UN Watch Concerned About Stalled Geneva Bid for Special Session on Sri Lanka Killings
New York, May 12, 2009 — The expected reelection today of China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia to the U.N. Human Rights Council, despite their much-criticized human rights records, means that, “once again, it will be the foxes guarding the chickens,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights monitoring group.
Neuer said U.S. engagement with the council “could make somewhat of a difference, if the U.S. acts vigorously to protect principles now under assault, such as freedom of speech, and if it initiates resolutions and special sessions to put a spotlight on genocide in Sudan, religious repression in China, execution of gays in Iran, and other gross abuses that are today being completely ignored.”
Meanwhile, in Geneva, the council’s credibility is at stake as a bid to convene an emergency session on killings by Sri Lanka is failing to muster the needed support of 16 out of 47 council members.
So far, reports UN Watch, 14 have signed on: Argentina, Bosnia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, U.K. and Uruguay. But Ukraine, Japan and Chile have not.
Geneva insiders report that Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Geneva is threatening countries with a break in diplomatic relations if they suport the special session.
In New York at the General Assembly today, more than a third of the countries vying for seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council have dismal human rights records that should disqualify them from membership, according to a report released at the U.N. last week by UN Watch and Freedom House.
The report warns that at least four of the eight countries in question—Bangladesh, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia—are virtually guaranteed seats in today’s election because of a lack of competition from more democratic countries. Click here for new report.
“The U.N. squanders a golden opportunity to promote human rights when it once again chooses the worst offenders to run its highest human rights body,” said Neuer. “This will send absolutely the worst message to victims worldwide — oppressed women in Saudi Arabia, jailed journalists in Cubua — and lend false international credibility to repressive governments that routinely violate the rights of their own citizens.”
Dissidents and former political prisoners from Cuba and Saudi Arabia joined the two rights groups last week in rejecting the candidacies of their countries.
“As someone who suffered for 19 years from the Castro regime’s beatings, solitary confinement, and inhumane treatment, I urge the U.N. to reject Cuba’s candidacy next week,” said Guillermo Estevez, who showed the crowd his scars from beatings by Cuban authorities.
“For encouraging independent journalism in Cuba, agents harassed, stalked and beat me,” said 25-year old Liannis Merino, who left for the U.S. two years ago.
Ali Al-Ahmed of the Gulf Affairs Council said that Saudi Arabia, his native country, was one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, where basic freedoms are completely denied and women and minorities subjected to massive and systematic discrimination. Al-Ahmed and other members of his family were political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
The report by UN Watch and Freedom House came as the UN General Assembly today prepared to elect 18 new Human Rights Council members, or one-third of the body’s membership. Each regional group is apportioned a specific number of seats. However, in three of the five regional groups — Asia, Latin America and Western Europe — the number of countries running does not exceed the number of open seats.
The study described eight countries as not qualified, including Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia. All of these countries are incumbent candidates. In addition, the report questioned the eligibility of Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal, whose human rights records are mixed.
UN Watch and Freedom House evaluated each of the 20 candidates based on its record of human rights protection at home and its record of human rights promotion at the UN. The evaluation cited a range of sources including country rankings by Freedom House, UN Watch voting analyses, reports from Reporters San Frontières, The Economist, Democracy Index, and the Democracy Coalition Project.