Angola, Egypt, and Qatar join existing members China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia
Geneva, May 17, 2007 — UN Watch welcomed the defeat of Belarus in today’s election of members to the UN Human Rights Council, “but the victory in overwhelming numbers of Egypt, Angola and Qatar — known rights violators who now join the Council’s dominant bloc of non-democratic members led by China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia — means that in Geneva it’s still the foxes guarding the chickens,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization.
(See UN Watch report on Council’s first year, Dawn of A New Era?)
“Celebrating the Mubarak regime sends a profoundly discouraging signal to the human rights heroes in that country who on Monday had urged the UN to reject their repressive government’s candidacy,” said Neuer. A statement by 19 Egyptian groups said the country condoned police torture, arbitrary detention, trying civilians before military tribunals, and the rigging of elections. “The same holds true for dissidents in Angola and Qatar.”
After a year of disappointment over failed reforms at the Council, today’s results “guarantee continued support for the majority of council members who are not only spoiling hopes of needed reforms but undermining and eroding the existing mechanisms of meaningful human rights protection,” said Neuer.
The African and Asian blocs, dominated by the Islamic states, hold 26 out of 47 seats, and vehemently oppose scrutinizing governments for their records. As a result, at the upcoming June session, where the Council will wrap up a year of reform discussions and set its new face, many of the independent investigators of country abuses — including of Belarus and Cuba — are likely be eliminated. In addition, according to an April 27 draft, the Council’s agenda will feature a special item targeting Israel, as a form of permanent indictment. Last year, the UN had promised that the agenda would be a “clean slate.” (Click here for example of UN promises regarding the new Council.)
Neuer said that Angola, Belarus, Egypt or Qatar must take “immediate and concrete steps” to prove they meet their member obligations under the GA resolution. Resolution 60/251 reuires members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”
In an assessment released jointly with Freedom House last week, UN Watch deemed these countries not qualified for Council membership. ( See assessment of Council candidates here. ) “If, however, these regimes nevertheless wish to try to prove that they are legitimate members, they must—at a minimum—take concrete actions immediately.” According to Neuer, these include:
Angola—Council campaign pledge said that it “fights for a wide implementation of the human rights consecrated in the international instruments to which the country is a part” and promised, among other things, to “mainstream human rights throughout [Angolan] society” and “promote the rule of law”. Angola must:
• Fully cooperate with the three Council Special Rapporteurs, which it has agreed in principle to allow to visit (the special rapporteurs on adequate housing, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief).
• Dismiss the espionage charges against Dr. Sarah Wykes of the British NGO Global Witness for researching corruption in the oil sector, or at the very least permit Dr. Wykes to be defended against the charges by legal counsel of her choice.
• Allow private radio outlets to broadcast nationwide.
Egypt—Council campaign pledge promised to “upgrade the level of its implementation of all human rights instruments which it has ratified,” including by “preserv[ing] the freedom of the press,” “strengthening the independence of the judiciary,” and “deepening its democracy.” Egypt must:
• Release journalist Huwaida Taha Mitwalli, who is currently imprisoned for attempting to report on the government’s use of torture, as well as bloggers including Abd al-Monim Mahmud and Abd al-Karim Nabil Sulaiman (a.k.a. Karim Amer),who have been imprisoned for exercising their internationally protected right to freedom of expression.
• Announce that it will permit visits by, and fully cooperate with, the five Council Special Rapporteurs that have outstanding visit requests dating back as far as 1996 (the Special Rapporteurs on torture, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the independence of judges and lawyers).
• Rescind its order to close the offices of the workers’ rights organization Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.
Qatar—Council campaign pledge said that “the goal of promoting and protecting human rights” is the “cornerstone” of its policies. Qatar must:
• Announce that it will sign and ratify the fundamental human rights treaties the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which it is not a party.
• Commit to end censoring peaceful expression on the Internet, for example by unblocking the Arab-American online newspaper The Arab Times.
• Permit independent human rights organizations to operate freely in the country.
“Those of us who want the new Council to work must ensure that it is composed of members who, as Kofi Annan envisioned, are serious about human rights,” said Neuer.