CNS News (CNSNews.com) – The United States and other democracies erred in not voting against a U.N. resolution endorsing the work of the Human Rights Council, according to a watchdog which has produced a scathing critique of the council’s actions this year.
The Obama administration took the U.S. into the Geneva-based HRC this year for the first time, conceding it was flawed but arguing that it could most effectively improve it from within.
When the U.N. General Assembly on Friday considered a resolution on the council’s work, neither the U.S. nor any other state among the handful of previous council critics requested a recorded vote – unlike the case in previous years.
Instead the measure was passed “by consensus.”
Only Israel’s delegate voiced doubts in the assembly chamber, saying her country reserved judgment on the HRC’s work. But she said Israel had decided to join consensus in the spirit of constructive engagement and in the hope the council would change direction in a way that would allow it to gain credibility and legitimacy.
The resolution under consideration took note of a report on the council’s various sessions since last fall and acknowledged the recommendations contained in the report.
In its assessment of the HRC’s work over that period, the non-governmental organization U.N. Watch identified 18 out of 30 key council resolutions which it said had been “counterproductive” to efforts to protect and uphold human rights.
In addition, it found that of the 20 countries identified by veteran NGO Freedom House as the world’s worst violators, the council had censured just two of them, Burma and North Korea.
As a result of the council’s record, U.N. Watch had urged the U.S. and other democracies to vote against the General Assembly resolution.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, said Monday the U.S. and E.U. had make a mistake by failing to signal their disapproval of the at least 18 resolutions his organization had found to be “antithetical to core human rights principles.”
By not pressing for a vote, they had allowed the General Assembly to “rubberstamp a text that grotesquely praised Sri Lanka despite its killing of 20,000 civilians; a text that assaults free speech in the name of a false notion that Islam has a ‘human right’ against being critiqued; and numerous one-sided texts against Israel that grant impunity to [Arab terrorist groups] Hamas and Hezbollah,” he added.
Over the past year, the HRC held two regular, month-long sessions and five “special sessions.” As in previous years, contentious issues invariably pitted Western-led democracies on one side against Islamic states, autocracies and other developing nations on the other.
Of the five special sessions, two targeted Israel and ended with resolutions condemning its actions in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. In one case Canada alone voted against the resolutions, with European and other democracies abstaining. In the other, which took place after the U.S. joined, the U.S. and five European states were outvoted by the majority in a 25-6 vote.
A third special session during the year dealt with the civil war in Sri Lanka, and ended with a resolution commending the government for its efforts and encouraging it to take further steps to help those affected by the conflict. That measure passed by 29-12, with Western-led democracies – opposing the resolution because it was too weak – again outvoted.
The HRC’s critics say the presence of members which themselves have poor rights records is a big part of the problem, as is the tendency of these countries to shield each other. Among the more controversial current members are China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Russia and Pakistan.
The Bush administration chose not to join the council when it was established in 2006. When the HRC’s reports came up for a General Assembly vote at the end of 2007 and 2008, it voted against them, joined on both occasions by Canada, Israel, Australia and three small Pacific nations – Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau.
President Obama came to office pledging deeper engagement with the U.N., and when the council held its annual election in the spring the U.S. stood unopposed for one of three available seats earmarked for Western nations. It will serve for a three-year term.
“The U.S., as natural leader of the free world, must make its positions crystal clear at the U.N. if engagement is to be effective, which we all hope it will,” Neuer said Monday.
“The abuser regimes at the UNHRC should never be granted a moment of legitimacy that the products of their benighted cynicism and hypocrisy do not deserve,” he said.
Communist, Islamic states back North Korea, Iran
Other resolutions before the General Assembly on Friday included one adopting the outcome document of the controversial “Durban II” racism conference hosted by the HRC in Geneva last spring.
Iran and Syria, whose leaders Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad are seen here at an Islamic bloc meeting in Istanbul on Nov. 9, 2009, are among those whose human rights records draw relatively little attention from the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The resolution passed by a 166-7 vote, with the U.S., Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and the Marshall Islands voting “no.” Nine countries abstained.
Votes on resolutions condemning human rights violations in North Korea and Iran passed, but reflected a divided world body. The North Korea vote was 99-20, with 63 abstentions. The 20 countries backing Pyongyang included China, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The vote on Iran passed 74-48, with 59 abstentions. Those supporting Tehran included most of the Islamic states, China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, as well as Iran’s allies in Latin America – Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
And in a vote on “certain practices that fuel contemporary forms of racism and other intolerance,” the U.S. was alone in voting “no,” while 127 states voted in favor and 54 abstained.
The measure covered the rise of skinhead groups, the glorification of Nazism, and violence targeting members of ethnic and religious groups and minorities. It called on states to take more effective steps to end such practices.
The U.S. objected to the resolution on free speech grounds, noting that the text made no distinction between actions and expressions. It argued that prohibiting expression was not an effective or appropriate way to eliminate intolerance.
UN Watch Leads 50 Rights Groups in Call to Reinstate Congo Monitor Fired by UN
December 23, 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) – Campaign groups from around the world, including many from Africa, have urged the United Nations to restore the post of U.N. rights monitor to the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying the situation there is dire.
The Geneva-based U.N. Watch said a total of 50 groupings had signed the appeal to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and human rights chief Navi Pillay.
The appeal, issued late on Tuesday, said signatories were “appalled to learn of the serious violations committed by the Congolese government in recent weeks” which they said included summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and rape.
They said a permanent U.N. monitor should be able to help remedy what they called “the dire situation” in the mineral rich country, where various national, local and outside factions are fighting in the east.
The Congo monitor — formally called a special rapporteur — was abolished by the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2008 at the request of the Congo government, backed by the developing country majority in the body.
A new report on the situation in the former Zaire by a U.N. Group of Experts is to be discussed by the Security Council in New York, and the appeal signatories said it showed the situation there was “increasingly precarious”.
The group’s report, the appeal said, “describes unchecked impunity and a complete lack of transparency regarding government exploitation of national resources”.
In an earlier report, U.N. monitor on extrajudicial execution Philip Alston said civilians in the east, often the target of rebels, “have also been gang-raped or shot to death by the Congolese army … which is supposed to protect them”.
On Monday, the international humanitarian group Doctors without Borders put violence against civilians in the east of Congo as number one on its list of the world’s worst 10 humanitarian crises.
The African human rights groups signing the appeal included bodies from Congo itself and its neighbouring Congo Republic, Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, Senegal, Zambia and Burkina Faso. Others included groups in Europe, the United States and Mexico.
Copyright 2009, Reuters
Following is the joint letter initiated by UN Watch, signed by 50 rights groups from around the globe.Urgent NGO Appeal to Reinstate UN Independent Expert on Congo
December 22, 2009
Dear UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
Dear UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanenthem Pillay,
We, representatives of non-governmental organizations, reflecting the broad spectrum of international civil society, are appalled to learn of the serious violations committed by the Congolese government in recent weeks, and urge you to call for the immediate reinstatement by the Human Rights Council of an independent human rights expert to monitor, report on and help remedy the dire situation in the Congo.
Summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and rape are widespread throughout the country. Recent investigations by the UN Group of Experts show that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is increasingly precarious. Its new report, to be discussed at the Security Council this week, describes unchecked impunity and a “complete lack of transparency” regarding government exploitation of natural resources. Other credible reports cite the alarming figure that 1,400 civilians have been killed since the inception of the Kimia II government military operation.
In March 2008, the UN Human Rights Council eliminated the position of the independent expert on Congo after several member states made false claims about the situation on the ground. Tunisia’s Ali Cherif spoke of “the positive developments in the human rights situation there” — indeed, of “remarkable progress” — and chastised the expert because such “improvements” were not “duly reflected in [his] report.” Algeria claimed “significant progress” in the DRC, where “the situation is being normalized.”
Egypt’s Omar Shalaby, on behalf of the African Group, said the DRC boasted an”environment conducive to the promotion and protection of human rights”, with “serious measures aimed at protecting the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights.” He said that “the mandate has not offered clear prospects for improving the human rights situation on the ground”; that it “has not been of benefit to the DRC”; and that “any renewal of the mandate would be counterproductive.” The mandate was one “to which no clear achievement can be attributed.” Russia, among others, supported this line. On these unsubstantiated grounds, the Council then voted to eliminate the UN’s only dedicated independent human rights voice for DRC victims.
Soon after, there were massacres of civilians and increasingly crowded refugee camps with continued fighting between Rwandan rebel forces and the Congolese army. In November 2008, the Human Rights Council convened a special session on the human rights situation in Congo, but to no avail. The European Union was forced to withdraw its draft resolution and compromised on a watered-down text “calling for the immediate end to all human rights violations and unconditional respect for the rights of civilians,” yet making no concrete proposals or recommendations to monitor the situation on the ground. Failing to reinstate an independent expert, the Council also struck the EU’ proposal that the Special Rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial executions report on the DRC.
Then, in March 2009, an attempt was made by the European Union and Canada “to appoint, for a period of one year, an independent expert.whose tasks will be to provide assistance to the Government.” Their draft text sought to express the gravity of the human rights situation in DRC and to highlight “the recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups and the ongoing and widespread acts of sexual violence against women and children.” Regrettably, this proposal was defeated.
Today, the situation continues to worsen. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has just reported that “civilians have also been gang-raped and hacked or shot to death by the Congolese army — the very force that is supposed to protect them.” Professor Alston’s report lays bare the need for a dedicated expert to monitor the DRC. An early warning system could close the protection gap currently shrouding abuses by the Congolese government.
We urge you to call for and take all necessary action to reinstate the mandate of the independent expert on Congo, eliminated without basis by the UNHRC in 2008, and against the wishes of the victims. The Security Council is now scheduled to vote on a resolution to extend the mandate of the Congo peacekeeping mission. The Human Rights Council should likewise assume its own responsibilities. Civilians remain at high risk in a conflict that has already claimed the lives of 5 million people.
We urge you to act now for the suffering people of the Congo, before it is too late.
Hillel C. Neuer
United Nations Watch
Action des Jeunes pour le Developpement Communautaire et la Paix (ADECOP)
Democratic Republic of Congo
President, l’ONG Citoyennes et citoyens Debout
Democratic Republic of Congo
Judge Mukete Tahle Itoe
Global Secretary General
Global Network for Good Governance (GNGG)
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
Regional Director, Regional Watch for Human Rights
Civil Society Organizations Network for Developpement (RESOCIDE)
Director, Fondation Humanus
President, Cameroon Coalition for the International Criminal Court
Priscilla M Achakpa
Women Environmental programme
Dr. Charles Mwape
Hope for Africa International
G. Jasper Cummeh, III
Senior Policy Director
Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA)
Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme-RPDH
Youth Enhancement Organization
Jamils Richard Achunji Anguaseh
Director of Programs
Global Welfare Association – GLOWA
Soraya Usmani Martinez
Regional Coordinator, Sub Saharan Africa
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
Institute of International Social Development
Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour
President, The International Quranic Center (IQC)
International League for Human Rights
Senior Country Analyst
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
Ingenieurs du Monde
Program Consultant, East Africa
Norwegian Church Aid
A. Tony Fowke
World Federation for Mental Health
International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization
CEO & Founder
Institute for Global Leadership
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean
Cuban Democratic Directorate
Dr. Vanee Meisinger
Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women`s Association of Thailand
World Federation of the DeafBlind
Representative to the UN, Geneva
Association of World Citizens and
Association for World Education
Penelope Faulkner, Vice-President
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Chief Executive Officer
Citizens for Global Solutions
Organization of Human Rights Activists in Iran
Vo Van Ai, President
Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam
Connie de la Vega
Board of Directors
Human Rights Advocates
Dickson M.D Ntwiga
Solidarity House International
Sajni M. Thadhani
MPTF Founder & President
Mulchand & Parpati Thadhani Foundation
Concerned Women for America
Dr. Janice Crouse
Beverly LaHaye Institute
Human Rights, Justice and Peace Foundation
Society for Threatened Peoples
Skill Enhancing & Research Home of the Children (SEARCH)
Chief Executive Officer
Refugee Council of Australia
Co-ordinator of research
Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice and Community Education
Presentation Sisters Lismore
Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA)
National & Overseas Co-ordinator
European Union of Jewish Students