Testimony at the UN
June 9, 2006 – UN Watch speech ( Text below / Audio)
Our speech before the June 9th preparatory session of the Human Rights Council, known as informal consultations, created a stir in Geneva. UN Watch’s request for a clarification of certain agenda proposals provoked the wrath of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s ambassador. Objecting, he chose to lash out at civil society generally, saying “NGOs need to be strictly monitored.” According to Le Temps, Geneva’s newspaper of record, this apparently caused consternation among some NGOs. Our full speech and its context follow below.
During two months of preparatory consultations for the UN Human Rights Council—the replacement of the discredited Commission on Human Rights—representatives from Syria, the Palestinian Authority, and other states in the 56-strong Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) insisted the new body perpetuate its predecessor’s special anti-Israel agenda item. They also insisted that there be a special item on “religious intolerance,” a reference to the Muslim outrage over the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005.
Regardless of the session’s announced topic of discussion, the OIC countries each time insisted on raising the same issues. They also insisted that the inaugural June session include these agenda items notwithstanding the expressed desire of many that the first session focus on creating mechanisms and avoid for now the controversy of country-specific situations.
At no point did any of the democratic countries call any of these countries on their blatant hypocrisy. No democracy spoke out about the hypocrisy of Syria—condemned by the UN for its occupation of Lebanon, which continues in various forms—complaining about the problem of occupation. No democracy spoke out about the hypocrisy of the ambassador representing the government of Hamas, a terrorist organization, complaining about human rights violations. And no democracy spoke out about the hypocrisy of countries like Saudi Arabia, whose schoolbooks preach hatred of Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim “infidels”, preaching to the West about religious intolerance.
The session on June 9th, expressly dedicated to the question of the agenda, was no different. Although the Netherlands, Canada and some other Western states commendably supported the Chair’s proposal of a neutral agenda, none spoke out against the rank hypocrisy that had been allowed to infect the Council before it even began.
UN Watch however, attempted to speak the truth. We had waited patiently for several sessions, holding back on our statement in deference to the Chair’s specific topic of discussion, even as many others, both states and NGO’s, expounded at length on sundry issues. Our June 9 statement—the full text of which follows below—recalled two separate NGO statements that supported an unbiased agenda. We then addressed the specific agenda proposals raised by Palestine, Syria and the others. Regrettably, following Syrian and Palestinian objections, the Chair cut us off, on the grounds that we “did not stick to the agenda” or “the subject of discussion.”
It was an ominous sign. Two months of endless demands, however inapt the forum, for biased treatment of Israel—in defiance of Kofi Annan’s plea (see note 2) that this would taint the new body—were ruled admissible. A few words in response—aimed at protecting the credibility of the new Council from the gross selectivity that undermined its predecessor, and at exposing hypocrisy—were ruled inadmissible.
Our own speech below is preceded by summaries of selected portions of statements supporting a special agenda item for Palestine (or “occupation” and “self-determination”) and for the matter of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005 (“religious intolerance”).
Palestine: We call attention of delegations to the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories which up to now no effective action has been taken to tackle it. We consider the humanitarian situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories as a matter of urgency, not normality and seek clarification for when in the program of 1st session, when will the Chair allocate time for consideration of the situation in Palestine and the manner it will be tackled. Palestine is interested in consensus and new frame of work. When a disaster is caused by nature we all stand to our feet and tackle it. But man-made disasters should not be accepted and should be tackled. On the top of Israeli occupation there is also a state of siege imposed on the Palestinian people. If it was influential countries or their friends we would have seen reactions. We are the victims and we reach to all of you without exceptions in order to tackle and overcome the humanitarian situation in Palestine, which is one of the worst violations of human rights. The new Human Rights Council should apply human rights to everyone across the board.
Pakistan: The paper of the Organization of the Islamic Conference paper was circulated to all for the agenda of the 1st session. Item on violation of human rights in Palestine and other occupied territories should be discussed in first session. To follow up from Ambassador of Palestine, this is a strong recommendation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Morocco (on behalf of African Group): The African Group has a proposed agenda. Item 8 would be on occupied Arab territories, as emphasized by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Palestine. Item 9 would be about promoting tolerance among civilizations and combating incitement.
Egypt: We have confidence in the Organization of the Islamic Conference and regional groups to represent our opinion.
Syria: The Asian group is working on a paper that includes the issue of occupied Arab territories. The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will be important at this stage. We hope that this report will include the question of occupation and will allow for interactive dialogue. Our interpretation of Item 4 [of the Chair’s proposed agenda] will mean implementation of OP 6 [of the GA resolution creating the Council], which stipulates that all functions of the Commission will be transferred to the Council. We put importance on Item 5 [self-determination] and Item 8 [“Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine”] being transferred to the Council. We wait to see how this will be done.
Malaysia: Notwithstanding procedural needs, we agree with the Organization of the Islamic Conference paper and need to address the situation of grave human rights violations in Palestinian territories.
Austria (European Union): We support the chair’s approach to find a consensual way to address concerns of the Palestinians.
Pakistan: The Organization of the Islamic Conference has also proposed an agenda and program of work. We have indicated our preference that certain issues be included, specifically occupation and self-determination.
Sri Lanka: We have heard the Palestinian appeal and we thank the Chair for finding a way to accommodate it in the June session.
Cyprus: We propose an agenda item on foreign occupation including Palestine, Syrian territory [Golan] and Cyprus. Under OP 6, the HRC should deal with human rights violations as a result of the continuing occupation.
Lebanon: We have two priorities: justice and due process. Item 4 does not allow all human rights violations. We welcome fresh start, but there should be some continuity. The High Commissioner’s report should look into the result of occupation, which still remains significant in Lebanon. Occupation is always related to human rights, so we give it priority on the agenda of the Council. When we do not work on basis of justice, things tend to get worse.
Cuba: There must be room for addressing Occupied Territories.
UN Watch: [click for audio] Mr. Chairman, we recently submitted our paper to the Extranet of the OHCHR. It addresses several key points, including the importance of universal peer review, NGO participation, and urgent situations. It also calls attention to the importance of safeguarding the Term Limit rule applicable to special procedures. This rule mandates that “any individual’s tenure in a given mandate, whether thematic or country specific, will be no more than six years.” Only three mandate-holders are affected by this. After all mandates are renewed, the Chair should be empowered to make the necessary replacements this summer for these three mandates.
The position of NGOs on the matter of the agenda is clear. At the Informal Consultation of November 22, 2005, a statement on this matter was delivered by a broad and diverse spectrum of 38 NGOs, including the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the African Services Committee, the World Federalist Movement, Anglican Consultative Council, International League for Human Rights, Socialist International Women, and UN Watch. The NGOs were unequivocal: the agenda should be “based on the principle that every Member State is entitled to equality before the law.”
The statement by Human Rights Watch of May 19, 2006 is equally clear: “Establishing a separate agenda item for any one country would smack of the politicization and selectivity criticized by many member states during the negotiations.”
Mr. Chairman, I believe the broad NGO community will support your proposed draft agenda as a logical way to begin the new Council. It conforms with the principles of universality and equality in the UN Charter and in GA Resolution 60/251.
Statements have been delivered recently by the OIC, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine and others. Under the principles of equity, and consistent with the spirit of the new Council that member states show readiness to submit their own records for review first, several aspects of these statements require clarification.
The Syrian representative urges the inclusion of “occupation”. It would be helpful to know if their proposed item for the first session will include Syria’s decades-long occupation of the Arab territory of Lebanon, which was condemned as illegal by recent Security Council resolutions. We need clarification as to whether the proposed item would address this ongoing . . . [Chair interrupts following Syrian objection]
Syria: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A point of order. As the representative of UN Watch did not respect the usual way of speaking as well as the subject, we thank you. That is why our delegation asks for proper organization of interventions of NGOs in this council because sometimes their statements go beyond the scope. NGOs should be strictly monitored.
UN Watch: [continuing] Palestine mentioned the urgent situation in Palestine. We would appreciate clarification as to whether this includes its government’s celebration of terrorist attacks. The OIC Paper of 31 May 2006. . . [Chair interrupts following Palestinian objection]