The Commission on Human Rights has just wrapped up its largely business-as-usual session, though there were some interesting developments.
Analysis: The Commission adopted resolutions on a variety of country situations and thematic issues. Four of the countries examined are particularly noteworthy:
China: Once again, successful procedural maneuvering by the Chinese delegation prevented Commission members from discussing the human rights situation in China. Like last year, China moved a “no-action motion” that hampered substantive debate. The vote was 22 in favor, 18 against (with an important 12 abstentions). And so, the Chinese record on religious minorities, civil and political rights, and a range of other concerns was not aired in this important forum.
Cuba: As the Elian Gonzalez case drew worldwide attention to questions of Cuba’s human rights record, the Commission also took up the situation in that country. After a rhetorical debate, the Commission narrowly passed a resolution on Cuba by a margin of 21 to 18 (with 14 abstentions). The Czech Republic played a key role in sponsoring this important resolution.
Chechnya: A surprising development was the successful resolution on Chechnya, passed with a significant margin of 25 to 7 (with 19 abstentions). In most discussions with European diplomats in the run-up to the Commission, it seemed doubtful that a resolution on the Chechnya situation would even be put forward. Credit goes in part to High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson who highlighted the situation in the region, and recommended that Russia establish a national commission of inquiry to look into allegations of human rights abuses, a suggestion reflected in the Commission’s resolution.
The Chechnya resolution is notable considering the infrequency of censure of a permanent member of the Security Council, although the United States is regularly criticized in the Commission’s debate on the death penalty. Though some are critical of perceived weaknesses in the Chechnya resolution, such as relying on an internal rather than international investigation on alleged human rights abuses, the Commission has taken an important step in its willingness to criticize a major power.
Israel: On Israel and the complicated politics of the Middle East, resolutions once again failed to take account of advances in the peace processes, nor did they change the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the occupied territories. Five resolutions were passed, and Israel’s record was once again examined under its own unique agenda item. Given all the human rights tragedies taking place worldwide, it is fair to question the Commission’s emphasis and outdated language on this situation.