PRESS RELEASE

Islamic states call for “streamlining relationship” with Ban Ki-moon, accuse him of “singling out” council measures that single out Israel

Geneva, July 25, 2007 — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was rebuked by Islamic states in the Human Rights Council today for having criticized its decision to institutionalize the censure of Israel, singled out under the council’s new procedures as the only country permanently indicted by a standing agenda item.

“We’re witnessing a dangerous attempt to censor the highest official of the United Nations, an effort to silence anyone who exposes the council’s repeated breaches of its own principles of equality, universality, and non-selectivity,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a human rights monitoring group based in Geneva.

In the council’s first meeting since Ban Ki-moon issued his June 20th appeal for equal treatment of all situations, Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the U.N.’s 57-strong Organization of the Islamic Conference, told the council it would have to “streamline its relationship” with the Secretary-General. The representative of the Musharraf government reproached Mr. Ban for his statement that, according to Pakistan, criticized the “consensual adoption of our agenda” and was guilty of “singling out the issue of Palestine.” He said “we should remove this anomaly through dialogue.”

Egypt, whose recent election to the council drew sharp criticism from activists at home and abroad, said that Mr. Ban’s statement “is a very unfortunate development and we would seek further clarification on that statement and the appropriate means of the Council to verify the authenticity of that statement and its context.”

In addition to its recent adoption of an Islamic-sponsored agenda item that singles out Israel for permanent scrutiny, the council, since being established in June 2006, has directed all of its country censures, now numbering eleven, against the Jewish state. The only other country addressed has been Sudan, though instead of issuing condemnations, the council has praised Khartoum’s “cooperation” and repeatedly called for further reports.

“It is somewhat ironic,” said Neuer, “for the Arab and Islamic states to object that their measures singling out Israel are themselves being ‘singled out’ for unfair treatment by the Secretary-General.”

Canada’s representative defended Mr. Ban. “I’m concerned that colleagues raised objections to the Secretary-General’s remarks on the outcome of the Council’s fifth session,” he said in a speech to the council. “We have to acknowledge that the Secretary-General is entitled to his views, and it would ill behoove this council to appear to be constraining or discouraging the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression, a fundamental freedom we are committed to uphold.”

Canada vociferously objected in June when the “consensus” adoption of the new reforms was achieved over Canada’s clear opposition, and by means of procedural irregularities  that included the non-submission of the package to a promised up-and-down vote.

When the General Assembly voted on the March 2006 reform of the council, U.N. officials promised  that the agenda item “targeting Israel” — a notorious feature of the defunct Commission on Human Rights — would be replaced by a “clean slate.”

When that promise was broken, Mr. Ban issued his statement. In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has yet to issue any similar public declaration, though in recent letters to activist groups she acknowledged that “the specific, explicit itemization of one situation is selective.”

“The U.N., and Geneva in particular, would do well to hear more, not less, independent voices of principle,” said Neuer. “We trust that High Commissioner Arbour will follow Mr. Ban’s example to speak truth to power, and begin to vigorously oppose measures that trample the credibilty of the council.”

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