PRESS RELEASE

Geneva, May 15, 2006 – UN Watch today called on the 47 countries of the newly elected UN Human Rights Council to take immediate actions necessary to ensure that next month’s inaugural session creates a robust mechanism to review violations, upholds the traditional participation of non-governmental organizations, and addresses urgent situations of gross violations such as the mass killings in Darfur. At a press conference in Geneva presided by UN Watch Chairman Ambassador Alfred H. Moses, the Swiss NGO urged the new rights body to avoid the widely acknowledged pitfalls of its discredited predecessor, “politicization and selectivity,” citing as a classic example the disproportionate and often obsessive singling out of Israel.  (Full UN Watch statement and membership charts )

On the occasion of its annual board meeting in Geneva, the UN Watch briefing panel — consisting of Ambassador Moses, elder Finnish statesman and UN Watch board member Max Jakobson, Executive Director Hillel Neuer and Assistant Executive Director Elizabeth K. Cassidy — delivered an evaluation of the new Council members, and a call to action to ensure the Council’s emergence as a “credible, effective human rights body.”

Neuer, speaking on behalf of UN Watch, expressed disappointment that —  according to Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, as well as the global press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders — no less than 47% of the countries on the new Council failed to meet accepted democratic standards.  “It’s an 8% improvement over the old Commission, which is a welcome step forward. But this can hardly be described as a real break with the past,” said Neuer.  UN Secretary-General Annan’s reform report last year described the former Human Rights Commission’s “credibility deficit” resulting from the membership of notorious abusers.  “Once again,” said Neuer, “even if it’s one or two less, we still have the foxes guarding the henhouse.”

In addition, UN Watch pointed out that more than half of the nations on the nascent body have voted at the UN to oppose resolutions protecting the victims of the Darfur atrocities. Neuer called on these states to “put human rights ahead of allegiance to outdated regional alliances,” warning that “failure by the Council to take action against the world’s greatest human rights crime would inflict fatal damage to the new body’s credibility — right from the start.”

Finally, UN Watch said the exclusion of Israel from any of the UN’s five regional groups in Geneva undermined the UN Charter’s equality principle and the integrity of the world body.  Applauding Annan for his May 4th call on the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) to admit Israel into its group (as it already does in New York), the monitoring organization urged UN Human Rights High Commissioner Louise Arbout to lead the Geneva effort to ensure that the new Human Rights Council avoids becoming tarred by the segregation of one country outside any of the Council’s regional groups. “While the Council must hold all states accountable, the barring of Israel alone from membership in any of its five groups will send a dangerous message of built-in, a priori inequality,” said Neuer.

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