Issue 120: UN Watch speaks at the 60th Session of the Commission on Human Rights

The 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which opened six weeks ago with thousands of delegates from 191 states and accredited organizations, concludes this Friday. UN Watch has been outspoken during the debates, standing up for human dignity, Commission reform and the UN Charter’s equality principle:

URGING UN TO PROTECT VICTIMS: In a statement under Agenda Item 11 (Civil and Political Rights), Jonathan Goldberg, UN Watch’s Morris B. Abram Fellow, implored the Commission to end its traditional silence over the violation of political rights in Zimbabwe, women’s rights in Iran and religious rights in China. So long as these regimes escape censure, the UN’s top human rights body, Goldberg said, is “sheltering the perpetrators, not the victims.” In Zimbabwe, Goldberg added:

the Mugabe regime continues to trample political rights with impunity. Right now, the leader of the democratic opposition is being prosecuted for treason-when his true crime is being an opponent of the President. Of 57 members of parliament in the Movement for Democratic Change, about 50 have been charged with crimes.

In Iran, noted UN Watch, the theocracy’s treatment of women “is no less disquieting. Women who dare to dress ‘immodestly’ […] risk public humiliation, and sometimes violence.”

UN Watch similarly demanded action regarding China’s treatment of Tibetans. The Commission was called upon to “be true to the UN Charter-which seeks ‘to affirm faith in fundamental human rights'”-and not to “give sanctuary to those who would deny it.” In the end, Commission members failed to propose any resolution on Iran, while measures concerning China and Zimbabwe were voted down by procedural “no action” motions.

EXPOSING UN DISCRIMINATION: The Commission was very active, however, in singling out one member state for unequal treatment. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is typically targeted with five resolutions. This year, in addition, a “Special Sitting” was urgently convened, requested by the Islamic states, to discuss Israel’s killing of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin.

Speaking on behalf of UN Watch, Executive Director Hillel Neuer took the floor to challenge the very legitimacy of the debate:

The convening of this Special Sitting is yet one more egregious illustration of the unending pattern and practice of discrimination by this Commission against one state. […] Is the Commission practicing equality when, out of 192 states, only one is singled out, year after year, for differential and discriminatory treatment? […] When every state may join a regional grouping-which is a necessity for meaningful UN participation — except one, Israel?

ADVOCATING UN RAPPORTEUR FOR SYRIAN-OCCUPIED LEBANON: When the Special Sitting ended-strongly condemning the “tragic assassination” of Yassin-the Commission returned to the topic originally under discussion: “Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine.” This Agenda Item, which on its face applies to any Occupied Arab Territory, was in the past only used to single out alleged violations by Israel. UN Watch was apparently the first to recognize, in a statement delivered by Neuer, that the Item’s mandate allows consideration of other states as well:

Syria’s occupation of Lebanon is in open violation of Security Council Resolution 425 and Resolution 520, which demand the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty […] Syria’s denial of the Lebanese nation’s inherent right to self-determination, its suppression of their fundamental freedoms […] is symptomatic of the Syrian regime’s overall disregard and disdain for human dignity and human rights.

This approach, said UN Watch, “was underscored in recent weeks by Syrian police crackdowns against peaceful human rights protesters in Damascus, and the killing of Kurds in Qamishli.”

Though states rarely engage NGO statements, Syria and Lebanon both requested a right of reply. While they failed to refute any of the specific violations cited by UN Watch, the ambassadors insisted that Syrian forces were in Lebanon as part of “fraternal relations between the two nations.” And if the UN Watch representative would visit Syria, he would see that “all live in peaceful coexistence.” The Syrian ambassador objected to any discussion of his country under this Item, which “should not be a platform for jokes.” However, the U.S. representative asserted unequivocally that UN Watch had the right to address Syrian violations.

As expected, under Item 8 the Commission passed resolutions solely against Israel. Nevertheless, as UN Watch demonstrated, so long as this Item remains on the Agenda, Syria, and the Beirut regime it controls, run the risk that, through a device designed to target Israel, their violations will again be exposed before the world.


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