“UN’s last chance to save the Human Rights Council from itself,” says UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer
New York, Nov. 2, 2007 — A coalition of 27 non-governmental organizations is urging senior officials and member states of the U.N. to oppose a set of proposed changes to the Human Rights Council that would end that body’s scrutiny of abuses in Cuba and Belarus, obstruct resolutions that name specific countries for violations, and institute an Islamic-sponsored initiative to permanently censure Israel under a fixed agenda item.
In a letter sent today (see full text below) to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the General Assembly, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and all 192 UN ambassadors, the NGO coalition—including the Geneva-based UN Watch, Freedom House, Directorio Democratico Cuba, and 24 other groups from Switzerland, Italy, Pakistan, Australia and Nigeria—urged the General Assembly to excise the regressive elements of the proposal that on Monday will be presented in person by Human Rights Council president Romulus De Costea.
The General Assembly will be asked next week to validate the much-criticized June 2007 changes adopted by the Human Rights Council, its subsidiary, by “taking note” of a report that contains the package. The General Assembly has full discretion to veto or modify any council decision. In the past, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) successfully overturned several resolutions of its subsidiary, the discredited and now-defunct Commission on Human Rights. This past summer, ECOSOC reversed decisions by its Committee on NGOs in order to accredit two gay rights organizations.
“At a time when free speech and other basic liberties are increasingly under assault by Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus and Fidel Castro in Cuba, the proposal to fire the independent UN human rights experts who report on violations by both regimes—and to eliminate these mandates forever—is simply unconscionable,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “Despite what many thought in June, it’s not too late—UN officials and member states have one last chance to save the Human Rights Council from itself.”
According to Neuer, “the proposed changes to council procedures would also make it harder than ever before to introduce country resolutions against Sudan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and other serial abusers; intimidate the remaining ten independent experts through a restrictive ‘code of conduct’; and breach the promise of a clean agenda for the new council.”
Under the proposal, Section 7 of the council’s permanent agenda, the result of intense pressure from Arab and Islamic states, would revive what the UN Department of Public Information described last year as “the agenda item targeting Israel.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly criticized the proposed agenda item in a statement issued on June 20, 2007—for which he was rebuked by the Islamic bloc in the council plenary a month later—and High Commissioner Arbour, in letters sent to various NGOs, has called the item “selective.”
“To top it off,” said Neuer, “the June pact was rushed through in the darkness of night through unprecedented irregularities that included denying Canadian representative Terrence Cormier his right to vote.” For photos and a detailed timeline of the June drama at the council, click here .
Neuer noted that a majority of the General Assembly “proved twice last year that it can do the right thing for the victims in Belarus,” with a vote in December to censure the Lukashenko government for violations, and then successfully blocking its bid for a Human Rights Council seat in May.
JOINT NGO LETTER SENT TO 192 UN MISSIONS, SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON, HIGH COMMISSIONER LOUISE ARBOUR, AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Concerning next week’s General Assembly debate and proposed resolution on the Human Rights Council, on behalf of the 27 undersigned non-governmental organizations, we urge you to support amendment of the proposed text as follows, with our additions in bold.
Joint NGO Proposal: General Assembly Resolution on the Human Rights Council
The General Assembly,
Taking note of Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007,
1. Welcomes the text entitled ‘United Nations Human Rights Council: Institution-Building’, as contained in the annex to the present resolution, including its appendices, subject to the following amendments:
- a) The mandate of the independent expert to investigate the human rights situation in Cuba shall not be eliminated, and is hereby renewed;
- b) The mandate of the independent expert to investigate the human rights situation in Belarus shall not be eliminated, and is hereby renewed;
- c) Section 117(d) of the resolution, purporting to impose restrictions on the effective introduction of country resolutions, is hereby repealed; and
- d) Item 7 of the Agenda and Programme of Work, purporting to institutionalize the permanent indictment of Israel as a special agenda item, and which has been criticized by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human rights Louise Arbour, is hereby repealed.
- Expresses its grave concern that on 19 June 2007, Canada, a Council member, was denied its right to vote on the resolution, and that the resolution was never put to the plenary for action, and calls on the Council in future sessions to fully respect the rules and procedures of the General Assembly.
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Directorio Democratico Cubano
Darfur Peace and Development Centre
Malka Claire Marcovich
Mouvement pour l’Abolition de la Prostitution et de la Pornographie
et de toutes formes de violences sexuelles et discriminations sexistes (MAPP)
Abdul Wahab Khan
Environmental Protection Society (EPS)
Angela C. Wu
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Paul Usi Elomien
Community Social Welfare Foundation
International Federation of Social Workers
Roy W. Brown
International Humanist and Ethical Union
Ingenieurs du Monde
Deputy Secretary General
International Religious Liberty Association
Ana Maria Stame Cervone
Centrist Democratic International
Yolanda L. Jackson
Women’s Sports Foundation
Dr. Harris O. Schoenberg
UN Reform Advocates
B’nai B’rith International
Pax Christi Australia
Women’s Board – ECS
National & Overseas Coordinator
International Council of Jewish Women
Association of World Citizens
Representative to the UN in Geneva
Universal Esperanto Association
International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists
International Relations Executive
R. François Garaï
World Union for Progressive Judaism
Asociazione Iroko Onlus