Existing violators incude China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia
Geneva, May 17, 2007 — After a year of failed reforms and disappointment at the the UN’s Human Rights Council, the dominant bloc of non-democratic members led by China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia today is likely to welcome more abusers into their ranks. “Just when it seemed things in Geneva could not possibly get any worse, we may reach a new low,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a human rights monitoring organization based in Geneva.
(See UN Watch report on Council’s first year, Dawn of A New Era?)
Neuer said that if any of Angola, Belarus, Egypt or Qatar is elected, they must take immediate and concrete steps to prove they meet their member obligations under the GA resolution that created the Council to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”
“In light of the deeply entrenched repression in these four countries—Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar—UN Watch considers them not qualified for Council membership,” said Neuer, the group’s executive director. (See assessment of Council candidates here. ) “If, however, these regimes nevertheless wish to try to prove that they are legitimate members, they must—at a minimum—take concrete actions immediately.” According to Neuer, these include:
Angola—Council campaign pledge said that it “fights for a wide implementation of the human rights consecrated in the international instruments to which the country is a part” and promised, among other things, to “mainstream human rights throughout [Angolan] society” and “promote the rule of law”. Angola must:
• Fully cooperate with the three Council Special Rapporteurs, which it has agreed in principle to allow to visit (the special rapporteurs on adequate housing, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief).
• Dismiss the espionage charges against Dr. Sarah Wykes of the British NGO Global Witness for researching corruption in the oil sector, or at the very least permit Dr. Wykes to be defended against the charges by legal counsel of her choice.
• Allow private radio outlets to broadcast nationwide.
Belarus—Council campaign pledge promised to “do its utmost to ensure that all international human rights instruments to which it is a party are fully observed.” Belarus must:
• Release from prison Alexander Kozulin, the 2006 opposition Presidential candidate, who is currently serving a 5 ½ year term for peacefully protesting against the unfree and unfair election.
• Announce that it will allow a visit by, and fully cooperate with, the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, whom Belarus has stonewalled since his appointment in 2004, as well as the other UN human rights investigators with outstanding visit requests.
• Remove the prohibition on funding and cease other efforts to limit the activities of the only permitted human rights organization, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and also allow other independent non-governmental organizations to operate freely.
Egypt—Council campaign pledge promised to “upgrade the level of its implementation of all human rights instruments which it has ratified,” including by “preserv[ing] the freedom of the press,” “strengthening the independence of the judiciary,” and “deepening its democracy.” Egypt must:
• Release journalist Huwaida Taha Mitwalli, who is currently imprisoned for attempting to report on the government’s use of torture, as well as bloggers including Abd al-Monim Mahmud and Abd al-Karim Nabil Sulaiman (a.k.a. Karim Amer),who have been imprisoned for exercising their internationally protected right to freedom of expression.
• Announce that it will permit visits by, and fully cooperate with, the five Council Special Rapporteurs that have outstanding visit requests dating back as far as 1996 (the Special Rapporteurs on torture, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the independence of judges and lawyers).
• Rescind its order to close the offices of the workers’ rights organization Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.
Qatar—Council campaign pledge said that “the goal of promoting and protecting human rights” is the “cornerstone” of its policies. Qatar must:
• Announce that it will sign and ratify the fundamental human rights treaties the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which it is not a party.
• Commit to end censoring peaceful expression on the Internet, for example by unblocking the Arab-American online newspaper The Arab Times.
• Permit independent human rights organizations to operate freely in the country.
“Those of us who want the new Council to work must ensure that it is composed of members who, as Kofi Annan envisioned, are serious about human rights,” said Neuer.
Contrary to what was envisioned by Annan and reform advocates, the next June session is likely to conclude the year of transition by eliminating many of the independent human rights investigators, including those on Belarus and Cuba, and will adopt a special agenda item to permanently indict Israel.