Rights Groups oppose prospect of Libya, Qatar joining UNHRC

Plans to elect two Arab states with poor rights records draw a flurry of criticism.

May 13, 2010 17:59
2 minute read.
Gaddafi hosting the Arab League Summit

Gaddafi, Arab League summit 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The possible election of Libya and Qatar as two new members to the United Nations Human Rights Council is being fiercely criticized by human rights groups that point to the poor record of these states.

The Human Rights Council, the UN body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, was established in 2006 to replace the heavily criticized Human Rights Commission. Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary-General, was quoted as saying the old commission suffered a “credibility deficit” that casted “a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”

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Much of the criticism of the old commission focused on its failure to address human rights violations since the perpetrators were members of the commission and allegedly watched each other’s back.

“The new Human Rights Council must [be held to the] highest human rights standards,” Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Libya, told The Media Line. “We have pushed for real elections,” said Morayef.

Critics of the council’s structure say that at present, every regional block in the UN puts forward its candidates who are then automatically elected, not giving member states the option to vote against countries with a poor human rights record.

“For Libya, where there are so many ongoing human rights violations, the country has the possibility of making a number of pledges on a number of reforms that are needed, for example [to] the penal code,” said Morayef.

Abdallah Hendawy, program officer with Network of Arab Liberals, a Cairo-based human rights group, expressed his concerns regarding the election of Libya and Qatar.  

“The UN Human Rights Council represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity, therefore the council has to put serious procedures towards the reform of human rights records in these countries,” Hendawy told The Media Line, “and not only having them for a membership session with no progress.”

Amnesty International said in a statement to The Media Line that it has repeatedly voiced concerns about human rights violations in Qatar in the context of the death penalty, restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, discrimination and violence against women, exploitation of migrant workers, arbitrary arrest and detention without charge, and arbitrary deprivation of nationality. 

Amnesty International estimates that at least 20 people are currently under the death sentence in Qatar. Executions are rare in Qatar, although death sentences continue to be imposed.

However, Amnesty would not comment on the appropriateness of Qatar serving on the UN Human Rights Council.  

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, which aims to audit the UN, told The Media Line, “Libya is in a special category as one of the world’s most murderous regimes that the world has ever seen over the last 40 years.”

“It’s a country that tortures and kills its dissidents… it’s currently holding an innocent Swiss businessman hostage for something that Qadhafi’s son did in Geneva,” he said, referring to the arrest of Swiss citizen Max Goldi in Libya on supposed visa violations following the arrest of Hannibal Qadhafi in Geneva for allegedly beating one of his servants.  

“[President] Qadhafi in September [2009] rejected to [the] UN charter,” Neuer said. “How can someone who rejects the authority of the UN run for the human rights council? It’s absurd!”

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