Groups Urge Removal of “Anti-NGO Clause” and Reinstatement of Annan’s 2/3 Threshold for Member Elections
Geneva, March 2, 2006 – Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) today called on United Nations member states to make three key changes to the blueprint for a new Human Rights Council. (See full text of Joint NGO Statement below.)
A joint statement released today in Geneva by UN Watch, the Italy-based Transnational Radical Party and an international coalition of ten other NGOs urged the reinstatement of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s original requirement that candidates for Council seats be elected by no less than two-thirds of member states in the General Assembly.
The two-thirds threshold was at the core of the Annan plan of March 2005, which proposed replacing the discredited human rights commission with a new body that would exclude the most notorious human rights offenders. In recent years, members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.
The text proposed last week by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson would elect members by an absolute majority of the Assembly’s 191 members. “Yet when the Assembly was asked just 3 months ago to condemn Sudan for its massive human rights violations, no more than 79 countries were willing to do so, and the resolution failed,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch . “So how can we expect a majority to suddenly support that country’s exclusion?”
According to Neuer, the U.N.’s latest text fails to remedy the commission’s “fatal flaw” — its dubious membership. “When the council created by this draft meets for the first time in Geneva, the faces around the table will look awfully familiar. Mr. Annan called for radical surgery to revive the discredited human rights commission; this draft offers to give two aspirins and wheel the patient back onto the street,” said Neuer.
Today’s NGO statement also called for the removal of nine words from the draft that “would place non-governmental organizations under the constant threat of restrictions on their ability to speak out freely at the Council for human rights victims.” The U.N. text would give member states the power to decide what constitutes “the most effective contribution” of NGOs and other observers at the new council.
According to Neuer, “this clause is a shocking incursion against the freedom of NGOs to speak out at the U.N. for victims of human rights violations committed by any country.” Neuer said the proposed restriction was “part and parcel of the relentless attempts by certain U.N. members to curb NGO participation, and is intended as a sword against our historic right to participate fully at U.N. human rights proceedings.” In recent years, several NGOs, including Reporters Sans Frontières and the Transnational Radical Party, were threatened with suspension by member states upset over criticism of their human rights records.
Finally, the NGOs objected to a provision in the preamble that imposes special demands on the media to respect religion. “Contrary to previous UN statements on the matter, the text omits any balancing language in favor of freedom of speech or freedom of the press,” the statement said. “Several other UN mechanisms are dealing with this issue and there is no reason for its inclusion in this text. The clause is an attempt to appease the violent agitators who burned buildings and killed innocent people with a grant of international legitimacy.”
Neuer said that the democracies and human rights groups should not feel pressured by artificial deadlines such as the upcoming commission session in March. “It took UN Watch twelve years for our reforms to be endorsed by the U.N. Secretary-General. We’re willing to wait another few days or weeks to get the reform that human rights victims deserve.”
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Joint NGO Statement
Action Urged to Create a Worthy Human Rights Council
2 March 2006
Following the announcement by the UN General Assembly President of further consultations on the draft resolution to create a new Human Rights Council, UN Watch and the Transnational Radical Party urge all Member States — especially democracies — to speak out for critical improvements to the current draft.
Specifically, Member States should ask President Jan Eliasson for three key changes:
- Restore Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Two-Thirds Threshold
The Annan Plan of March 2005 required candidates for Council seats to pass a two-thirds threshold of General Assembly votes. As a result, one-third of General Assembly members could block unqualified countries. If coherently applied, this rule would allow democratic States to keep off notorious human rights offenders such as Sudan. Regrettably, the existing draft fails to redress what Mr. Annan and many others recognize as the greatest flaw of the current Commission: its membership. We recognize that the text’s proposed requirement of an absolute majority for election to the Council is an improvement over the existing situation, whereby full control lies in the hands of the regional groups. Yet when the General Assembly was recently asked to condemn Sudan for human rights crimes, no more than 79 out of 191 countries were willing to go on record opposing the Khartoum regime – and the resolution failed. If the General Assembly cannot muster a majority to cite Sudan for violations, it is difficult to expect a majority to suddenly support full exclusion. In addition, regional groups should be required to submit more candidates than allotted seats, to ensure that nominations are actually put to a vote instead of the result of horse-trading — a process that has yielded election of the worst regimes.
- Remove the Anti-NGO Clause in Operational Paragraph 11. If adopted, this clause would place non-governmental organizations under the constant threat of restrictions on their ability to speak out freely at the Council for human rights victims. In veiled language, the clause insists on “ensuring the most effective contribution” of NGOs and other observer entities. In the context of the relentless attempts by certain Member States to curb NGO participation, this provision is intended as a sword to be wielded against the historic right of NGOs to attend, observe and actively participate in all proceedings and debates of the new Human Rights Council, including by submission of oral and written statements. In recent years, several NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the Transnational Radical Party, were threatened with suspension by member states seeking to censor NGO criticism of their human rights records.
- Remove the Blasphemy Clause from the Preamble’s Paragraph 7. The clause that answers the demand of 56 Islamic States to prohibit blasphemous defamation of prophets and religions, following the cartoon controversy and the anti-Denmark riots, is anomalous, contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has no place in the charter for a new human rights body. Although watered down, the provision introduced in the current text would impose special demands on the media to respect religion. Contrary to previous UN statements on the matter, the text omits any balancing language in favor of freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Several other UN mechanisms are dealing with this issue and there is no reason for its inclusion in this text. The clause is an attempt to appease the violent agitators who burned buildings and killed innocent people with a grant of international legitimacy.
Finally, we call on the Community of Democracies, an alliance founded in 2000 and now numbering over 100 nations, and its Democracy Caucus at the UN, to take its rightful place in leading the push for the needed reforms. Democracies must stand up and unite — putting aside regional and other alliances — to make a lasting contribution to human rights and the UN. Failing to do so would result in a failure not only for the UN, but for the world’s democracies as well.
Transnational Radical Party
Representative in Geneva
World Union for Progressive Judaism
Representative in Geneva
Zudije Sej Shehu
Civil Rights Program Kosovo
Women in Europe for a Common Future
International Federation of Socialist Workers
Representative to the UN in Geneva
Women’s International Zionist Organization
Liaison Officer, Geneva
Vo Van Ai
Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam
Djingarey Maiga Diarra
Femmes et Droits Humains