Reform or Regression? Latest from the U.N. Human Rights Council

Discredited Council Opens Second Year

The UN Human Rights Council is in the middle of a three-week session in Geneva, its first after the conclusion of a year-long process of reform and institution building. The first ten days of the Council were largely technical, with discussion of the council’s mandate-holders, the new Advisory Committee, and of its new mechanism, Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under which all states are supposed to be reviewed. The council debated the appointment process for the experts who will serve on the Advisory Committee and hold the various country and thematic mandates. One issue was how to balance merit factors — education, experience in the field of human rights, and field work — with other considerations such as gender balance and regional diversity. A compromise is expected to emerge later in the session.

Third World Countries to be Reviewed Last

Wednesday the Council tested a system for randomly selecting countries for the UPR mechanism. While the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was selected in the trial session, council secretary Eric Tistounet assured the member states that the least developed countries — a category that includes Sudan, Burma, and Bangladesh — will not be selected for the UPR’s debut review in the spring of 2008.

Islamic Bloc Accuses West of “Defamation of Religion” 

In a clever maneuver, Pakistan on behalf of the Islamic group and Egypt managed to have the report on “religious defamation” placed under the agenda item dealing with the Durban Declaration. Of course, that document says nothing about “religious defamation,” which is the banner under which the 56-strong Islamic bloc seeks to impose its agenda upon all public debate and discourse. Any criticism of Islamic extremism, or any free discussion by Muslims of their own religion — whether in the West or locally in the Middle East — is all liable to be branded as “defaming Islam.”

The move to slip the phony “religious defamation” issue — the concept is not only foreign but contrary to international human rights law, where individuals, not religions, are the bearers of rights — is part and parcel of the larger Islamic campaign to further dominate the agenda of the Durban Review process that will lead up to a major world conference in 2009. At the Geneva opening a few weeks ago of the Durban Preparatory Committee, the Islamic countries overrode EU objections and in reopening the Durban declaration in several ways in order to introduce new accusations against the West for “defaming” Islam, for persecuting Muslims and the like. See our “Durban II” posts here.

Self-Determination

Under the old Human Rights Commission, self-determination was a stand-alone agenda item. No longer. Now there is only a sub-item called “Self-Determination of the Palestinian people.” It gets discussed tomorrow under the larger Item 7 dedicated to the permanent indictment of Israel. Truth be told, even when self-determination was a universal debate, the only resolution to emerge was one for the Palestinians.

Old Debates: Algeria vs. Morocco, India vs. Pakistan

Still, self-determination did come up in debates under agenda item 3 on the “promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.” Pakistan and India traded accusations over the status of Kashmir, and Algeria and Morocco went at it over the disputed Western Sahara, with the Moroccan ambassador accusing his Algerian counterparts of “schizophrenia.”

Council President Allows Cuba to Stifle Human Rights NGO

Council president Doru Romulus Costea of Romania, elected in June and now presiding over his first major session, suspended the right of Centrist Democrat International to speak after Cuba interrupted with an objection. The representative of the Castro regime demanded “an investigation to be carried out” into the organization, accusing it of “fraudulent activities”. A woman referred to by the NGO as human rights activist “is in fact a Russian who is an agent of US intelligence, using the money of that government against Cuba.” The duly accredited NGO was accused of being a “fraudulent organization” engaged in “politically motivated activities.” Their statement was “full of lies.”

To the astonishment of human rights activists in Geneva, council president Costea sided with the Cubans and cut short the NGO. Click for video.

Up Ahead

The real action comes in the session’s remaining 10 days. Tomorrow the council will address its first country situation with — what else — a special agenda item targeting Israel. Only on Monday will the world’s 191 other countries have the chance to be addressed, though even then only one country — Sudan — is certain to be raised. On Friday the council will discuss Durban and the “defamation of religion” report as well as more on UPR (see above).

Monitor of Sudan on Chopping Block

On Monday the council will begin to “review” mandates. What this means is that the experts who report on violations in Haiti, Burundi, Congo (DRC) and Sudan are on the chopping block. The other five or so will also be “reviewed” later in the year.

To be sure, the council next week will also review the mandates of the expert on the right to food — Jean Ziegler — and the expert on indigenous people. Both are non-threatening to the tyrannical regimes that dominate the council and are therefore safe. Ziegler, for example, is a certified apologist to dictators and one of the council’s darlings. However, the thematic mandates that invetigate real abuses — such as torture — are expected this year to come under attack.

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