UN Watch Update: The Human Rights Council, Week 1

by Elizabeth Cassidy

Debating Darfur

Battle to Block New Report: The assessment mission created by the Council in December and led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams presented its report finding “large-scale international crimes” in Darfur. Sudan and its supporters–the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Arab League, almost all of the Council’s Asian Group, Russia and Cuba–rejected the report as “invalid” and are fighting to prevent it from being adopted and implemented. On the other side are Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European democracies. The outcome of this struggle will hinge on the Council’s African and Latin American members. We were encouraged that Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Mauritius, Nigeria, Zambia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay expressed support for the report at the session, but not all of the African and Latin American members spoke. The Council will decide how to handle the report within the next two weeks.

Watch Jody Williams take those challenging her team’s report to task for playing political games in Geneva while Darfuris die. Noting the Council’s double standards on Sudan and Israel, Williams said that if her mission had gone to Palestine, “I imagine that the discussion here would be amazingly different.” Regarding the challenges to the credibility of the report, she told Council members that the issue on credibility is “not about ours, it’s about yours.” (Williams begins speaking at 5:35).

UN Watch addressed the Council on Friday afternoon: “If the Council cannot endorse the recommendations of this report, it will cast a shadow upon the reputation of the UN as a whole…” Watch our UN speech.

Singling Out Israel

Special Agenda Item Returning: The committee preparing the Council’s new agenda is proposing to reinstitute the special agenda item to condemn Israel. Four possible formulations are presented, each of which would single out Israel, alone out of the 192 UN member states, for scrutiny under its own permanent agenda item. This was the mark of shame of the discredited Commission on Human Rights, and proponents of last year’s creation of the Council–whose principles are “universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity”–had promised that the reform would have it removed.

More One-Sided Resolutions: The Council’s Arab Group and OIC members introduced three resolutions criticizing Israel. The Council will discuss these drafts over the next two weeks and members will vote on them by Friday, March 30. In its nine months of existence, the Council has adopted 8 resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations–and none against any other country. The three additional resolutions would:

(1) entrench a 1993 mandate on Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories that would place the Jewish state under permanent investigation, presume the Jewish state to be guilty of “violations of the principles and bases of international law”, and ignore abuses against Palestinians committed by the Palestinian Authority;

(2) criticize Israel for failing to cooperate with two investigatory missions into its recent military actions that began by prejudging its guilt, and

(3) condemn “Israeli violations of religious and cultural rights” in regard to archaeological excavations, even though international investigators already debunked Islamic claims of a conspiracy to harm its holy shrine.

Speaking out on World’s Worst Abuses

No Resolutions: A number of democracies tried to draw attention–in speeches but regrettably not in resolutions–to many serious human rights problems around the world that the Council has not yet addressed, including those in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. The abuser countries responded with baseless accusations against the democracies that dared to mention them. Cuba , for example, accused Sweden of “carry[ing] out ethnic cleansing that only allows those whose skin and hair color fit with the racial patterns of former Viking conquerors to remain in the country.” Iran called France’s statement mentioning it a “manifestation of Islamophobia.”

Zimbabwe: Democracies condemned the Zimbabwean government’s recent arrests and brutal beatings of opposition party leaders and members for attempting to assemble peacefully. Zimbabwe reacted by accusing these governments of being “colonial slave-masters” seeking to take over the country.

Establishing the Council’s Mechanisms and Procedures

The new Council is still working on establishing its mechanisms, agenda, and rules of procedure. These topics are being discussed at this session, but decisions will not be made until the Council’s next session in mid-June. Some proposals under consideration pose threats to the Council’s future credibility and effectiveness, including the following:

Universal Review: The Council is supposed to create a system of universal periodic review to examine the human rights records of all countries equally, but Islamic and developing countries are demanding that the review vary based on each country’s “level of development” and “cultural and religious specificities.”

Eliminating Experts: The Council is supposed to maintain and improve the existing system of independent human rights experts that investigate and report on human rights issues generally or in specific countries. The repressive regimes, however, are seeking more member state control over the selection and conduct of these experts. These regimes also are trying to eliminate all the experts that address, and often criticize, individual countries—except for the one investigating Israel.

To receive UN Watch’s regular briefings by email, sign up here.


Comments are closed.