‘Elections without competition were phony’
Geneva, May 13, 2010 — Human rights groups condemned today’s election of Libya, Angola, Mauritania, Qatar and Malaysia to the UN Human Rights Council, countries rated as having poor records on human rights. (See full voting results at bottom.)
“We had phony elections today because there was no competition,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, whose group heads a coalition of 37 human rights organizations that campaigned against Libya’s candidacy. (Click here for joint NGO appeal sent this morning to all 192 UN member states.)
“By electing serial human rights violators, the UN violated its own criteria, basic logic and morality,” said Neuer.
“Watching Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi judge others on human rights will turn the U.N. Human Rights Council into a joke. Libya received the least votes after our campaign, but that’s little consolation.”
Neuer said that the council now drops from a membership that is 49% democratic, according to the annual survey by Freedom House, to a new low of only 40% (20 of 47 countries). Those figures ought to raise alarm bells,” said Neuer.
Based on past voting, the new membership would likely adopt the council’s annual, Islamic-sponsored resolution on “defamation of religion” by a vote of 22 to 18. In March, the current membership passed it by a vote of 20 to 17.
“The Libyan government gave a pledge stating that it respects human rights, but in truth it’s the same regime that brutally scapegoated five Bulgarian nurses for a crime they did not commit, that tortures dissidents like the late Fathi Eljahmi, and that continues to hold hostage an innocent Swiss businessman.” (See Libyan pledge under country link here.)
“In the past year, Qaddafi declared from the UN podium that he rejects the principles of the UN Charter and called for a Jihad against Switzerland. How can he now be elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council?”
The council was created in 2006 to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, one year after then UN chief Kofi Annan said it had become rife with “politicization” and “selectivity,” with a “credibility deficit” that cast “a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”
One aim of the reform was to prevent the most serious human rights offenders from becoming members. But it has been widely criticized over the past four years for failing to change many of the commission’s practices, such as turning a blind eye to most of the world’s worst abuses while criticizing Israel more than any other country.
To date, the council has adopted 40 censure resolutions, of which 33 have targeted Israel. Out of nine emergency sessions that criticized countries, six were against Israel.
Despite widely reported killings during the past year in Iran, China and Nigeria, the council failed to respond with any resolution, special session or inquiry.
In May 2009, after Sri Lanka killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, the council praised the government for its “promotion and protection of all human rights.”
Since 2007, the council gradually eliminated its expert monitors on the human rights situations in Belarus, Congo, Cuba and Liberia.
Countries lobby hard to avoid being “named and shamed” by resolutions that have the power to shine an international spotlight. Influential countries, including members of the Security Council, are rarely scrutinized. Nor are members of large voting blocs such as the African Group and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The Geneva-based council gives dominance to Africa and Asia, whose 26 seats grant them an automatic majority. Western Europe and North America together are represented by seven countries.
A joint report last week by the human rights groups Freedom House and UN Watch called on all 192 member states to vote against Libya, Angola, Mauritania, Qatar, Malaysia, based on an examination of their record in protecting human rights at home, as well as on their UN human rights voting record. Click here for report with analysis of all 14 candidates.
The candidacies of Uganda, Thailand, Ecuador and Moldova were rated as “questionable.”
Only Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Maldives and Guatemala were deemed to meet the council’s stated criteria of promotion and protection of human rights.
Full results of today’s election of 14 countries as members of the UN Human Rights Council, as officially released by the UN:
Africa: Angola – 170; Mauritania – 167; Uganda-164; Libya- 155
Asia: Maldives- 185; Thailand – 182; Malaysia – 179; Qatar – 177
Eastern European: Moldova – 175; Poland – 171
Latin American and Caribean: Ecuador – 180; Guatemala – 180; Peru – 1
Western European and other: Spain – 177; Switzerland – 175
- Joint Appeal by 37 NGOs Opposed to Libya’s Canadidacy, headed by UN Watch, with many African NGOs, and Libyan victim groups, urging the U.S. and E.U. representatives at the UN to block Libya from winning a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. “We trust that the influential countries whom you represent can and will lead a successful campaign to persuade a minimum of 96 UN member states to oppose this murderous, repressive and racist regime from winning a seat on the Human Rights Council.”
- Testimony last week by Mohamed Eljahmi: “My brother Fathi Eljahmi was murdered by the Qaddafi regime because he… called for free speech, free enterprise, free press, a constitution, a government for the people and by the people… Electing Libya to membership in the UN Human Rights Council is wrong. It provides legitimacy to Qadhafi, bruises the Council’s credibility and insults the Libyan people.”
- 2010 Analysis of UN Human Rights Council perfomance over the past year, rating countries on how they vote.
- Report released last week by UN Watch and Freedom House, rating all 14 candidates in the UNHRC elections, and calling on member states to reject Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Mauritania, and Qatar, deemed as non-qualified based on their record on human rights and UN voting. Highlights below.
Human Rights and Voting Records of “Not Qualified” Countries
Human Rights Record
Angola is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. Long-delayed legislative elections held in September 2008 but were not free and fair. Media restrictions became less stringent after 2002, but despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists remain subject to intimidation, dismissal, detention, and legal sanction by authorities, resulting in self-censorship. Defamation of the president or his representatives and libel are criminal offenses, punishable by imprisonment or fines. The only daily newspaper, national radio station, and dominant television stations are state owned. Lengthy pretrial detention is common, and prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic services. Despite increased resources and human rights training, security forces continue to commit abuses with impunity.
UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Angola abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran and North Korea, was absent during the vote condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), and voted in favor of “Combating defamation of religions.” At the HRC, Angola voted to shield Sri Lanka from condemnation on the killings of thousands of civilians during the winter of 2009. It also failed to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the human rights experts on the situations in DRC and Sudan. Though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it abstained during the Council’s vote on the DPRK.
Human Rights Record
Libya is ranked Not Free by Freedom House and was one of only nine countries to receive a worst possible score of a 7 for both political rights and civil liberties in 2009, qualifying it as one of the “world’s most repressive societies.” Power theoretically lies with a system of people’s committees and the indirectly elected General People’s Congress, but in practice those structures are manipulated to ensure the continued dominance of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who holds no official title. Political parties have been illegal for more than 35 years and organizing or joining anything akin to a political party is punishable by long prison terms and even the death sentence. There is no independent press. The regime hardened its monopoly on media outlets in mid-2009 with the nationalization of Al-Ghad media group, which was established in 2007 by al-Qadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and encompassed the country’s only quasi-independent newspapers and radio stations. The government controls the country’s only internet service provider. Demonstrations that are allowed to take place typically support the aims of the regime. The law allows for the establishment of nongovernmental organizations, but those that have been granted authorization to operate are directly or indirectly linked to the government.
UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Libya voted against the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of “Combating defamation of religions.” It was not a member of the HRC.
Human Rights Record
Mauritania is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who removed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi from office in an August 2008 military coup, won presidential elections held in July 2009. The military imposed new media restrictions after the 2008 coup, beginning with the takeover of state broadcast media. In May 2009, the police assaulted a group of journalists and prevented them from covering a sit-in by the National Association of Lawyers. Amnesty International reports that the police violently broke up two peaceful protests in April 2009. The judicial system is heavily influenced by the government. Prison conditions are harsh, and security forces suspected of human rights abuses operate with impunity.
UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Mauritania voted against the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran, abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of “Combating defamation of religions.” It was not a member of the HRC.
Human Rights Record
Qatar is ranked Not Free by Freedom House with a score of a 6 out of a worst possible 7 for political rights and a 5 out of a worst possible 7 for civil liberties. The head of state is the emir, currently Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose family enjoys a monopoly on political power. The emir appoints a prime minister and the cabinet. Only a small percentage of the country’s population—about 200,000 people out of 1,409,000 residents—are allowed to vote or hold office. The government does not permit political parties. While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, content in the print and broadcast media is influenced by leading families, and journalists practice a high degree of self-censorship. Qataris have access to the internet, but the government censors content and blocks access to sites it deems unacceptable. While the constitution grants freedom of assembly, protests are rare, and the government restricts the public’s ability to organize demonstrations. All NGOs need state permission to operate, and the government closely monitors their activities. Despite constitutional guarantees, the judiciary is not independent in practice. The majority of Qatar’s judges are foreign nationals, who are appointed and removed by the emir.
UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Qatar voted against the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran, abstained on the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea and voted in favor of “Combating defamation of religions.” It was not a member of the HRC. However, during the preceding 2008-2009 year, Qatar voted at the HRC for the May 2009 resolution praising Sri Lanka after it had killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, and though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it refused to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the independent monitors on Congo and Sudan.
Human Rights Record
Malaysia is ranked Partly Free by Freedom House with a score of 4 on the scale of 1 (high) to 7 (low) for both political rights and civil liberties. In recent years, the government and law enforcement bodies have suffered a series of corruption scandals, despite the government’s anticorruption campaign pledges. Judicial independence is compromised by extensive executive influence. Arbitrary or politically motivated verdicts are not uncommon, with the most prominent case being the convictions of Anwar Ibrahim in 1999 and 2000. Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed but restricted in practice. The 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) gives the government the authority to revoke licenses without judicial review. It also requires that publications and printers obtain annual operating permits, encouraging self-censorship and limiting investigative journalism. With traditional media so heavily restricted, the internet has emerged as a primary outlet for free discussion and for exposing cases of political corruption. The government responded in 2007 with an escalating crackdown, including the first defamation charges against bloggers. Religious freedom is restricted in Malaysia, as practicing a version of Islam other than Sunni Islam is prohibited. Freedoms of assembly and association are also limited on the grounds of maintaining security and public order. There is no constitutional provision specifically banning torture, and police have been known to torture prisoners and use excessive force or inhumane tactics in conducting searches. Despite government initiatives and continued gains, women are still underrepresented in politics, the professions, and the civil service. Violence against women remains a serious problem.
UN Voting Record
In the past year at the GA, Malaysia voted against the resolutions condemning the human rights situations in Iran, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea, and voted in favor of “Combating defamation of religions.” It was not a member of the HRC. However, during the preceding 2008-2009 year ago, Malaysia voted at the HRC for the May 2009 resolution praising Sri Lanka after it had killed an estimated 20,000 civilians, and though it joined consensus on the resolution condemning the human rights situation in Myanmar (Burma), it refused to support the resolutions that extended the mandates of the independent monitors on Congo and Sudan.