UNHRC gives impunity to violators, watchdog says

Council ignored China, Cuba, Libya and North Korea in ’09, while slamming Israel with 27 out of its 33 country-specific resolutions.

By E.B. SOLOMONT, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
February 25, 2010 22:51
4 minute read.
UNHRC gives impunity to violators, watchdog says

unhrc human rights 224. (photo credit: AP [file])

WASHINGTON – In the past year, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising Sri Lanka, took no action on Iran and passed 18 resolutions counterproductive to human rights, a report by the watchdog group UN Watch has charged.

Envisioning a more robust role for the United States, which joined the council last year, the Geneva-based NGO analyzed 30 key resolutions and found that only 13 of 47 council members voted “positively,” that is for resolutions advancing human rights. At the same time, the report alleged, the council ignored 18 of the worst violators, including China, Cuba, Libya and North Korea, and it slammed Israel with 27 out of 33 of its country-specific resolutions.

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The report also found that more than half of current members – 24 out of 47 – fail to meet basic standards of democracy, according to the Freedom House annual survey.

“The UN’s main human rights body has turned into the world’s leading sponsor of impunity for gross abuses worldwide,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch’s executive director, visiting Washington to present the group’s 2010 scorecard and report. On Wednesday, he joined New York Congressman Eliot Engel and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at a Capitol Hill briefing in which he urged the US to hold the Human Rights Council more accountable.

The UN Watch document mentioned the Goldstone Report, since the Gaza fact-finding mission was mandated by the council, but did not focus on it.

“It very much fits into a pattern and practice,” Neuer said. He said members of the fact-finding mission – including Christine Chikin and Desmond Chambers – made public statements about Israel’s culpability before their investigation began. “The council knew what it was getting” and was committed to a “preconceived outcome,” Neuer said.

With the council set to open its 13th session on March 1, Neuer envisioned a role for the US in which it would “speak out” against impunity. For example, Iran is vying for a seat on the council. “There is great concern that in the upcoming elections in May, Iran is a candidate,” Neuer said.

The UN Watch report also describes the council’s inaction regarding 12 examples of gross human rights violations. They include a lack of council action on media censorship in Belarus, extrajudicial killings and forced labor in Myanmar and longstanding censorship in China. The council took no action when it came to Iran, where the June 2009 election prompted widespread protests and arrests, including reports of point-blank shootings, prison abuse and rape.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the last decade and longer is the politicization of the Commission on Human Rights and now [its replacement], the Human Rights Council,” UN Watch chairman Alfred Moses, a former ambassador to Romania in the Clinton administration, told reporters on Tuesday.

Based on 30 council votes in the past year, UN Watch scored each member state’s position, awarding one point for voting positively and subtracting a point for a “negative” vote, or a vote counterproductive to human rights.

Thirteen of the 47 countries scored positively, which Neuer called “the reality of the council today.”

Canada came out on top, with 23 points, followed by Germany, Italy and the Netherlands with 18.

On the negative side, 34 countries cast ballots in support of repressive regimes. Egypt and China scored the worst, at -20, edging out other offenders – Cuba, Djibouti, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar and South Africa – which earned -19 points. Saudi Arabia and Russia each scored -18, while Jordan came out with -16. The United States was not ranked because it only joined the council last June.

South Africa scored poorly because it votes with old regional blocs, Neuer said.

The UN Watch report outlined concrete steps for the US to take to hold the worst violators accountable, including taking the council floor more often with resolutions and denunciations. The US should demand accountability, introduce country-specific resolutions, convene special sessions to address gross human rights violations, and oppose impractical sessions, the report recommends.

Regarding Israel, the US should work to strike down the council’s Agenda Item No. 7, adopted in 2007 over the objections of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the EU and Canada, which permanently singles out Israel at every council session.

As for 27 of the 33 country-specific resolutions singling out Israel, “This is unacceptable,” Neuer said, adding that both Israel and the Palestinians should be held accountable for their human rights records in a “fair and balanced” manner.

But in devoting 80 percent of country-specific resolutions to criticize Israel, the council has ignored “real human rights abuses” committed by Cuba, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, said Ros-Lehtinen. “The UN’s so-called ‘Human Rights Council’ has descended into a swamp of anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-freedom bias.”


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