|The Geneva summit of human rights heroes organized last week by UN Watch, together with 20 other NGOs, was a great success. Hundreds of activists attended, along with students, journalists and U.N. delegates. The victim-activists, who suffered torture in their respective countries, held invaluable meetings with dedicated diplomats. Major media, including the Associated Press, reported on the proceedings.
Following is an article on UN Watch’s summit published in Friday’s National Post of Canada, which was praised on Twitter by Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The true face of ‘human rights’ at the UN
March 16, 2012
By Tom Gross
GENEVA — I have spent the past few days in Geneva with some of the most remarkably brave people one is ever likely to meet. All have suffered horrendously for calling for freedoms in their countries — the kind of freedoms that people elsewhere take for granted.
But none of them were invited to Geneva by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the UN’s most prominent body that is supposed to deal with human rights, which is meeting here in annual session.
This is the organization behind the infamous and now discredited “Goldstone report” on Gaza. This is the organization that in 2009 praised Sri Lanka’s human rights record shortly after that country’s military had killed 40,000 Tamil civilians.
On Monday, I sat in on this year’s UNHRC debate, and listened to the Syrian ambassador — with a straight face and with no gasps of disapproval from other delegates — tell the chamber that it was really Israelis who were behind the ongoing violence in Syria. And I heard delegates from Cuba, Syria, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and elsewhere praise the Iranian government’s human rights record. (In fact, in addition to a litany of other abuses, Iran carried out the highest number of executions of any country in the world last year, for such “crimes” as being homosexual, or being a member of the Baha’i faith — though it is true that some other countries’ delegates did condemn Syria and Iran for other matters.) This week, the HRC also adopted a report heaping praise on the Gaddafi regime’s human rights record.
The human rights ambassadors engaged in this activity while sitting under the newly painted ceiling art of the council chamber — a remarkably unimpressive piece that the UN says cost $23-million — money that the UN might have used to, say, feed starving children in Africa.
In the entrance to the chamber, two pieces of art, from the time before its renovation, remain. On one, the plaque reads “A statue of Maat, ancient goddess of truth and justice”; it was donated by Egypt’s Mubarak regime. On the other, it says “A statue of Nemesis, Goddess of justice, donated by the Syrian government.”
Just down the road from the UN, anotherhuman-rights summit took place the following day — one where actual human rights heroes were present. That summit was organized by UN Watch, and a coalition of 20 other human-rights groups, from Tibet to Uganda.
Among the speakers were Chinese dissidents Ren Wanding, who during more than 10 years in prison produced a two-volume attack on the Chinese government painstakingly written on toilet paper; and Yang Jianli, who was released from jail in 2007, and who in 2010 was asked by the jailed Liu Xiaobo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on his behalf.
Also speaking were Joo-il Kim and Song Ju Kim, who endured a living hell in North Korea before risking their lives to escape. And Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, who survived 20 years in prisons in Castro’s Cuba, where he was severely tortured and had his bones broken on many occasions. He was finally released last year and immediately expelled from Cuba. He has now taken refuge in Spain.
Then there was Zimbabwean activist Jestina Mukoko, who was imprisoned and tortured for calling for democracy in her country. And Burmese activist Zoya Phan, a member of the Karen minority, which has undergone virtual genocide in recent decades. In addition, there were other brave democracy campaigners from Vietnam, Tibet, Pakistan and elsewhere.
I chaired the final session, which was on the Middle East. Impassioned speeches were given by Maikel Nabil, a young Egyptian veterinary student released seven weeks ago after enduring 302 days in a Cairo prison. For much of this time, he was held in solidarity confinement in a one-metre square space. In other periods, he was packed into a cell with 50 common criminals who were bribed by the guards to beat him. Maikel’s crime? After President Mubarak’s ousting last year, he dared to ask the Egyptian military to cede power too, and wrote blog posts calling for Egyptian society to treat women, gays and Jews with respect. In jail, Maikel went on a hunger strike for 80 days and almost died. But none of this broke him, and on his release on January 24 he waved a “V for victory” sign to waiting supporters.
Also on the panel was Ebrahim Mehtari who, for daring to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 presidential bid in his native Iran, was thrown into prison, raped, tortured and left for dead on the side of a road. Ebrahim’s life is still at risk, since he is one of the few who speak out about the widespread use of sexual torture in Iranian prisons.
Finally, there was 20-year-old Hadeel Kouki, who had been studying English literature in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Caught trying to bring medical supplies to children injured in one of her government’s barbaric and indiscriminate bombardments of civilians last year, she was imprisoned for eight weeks. During that time, she was subjected to electric shocks and repeatedly raped by prison guards. She asked me to tell the world the name of the guard she says was her chief rapist: Abdul Hakeem Abdullatif.
Upon her release, Hadeel managed to escape across the border to Turkey. She has now been offered political asylum by a Western country. I won’t name that country since Syrian thugs — who see her as a particular threat because she is a Christian standing up against the regime when Syria’s Christian leadership are still backing Assad — sent her messages only last week, warning that “we will catch up with you wherever you are and throw acid all over your beautiful face”.
American and Canadian embassy staff came to UN Watch’s alternative Geneva human rights summit. But where were the other ambassadors? Does the UN care about human rights? Or does it prefer to be in league with the criminals of the world?
Tom Gross is a former Middle East correspondent of the London Sunday Telegraph.