Issue 175: Pakistan Wins Return to UN Rights Council, Sri Lanka Loses

Member states of the UN General Assembly failed to respect human rights standards today when 114 of them voted to reelect Pakistan to the Human Rights Council, and when 142 elected Bahrain. However, an intense campaign by UN Watch and other human rights organizations led to the defeat of Sri Lanka, which still managed to win 101 votes. Out of 19 candidates, 15 were chosen, with France and the U.K. narrowly defeating Spain in the Western group.

According to a report presented earlier this month by UN Watch and Freedom House, at a UN Headquarters briefing for diplomats and journalists, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Gabon and Zambia were found to be lacking the minimum standards required for election to the council. Regrettably, all but one was elected today.

Unless the UN stops electing the worst violators to the Human Rights Council, we will continue to have the foxes guarding the chickens — with the likes of China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba blocking action for Tibet, women’s rights or jailed journalists.

The reelection of Pakistan sends the wrong signal, and hurts victims worldwide. More than 160 million Pakistanis are subjected to systematic violations of basic human rights, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, persecution of religious minorities and a judicial system that fosters violence against of women as a form of punishment.

And as head of the council’s Islamic bloc for the past two years, Pakistan has helped the 47-nation body adopt a series of Orwellian resolutions that shield abusers like Sudan from scrutiny, undermine the role of independent experts, and eviscerate the international protection of freedom of speech in order to legitimize Islamic blasphemy restrictions.

UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer presents joint report with
Freedom House before UN diplomats and press corps, UN headquarters, New York, May 6, 2008.

According to the 2006 General Assembly resolution that established the council, members are to be elected based on their ability to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

The report by UN Watch and Freedom House examined 20 candidate countries (the Czech Republic later dropped out, leaving 19), based on their record of human rights protection at home, and their support for human rights resolutions at the UN. The report cites data from new UN Watch and Freedom House studies as well as assessments published by Reporters Without Borders, The Economist’s Democracy Index, and the Democracy Coalition Project.

UN Watch Report Bolsters Human Rights Activists, Sparks Heated Debate

The joint report by UN Watch and Freedom House sparked a heated debate this month in the countries that were found to be “Not Qualified,” with a front-page story in Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News, editorials in Pakistani newspapers like The Post, and articles in Sri Lanka’s The Mirror, and GabonEco.

Front page of Gulf Daily News(Bahrain) quoting UN Watch report, May 8, 2008


Bahrain’s ambassador in Geneva, Abdulla Abdullatif Abdulla, described the report by Freedom House and UN Watch as “unwarranted and unfounded.”

However, the report’s findings were echoed by 11 Bahraini human rights organizations—including the recently-dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights—who pledged not to support Bahrain’s candidacy for a seat on the council unless the government improved civil liberties.

The groups demanded legislation to improve the rights of migrant workers such as housemaids, prevent racial discrimination, give redress to victims of torture, introduce citizenship equality and protect the role of human rights defenders. The demands were presented in a meeting this week with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nazar Al Baharna.

The joint report also rated the qualifications of Brazil, Burkina Faso, and East Timor as “questionable.” Of those, only East Timor failed in today’s vote.

Since being created in 2006, the council has adopted 19 Islamic-sponsored resolutions against Israel — as well as four emergency sessions — several of which were opposed by Western states for omitting mention of attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. Otherwise, it has limited its concern for human rights in the world to four censures of Burma, and one of North Korea.

Although Sudan was debated several times, it has consistently escaped censure, with the help of allies in the Islamic, Arab and African groups that control the council’s majority. Several council resolutions praised the Khartoum regime for its “cooperation.”

A recent resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 4 million have been killed, eliminated the Council’s investigation of abuses there, one of several recent moves drawing sharp critcism from human rights activists.

Britain and Netherlands Threaten to Pull-Out If UN’s ‘Durban II’ Becomes Anti-Semitic Replay

The British government told parliament last week that it is considering pulling out from a UN conference on racism if it replays the acrimonious anti-Semitism of the 2001 precursor held in Durban, South Africa.

Speaking in the British parliament, U.K. Minister for Europe Jim Murphy said “there should be no repeat of the disgraceful anti-Semitism that blighted events surrounding the 2001 world conference against racism.” Click for more.

A few days later, Netherlands Interior Minister Maxime Verhagen said his country will not accept any attempts to call Israel a racist state at next year’s “Durban II” conference, the date and venue of which will be decided at a meeting in Geneva this Monday. According to Radio Netherlands, Verhagen said that the Netherlands was involved in the organization of Durban II and would not hesitate to withdraw if there is a similar negative spiral of events.

With Iran’s Ahmadinejad again calling to destroy the Jewish state at the same time as his government serves on the Durban II planning committee — headed by Libya’s Qaddafi — Britain, Netherlands and other leading democracies are right to be both concerned and vigilant.

UN Urgent Session on Hunger to Ignore Starving Burmese

At the initiative of Cuba’s Raoul Castro regime, the UN Human Rights Council will tomorrow convene an emergency “special session” to address rising food prices. Several EU states, including the U.K., also added their names to the Cuban request.

The world food crisis is certainly an urgent issue. But few expect this meeting to achieve anything other than provide a platform for attacks against the West and free markets. All of which will distract the council from matters it could more suitably address, starting with violations that have a clear victim, perpetrator and remedy. But the countries that lock people up without fair trials prefer to change the subject.

And if “the right to food” were really their concern, why will the session ignore Myanmar’s unconscionable denial of that right for millions of its starving, post-cyclone citizens?

When this question was posed yesterday to the UN, the reply was that “the Council had a very full programme. . .so it was a pretty packed schedule at the moment and it would be difficult to fit it in.”

UN Watch