Will UN Human Rights Council honor its mission?

Why does the Council continuously ignore the many human rights violations all over the globe and focus only on Israel?

Group of Sri Lankan Muslims shouting slogans, protesting against the UN and U.S.  (photo credit: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE)
Group of Sri Lankan Muslims shouting slogans, protesting against the UN and U.S.
The United Nations Human Rights Council deserves a big applause for having passed the resolution--moved by the United States, the United Kingdom, Montenegro, Macedonia and Mauritius-- calling on its High Commissioner to investigate allegations of war crimes by all sides during the Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009, resulting in the deaths of as many as 40,000 civilians. The resolution, passed with 23 votes in favor, 12 against and 12 abstentions at its just-concluded 25th session in Geneva, asks Colombo to address all rights concerns, make progress towards a political settlement and support reconciliation for all its people.
It is high time indeed that the world, and citizens of Sri Lanka in particular, know what really happened during the island nation’s war and that those responsible for its bloodshed are held to account . According to a report by a panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, both parties of the war had been inhuman in their conduct during the conflict. The Sri Lankan forces engaged in widespread abuses, including indiscriminate shelling of civilians, summary executions and rape. On the other hand, the Tamil Tigers held civilians as human shields, used child soldiers, and killed families who tried to flee.
In harmony with the new resolution of its Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner must now investigate all allegations of war crimes and do what is needed for justice. The logic of a few nations who abstained from voting on Sri Lanka in Geneva this time around shows that this resolution reflects an intrusive approach, undermining national sovereignty and institutions. This would create dangerous precedents. Their abstention would give them greater flexibility to push Colombo towards the changes it needs to undertake.
Such an argument is highly preposterous today. No state can be allowed to play with the rights and freedoms of its own people under the pretext of national sovereignty. It must be borne in mind that Colombo has not seemed to be sensitive to the rights of its citizens. It has failed in delivering its promise to the UN Secretary-General (2009) to address accountability on the matter. Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (2010) has failed to address it too. Equally miserable has been Colombo’s record in meeting two previous Human Rights Council resolutions seeking national investigations into violations of human rights and laws during its fighting with the Tigers.
Shockingly, Colombo has rather cynically absolved its forces of any wrongdoing and lashed out at those seeking accountability. It is reported that even after the conflict has ended, those who speak out publicly on human rights abuses continue to face harassment and threats at the hands of the state authorities. The government in Colombo has continued to use its war era legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for political purposes – against human rights activists .
With the passage of the new resolution on Sri Lanka, one would expect the Human Rights Council to show similar concerns over rights violations in other parts of the world as well. The UN General Assembly Council established this body in March 2006, replacing the UN Commission on Human Rights with a new mandate to promote and protect rights in general and freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGTB rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities in particular.
A careful study of its pattern of functioning, however, shows that its noble mission still remains a far cry. For years the Council has been overlooking rights violations in Cuba, Myanmar, Sudan, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, Belarus, Tibet and so on. Under the influence of groups such as the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Council has mostly been focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the sole aim of condemning Jerusalem. By 2013 it condemned Israel alone in 45 resolutions. Besides, the Council has had Special Reporters, such as Richard Falk, who go to the extent of maligning Israel -- the only democracy in the Middle East -- comparing its treatment of Palestinians with the Nazis' treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
Pertinently, in August 2006 the Council established a High-Level Commission of Inquiry charged with probing allegations that Israel systematically targeted and killed Lebanese civilians during the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Later, the Council called on Jerusalem to stop its military operations in the Gaza Strip and open its borders to allow the entry of food, fuel and medicine. At the Human Rights Council’s latest session, Russia, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Cuba, Algeria, Pakistan, Venezuela and Morocco all ganged up to criticize Israel. Ironically, the Council wouldn't care a fig about Hezbollah attacks on Israeli civilians. Nor would it care if Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, targeted civilians in Israel.
One finds the Council’s indifference towards the ongoing Tibetan rights violations to be particularly disturbing. According to the official statements of the Tibetan-government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, since its invasion of Tibet, Beijing has continued to impose policies of political repression, ethnic and economic discrimination, and destruction of religion, culture and environment in the plateau. Beijing tolerates no opposition to its rule in Tibet. In the past six months alone it has arbitrarily arrested and detained over 920 Tibetans in Driru, Drakgo, Dzamthang and Sog counties on false charges. In the last five years over 120 Tibetans have set themselves afire in their “highest form of non-violent protest against the policies of the Chinese government.” But the UN Human Rights Council has continued to overlook Dharamsala’s demand to convene an urgent session on the issue and send fact-finding missions to assess the situation in Tibet.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi.