UN to Vote on Key Human Rights Resolution for Iranian Victims

A critical resolution for Iran’s victims of gross human rights violations recently passed a key United Nations committee, and within weeks will be decided upon by the General Assembly. The vote last year on a similar text only barely passed. Today’s article below quotes UN Watch calling for a robust campaign to ensure broad support for the resolution, which would provide a moral boost to women’s rights defenders, bloggers and other human rights dissidents suffering from Iranian repression and discrimination.

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(Published today, December 1, 2008, in the Ottawa Citizen, Pg. A3; Edmonton Journal, Pg. A9; Calgary Herald, Pg. A4; Windsor Star, Pg. C6; Nanaimo Daily News, Pg. A7.)

Major aid recipients snub Canadian-led censure of Iran

13 ‘development partners’ fail to support human rights campaign at United Nations

By Steven Edwards

UNITED NATIONS – More than half the countries receiving long-term aid from Canada are among the bloc rebuffing a major Canadian-led human rights campaign at the United Nations, an analysis shows.

Thirteen “development partners” of the Canadian International Development Agency — the federal government’s aid arm — opposed Canada’s position in a key opening vote of this year’s bid to highlight Iran’s human rights abuses.

Afghanistan — Canada’s biggest all-time aid recipient and treated along with Haiti as a special case outside the “development partner” program — also sided with Iran.

While backing Canada at the UN is not among the federal government’s criteria for picking aid recipients, CIDA says one of its goals in dispensing aid is to help “developing countries … promote democracy and human rights.”

“CIDA is delivering on” this and other goals, the agency says on its website.

In descending order of CIDA funding last year, the 13 agency “partners” that voted with Iran to throw out the Canadian-led censure were Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Pakistan, Zambia, Malawi, Bolivia, Cambodia and Nicaragua.

Among non-partner recipients of Canadian aid that voted with Iran was South Africa, which CIDA’s planning report for this year and next says Canada will help to combat HIV/AIDS and build public institutions.

“For too long, supposedly friendly countries in the Third World — many of whom rely on the generosity of Canada and other western democracies — have used their UN votes to undermine vital international human rights initiatives, without our diplomats ever holding them to account,” said Hillel Neuer, Montreal-born head of UN Watch, a human rights monitoring group in Geneva. “Effective Canadian multilateral diplomacy is impossible if Ottawa won’t push the right buttons in its bilateral relationships.”

There are few campaigns at the 192-member UN that any one country can call its own, so Canada’s effective “ownership” of the Iranian human rights focus offers a rare opportunity to see which long-term recipients of Canadian aid share Canadian values.

Many western diplomats have long said Afghanistan — where Canada has committed $1.9 billion over 10 years in development aid, and where scores of Canadian lives have been lost — is in a tight spot because Iran’s proximity as a neighbour means Tehran has the potential to disrupt life in Afghanistan’s western provinces.

Less evident are reasons western countries consider valid that explain why other countries are siding with Iran.

The Canadian side needed all the help it could get on the first of this year’s votes because Iran, in the 2007 and 2006 sessions dealing with this issue, almost won the day.

Voting so far has taken place in a key UN committee, and the issue is now headed for a ruling next month in the General Assembly plenary.

“Every president whose country benefits from Canadian largesse, yet failed to support our resolution for Iran’s victims of oppression, should get an immediate visit from the resident Canadian ambassador, with the firm message that Canadians will be watching the final votes in December,” added Mr. Neuer. “If a little accountability is what it takes to win support for imprisoned dissidents and women’s rights defenders, then so be it.”

Canada, which spends about $4 billion a year on overseas humanitarian and development aid, has led the annual censure campaign in the General Assembly since the 2003 death of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi while in Iranian custody.

It has become one of Canada’s most important diplomatic responsibilities at the world body, and international human rights advocates say victims draw enormous solace from the knowledge that their suffering does not go unnoticed.

The Canadian-led draft resolution holds Iran’s Islamic regime to account for acts such as “torture … including flogging and amputations.” It also speaks of increasing discrimination in Iran against religious, ethnic and other minorities, particularly against people of the internationalist Baha’i faith, of whom there are 30,000 in Canada.

This first vote had been on Iran’s motion for “no action” on the Canadian-led censure draft, and while Iran lost, the margin was only 10 votes among 180 cast.

Afghanistan, South Africa and eight of the 13 “partners” that had voted for “no action” then went on to oppose the Canadian position in the actual censure vote.

Only Honduras and Ukraine among the CIDA partners backed the Canadian-led position throughout.

Calls and e-mails to CIDA for comment on the “partners” program went unanswered.

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