UN Human Rights Council Session Ends Disappointingly

by Elizabeth Cassidy

The UN Human Rights Council today concluded another session in which it failed to address the vast majority of human rights abuses occurring around the globe. It ignored such serious situations as repression in Burma and North Korea, denial of political rights in China, restrictions on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and even the violent crackdown on opposition leaders in Zimbabwe that took place as the Council met. There had been talk that Western members would seek resolutions on Burma, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka, but none was ever tabled. A majority of Council members even decided to discontinue the body’s confidential discussions of violations in Iran and Uzbekistan.

The Council did address the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, but it could only muster a meekly-worded resolution that failed to condemn, or even to cite, the Sudanese government or any other party to the conflict for abuses. The resolution merely ‘express[ed] deep concern” about violations in Darfur without attributing them to anyone. Apparently, the human rights violations there are occurring all by themselves. An earlier European Union draft had the words “including attacks by rebel and government forces,” but that reference was dropped to achieve consensus. The resolution also defers to Sudan by expressing regret that the Coucil’s expert assessment mission, led by Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, “could not visit Darfur,” obscuring that it was the Khartoum government that denied them entry.

The Wiliams assessment team, which went to Ethopia and the Chad/Darfur border, did present its report at this session. However, the Council, which is dominated by Sudan’s allies in the African and Islamic groups, did not formally adopt the Williams report or call for the implementation of its numerous and specific recommendations, but rather simply “took note” of it. Instead, the Council established yet another expert group to “work with the government of Sudan” to promote the implementation of unspecified “relevant” UN recommendations on improving the situation in Darfur,”taking into account the needs of the Sudan in this regard,” and to make yet another report to the Council at its next session.

In its nine months of existence, the Council has condemned only one country in the entire world for human rights violations: Israel. At this session, the Council passed yet another resolution–its ninth–against the Jewish state.

The Council also adopted, over the objections and abstentions of nearly half of its members, an Islamic Group-sponsored resolution against “defamation of religions,” an attempt to suppress perceived offenses against Islam and even to justify violent reactions thereto. Not only does the resolution refer to Islam alone among the world’s religions, it is inconsistent with free speech protections and with the fundamental principle that international human rights law is about protecting individuals, not religions.

Other actions included a majority of the Council voting to adopt a resolution, sponsored by China, on “strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.” In an Orwellian twist on its name, however, this resolution in fact seeks to impede the effectiveness of the UN’s professional human rights office, including by making geographic balance preeminent in its hiring decisions.

All in all, it has been a disappointing–but unfortunately, all too predictable–session. Lengthier analysis of the session will be available on our website, www.unwatch.org, in the coming weeks.


8 Responses

  1. Bravo for Elizabeth Cassidy and Human Rights Watch. Just one more thought on this pathetic disaster called the UN Human Rights Council. Where are all those who at the time condemned the United States for having been virtually the only government to rightly oppose this masquerade?

  2. Off topic, but will there be an analysis of the Iran/captured British sailors incident from the members of this blog?

    Some issues that may bear elucidation:

    1. Status of the waterway in which they were caught.

    2. Protections that the Conventions may accord to the captives, if any.

    3. Protocol for border incursions in maritime disputes.

    4. Right to consular access?

    5. What options the British have a matter of international law should they choose to escalate in the face of Iranian intransigence.


  3. “Have as a matter of international law”, naturally.

  4. “the Council has condemned only one country in the entire world for human rights violations: Israel”

    And that is wrong because there is not others countries condemned or because Israel does not violate international law?????

    Is the humans rights council a response to the practices made at the security council??? (If we cant make our voice sound at the security council, let us do it in the human rights council)

    Is disappointing also the lack of condemnation for the events in guantanamo???

    What can we do for improving the council?? Throwing all to the trasch or do an balanced analysis???

  5. Hey! How did I get my name stolen! 😉

  6. Frick. I knew there was something strange going on when my cookie said non liquet too. Props to the original non liquet!!

  7. I wouldn’t have wanted you to be sullied with my bad reputation!

  8. My comment in full can be found here. Here it is in sum:

    I have to disagree with Elizabeth Cassidy on one point. There is nothing wrong with the Council criticizing Israel at this point, nor should the Council’s singling out of Israel distract us or justify the fact that Israel is committing gross human rights violations. While the protection and promotion of human is universal, we cannot deny the fact that some states at at better safeguarded in their abuse of human rights then others. In particular, when countries in the developed work, particularly those with superior military and political strength, such as Israel and the US, trample human rights, it is difficult absent continuous recognition of those abuses to pressure for reform and changes. The fact is, Iran will be sanctioned by the international community both monetarily and politically. It will be deprived of economic trade and will be condemned not only by NGO’s but also by the most powerful actors in the world. Israel, however, won’t be and its not because they have a better human rights record or are acting in good faith with their international obligations. In summary, the criticism against the UN Council should not be for its selective accountability, per se, but rather its failure to address human rights everywhere rather than one place.

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