Geneva, June 18, 2007 — UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer issued the following statement today regarding the Human Rights Council president’s text:
Defining the text as a victory, as some have, is possible only by lowering one’s expectations, defined down to reflect the depressing reality that the current council majority fundamentally opposes the very concept of human rights scrutiny. Last year’s reallotment of Council seats put the democracies that support human rights mechanisms at a decided disadvantage. They have been playing defense all year—and most often losing, often mustering a mere 12 out of 47 seats. Although the innovation of universal periodic review has positive potential, that was already established in last year’s General Assembly resolution.
The latest package continues the pattern from the past year, solidifying losses and backsliding on key fronts.
• Contrary to promises made last year by reform proponents that the new Council would strengthen the independent experts, this package weakens them in several ways.
• It eliminates the experts on Cuba and Belarus, despite the fact that both experts have reported on massive, ongoing violations against journalists and democracy dissidents by both governments.
• As for the experts on other countries—on Burundi, Cambodia, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Burma, Somalia, and Sudan—while these are indeed included on a list, these too may soon be eliminated, as expressly threatened by the Council’s majority, under the “review” process contemplated by the text. (See p. 7 on the power to “discontinue” mandates.)
• Pending their fate, all rapporteurs will be subject to a new “Code of Conduct,” submitted by Algeria in the name of the African group, whose only purpose is to intimidate and restrict the independence of the human rights experts. Its premise throughout is that the experts are dishonest, for example, the provision about “constantly keeping in mind their fundamental obligations of truthfulness.”
• Contrary to express promises made last year regarding what Kofi Annan identified as the double standards that plagued the old Commission on Human Rights, the proposed text features a special agenda item that places Israel under permanent indictment. No other country in the world is mentioned in the proposed agenda. This contravenes numerous promises that were made last year (see, e.g., UNDPI document) that the new agenda would not have an agenda item “targeting Israel” and instead begin with a “clean slate.” The text also treats Israel differently in exempting its investigative mandate on Israeli actions from the one-year term limit and regular review that applies to all other geographic mandates. This subverts the Council’s stated principles of non-selectivity, universality, and impartiality and damages its credibility from the start.
In sum, the universal periodic review remains the only positive innovation from the Commission, but even then, the proposed procedures are hardly encouraging. First, the review will occur only once every four years. If a Tiananmen Square massacre occurs, the victims will need to wait up to four years for redress. Second, the duration of the review—for China as for every other country—is limited to a mere 3 hours. Third, the process itself, the proposal takes pains to emphasize, is a “cooperative mechanism,” with the country reviewed “fully involved in the outcome.” There is minimal participation of substance from experts or independent voices. Translation: it’s largely toothless.
That the West managed to save some of the key mechanisms established under the Commission—such as the right to address emerging situations—is important, but hardly a victory to be proud of for a body heralded as the dawn of a new era.