GENEVA, March 20, 2017 – Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Bolivia, UAE, Iran, Bangladesh, and Venezuela today attempted to silence UN human rights council testimony by the head of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights non-governmental organization, after he criticized or called for the removal of these countries from the council.
However, Neuer thanked the USA, the UK, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, and Latvia for successfully defending the right of UN Watch to speak. Full text of the speech and interruptions below.
UN Human Rights Council, debate under Agenda Item 8, Vienna Declaration of Human Rights
delivered by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch
Today we ask: Is the world living up to the Vienna Declaration, which reaffirms basic human rights?
We ask the government of Turkish President Erdogan, if it cares about human rights, why did they just fire more than one hundred thousand teachers, university deans, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and public servants?
We ask Pakistan, when will they release Asia Bibi, the innocent, Christian mother of five, now on death row on the absurd charge of blasphemy?
We ask Saudi Arabia, when will you end gender apartheid? When will you stop oppressing all religious practice that is not Wahhabist Islam? When will you release Raif Badawi, serving 10 years in prison for the crime of advocating a free society?
We welcome the Secretary-General’s new pledge of UN reform. That is why today, pursuant to Article 8 of Resolution 60/251, we call for the complete removal of Saudi Arabia from this Council.
So long as 1.3 billion people are denied their basic freedoms, we call for the removal of China. So long as human rights are abused by Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, and UAE, we call for their removal.
So long as the Maduro government imprisons democracy leaders like Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas, and causes its millions of citizens to scavenge for food, we call for the removal of Venezuela.
So long as the Castro government jails Eduardo Cardet, a prisoner of conscience, we call for the complete removal of Cuba from this Council.
[Cuba interrupts on a point of order, followed by 8 other countries]
Cuba: We are taking the floor under Article 13 of the UN General Assembly Rules, Point of Order. We heard the speaker, he has just taken the floor in this debate and questioned the membership of the Human Rights Council, particularly our membership but also other countries. The decision on granting membership is up to the member states of the United Nations alone, pursuant to which they freely decide and elect who will be a member. And bear in mind resolution 96/31 of ECOSOC and resolution 60 of the UNGA, we would ask you to call the speaker to order and that we should confine our comments to what is on agenda. It’s important that they are called to order, bearing in mind the prerogatives that NGOs enjoy.
Bangladesh: We also have the same position as Cuba with regard to the intervention made by the NGO, UN Watch. We note with very high concern that the language used by this particular organization is not only unacceptable, it is abhorrent. The basic premise of questioning the membership of the Human Rights Council with regard to a number of states is out-hand rejected. We believe that this is a matter of serious concern, the continued participation of this organization in the proceedings of this Council is, to our view, not desirable, and we would ask the Human Rights Council to take a unified view on this matter.
Venezuela: I wanted to support the points of order raised by Cuba and Bangladesh. My delegation would also like to state in writing its position. We reject what has been said by this political organization called UN Watch. They use this session to address political issues which have nothing to do with promoting human rights. Vice-President, we are under agenda item 8, the general debate, this is a thematic debate, it has to do with the Vienna Action Plan. We therefore reject the fact that this political body violates the spirit of cooperation that needs to prevail in our work. President, I agree that we need to respect freedom of expression and freedom to disagree with a country, but at the same time we demand respect, and we cannot accept offensive terms used against our country and our government. I would, therefore, president, ask you to call the speaker to order. Thank you.
Pakistan: We would support the well articulated arguments already given by Cuba, Bangladesh, Venezuela, and we would also align ourselves with their viewpoint, that this organization is way out of line, and the honor and respect of the Council should be always at the top of the agenda, and to target continuously particular countries by the organization, which we saw in the last agenda item also, and again in the last agenda item we had to take the point of order on the same organization, it is not in line, and we urge the whole Council to take a unified position on this, and we respectfully request the Vice-President to take Point of Order on this.
United States: Without addressing the substance of the speaker’s statement, we are of the opinion that what we have heard of the intervention is indeed addressed to the subject matter at hand before this council and is within the UN rules and IB package. I believe that the speaker has already finished speaking as I understood it but if the speaker has not, we respectfully ask that you rule that the speaker be allowed to finish his presentation.
China: I support the statement made by Cuba, Bangladesh, Venezuela and Pakistan. Members of the Human Rights Council were elected by the member states, and this is an NGO which is making this kind of attack, which is totally unacceptable, and therefore I would respectfully request the Vice-President to end the speech that has been made by this NGO. And I would also call on this NGO to respect the rules of the Council in this regard.
United Kingdom: NGOs should be allowed to speak openly and freely in this forum. The NGO should be allowed to conclude their statement,
Netherlands: We highly value that civil society be able to speak. We ask you to allow the speaker to finish their statement.
Canada: Canada deeply believes that accredited NGOs should be authorized to take the floor in this council. What we heard from this statement is relevant to our ongoing discussions.
Saudi Arabia: I won’t be long. We support the points of order raised by Cuba, Bangladesh, and China. Thank you.
Iran: We would like to support the point of order made by our distinguished Cuban colleagues, followed by Bangladesh and other distinguished members of the Council. Thank you.
Latvia: It is very important that we allow NGOs to express their views, even if we may sometimes disagree with what they say. That enriches our human rights dialogue. It is the better of courtesy to ensure that NGO statements should not be interrupted. I call on you to allow NGOs to continue.
Vice-President (Egyptian ambassador Amr Ahmed Ramadan): Actually NGOs were given the chance to speak, we have been listening to them since mid-day…
Germany: Like others before us, we would urge upon this council to listen to the voice of NGOs, even if we do not always agree with what they say.
Bolivia: Thank you, brother Vice-President. We feel compelled to second what has been said by Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, etc. We are not questioning freedom of expression, it is the content of what has been said which discredits the NGO. We are clear in how this NGO operates. Thank you.
United Arab Emirates: President, the Emirates would also like to endorse the point of order raised by Cuba, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and others. Thank you.
Vice-President: Distinguished members of this council: we have wasted more than 10 minutes, we listened to 15 countries whether to allow UN Watch to continue with this statement. We need all to recognize that we are short of time in this session. So with that in mind, we need to work in an efficient manner, to finish the agenda. With that in mind, I will ask the representative to respect member states, and more importantly to respect this Council.
UN Watch: Mr. President, we have the right to cite the suspension provision of this council’s own charter. They can silence human rights defenders at home, but they cannot do so at the United Nations.