PRESS RELEASE

Swiss NGO Urges Council to Adopt Strong Mechanisms for Victim Protection

Geneva, May 9, 2006 –  Close to half of the members elected to the UN’s new Human Rights Council fail to meet accepted democratic standards, reported UN Watch, the Geneva-based monitoring group. Out of the four regional groups whose members were fully decided, 20 of the 41 countries elected are rated either “Partly Free” or “Not Free” under Freedom House’s annual global survey of political rights and civil liberties. According to BBC News, the composition of the East European group’s 6 seats will be finalized in a second ballot to be held on Wednesday.

 

“So far, we have lowered the proportion of non-democratic and outright repressive regimes from 55 per cent in the 2006 membership of the old Human Rights Commission, to 49 per cent in the 2006 membership of the new Human Rights Council,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch Executive Director, in a statement released today in Geneva. “This is a small step forward, but hardly cause for any cheer.”

 

Neuer expressed concern about the impact of regional and ideological alliances in the developing world, where the 26 members of Asia and Africa exercise a clear majority of the Council’s 47 seats. “Regrettably, even influential democracies like South Africa and India routinely vote to defeat UN resolutions for victims in Darfur or elswhere. We need to move from the old culture of vote-trading and unholy alliances, to a new culture of nations speaking truth to power in the active defence of human rights victims worldwide.”

 

UN Watch was encouraged that Sudan and Zimbabwe chose not to run and that certain repressive and authoritarian governments, such as that of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, failed in their attempts to win a seat. “Significantly, the defeat of the openly racist Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — which denies the Holocaust while advocating a new one — sends the important message that incitement to genocide will not be tolerated by the international community,” said Neuer.

 

“At the same time, the electoral victory of notorious human rights violators such as Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia, suggests that the spirit of the discredited and now-defunct Commission may come back to haunt us when the new Council opens next month.”

 

UN Watch called on Council members to act quickly and resolutely to institute strong mechanisms for the concrete protection of women suffering from violence, children subjected to abuse, and other victims of human rights violations. The Swiss NGO also urged the Council to heed Secretary-General Annan’s findings about the politicization and double standards that led to the Commission’s demise. “The classic example was the Commission’s failure to deal with Sudan and Darfur, while instead devoting most of its attention — including a special agenda item and half of all resolutions — to Israel-bashing.” The Council will convene on June 19th in Geneva to begin establishing its procedures.

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