PRESS RELEASE

Geneva, September 13, 2006 — An international coalition of 41 non-governmental organizations, including UN Watch, have called on democratic United Nations member states to work together to strengthen the world body’s ability to protect and advance human rights and democracy.

In a statement issued on Monday, the NGO coalition urged member states participating in the UN Democracy Caucus to ensure that the new Human Rights Council, at its second regular session beginning on September 18, addresses the most serious human rights crises. “It is our strongly held view that the fate of the reforms to strengthen the UN’s human rights system depends on the UN Democracy Caucus Members organizing a coherent, systematic, and continuous effort to ensure the body seriously addresses human rights violations in an even-handed and pro-active way,” said the statement.  In particular, the coalition called attention to abuses underway in the Darfur region of Sudan, which they argue demands a special Council session, as well as in North Korea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

The coalition also urged Democracy Caucus members to work together at the Council to support a credible universal periodic review mechanism in which every UN member state will be scrutinized for its adherence to basic international human rights standards.  The details of the country review system, currently being negotiated in Geneva, must incorporate a significant role for independent experts and nongovernmental organizations in order for it to be effective and credible, according to the statement.

“We are deeply disappointed that while 37 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members have officially signed on to to the Community of Democracies, most of these countries are ignoring their pledge to cooperate as a democracy caucus at the UN to uphold democratic values and standards,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director.

According to a new report by UN Watch, in the Council’s first three sessions, only 11 democracies consistently defended these principles: Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.  By contrast, democracies like Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and Uruguay failed to uphold democratic principles in their votes at the Council.  For example, the latter supported an initiative by Islamic states that amounted to a thinly-veiled endorsement of the notion that democracy leads to blasphemy.  “It is regrettable that our report’s list of counter-productive Council members  includes these democracies.  We urge them to move toward a postive approach, to respect their obligations by supporting democratic principles at the Council session that begins on Monday.”

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