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure by legitimizing human rights abusers instead of holding them to account. Too many countries at the UNHRC are not only failing to fulfill the stated objective of UPR, but act to undermine it.
- The U.S. should support granting NGOs the right to participate in the oral debate of the UPR working group. Moreover, in the modest time currently allotted to NGOs during the Human Rights Council’s plenary sessions that treat each UPR report, the U.S. should ensure that freedom of speech of NGOs is protected.
 To date, since it was created in 2006, the UNHRC has granted effective immunity to all of the world’s worst abusers, except for a handful of resolutions on North Korea and Burma. The UNHRC’s few resolutions on Sudan employed weak and vague language, failed to attribute direct responsibility for abuses to the Al-Bashir government, and even complimented the regime for its “cooperation.” A May 2009 resolution on Sri Lanka praised the government instead of condemning it for causing the deaths of an estimated 20,000 civilians.