Rights for Some Humans

The UN established the HRC, an institution that promised to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Outrageously, instead of focusing on human rights violators such as Iran, Uzbekistan and China it adopted nine condemnatory resolutions against Israel.

Nir Boms (5/17/2007)

About a year ago, in March 2006, the UN adopted Resolution 60/251 to establish the Human Rights Council (HRC), an institution that promised to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, color, sex, language or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” According to its own mandate, the work of the council should be “guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.”

This month, following the completion of the first membership cycle, countries such as Egypt, Nicaragua, Qatar and Bolivia are being nominated to become the future guardians of global Human rights (joining Bangladesh, Cuba, China, Ghana, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Zambia among others). As the elections for the council are taking place, it may be a good time to review its record of achievement.

Human rights issues are indeed a concern in many parts of the world. A brief look at the world will highlight issues such as child soldiers in Africa, slavery and genocide in Sudan or the trade of women in Iran. One can also look at the 218 million children engaged in child labor around the world and at over 100 million children that are unable to even attend primary school, in order to understand the vast challenge that falls on the shoulders of the new Human Rights Council.

With this in mind, it was only natural that the council did find itself busy this past year. It convened eight times (with four special sessions) and issued 36 resolutions and over 40 decisions, which are non-binding. It also created no less than four committees of inquiry.

But a deeper look at these resolutions can teach us something about the council’s perspective on the issue of Human Rights. It passed, for example, an African Group-sponsored resolution imposing a “code of conduct” on human rights monitors. It passed a resolution by China to limit the independence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and another resolution focused on “globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights” suggesting, nonsensically, that globalization negatively impacts all human rights.

Among the statements that were heard and acknowledged by the council this past year were that of the Sudanese envoy saying that reports of violence against women in Darfur have been “exaggerated”; that of an envoy from Nigeria asserting that “stoning under Sha’aria … should not be equated with extrajudicial killings …”, or that of an envoy from Iran who defend the Holocaust denial conference. When the permanent observer of Palestine asserts that that Israel is the only country that has a “monopoly on human rights violations” he was also thanked by president of the Human Rights Council, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico. In the one rare occasion in which the chairman chose not to thank a speaker, it was following a short statement that was given by Hillel Neuer of UN Watch who dared to suggest – in light of this record – that the dream of founders of the Human Right Commission may be turning into a nightmare.

And while the council continued its deliberations, one is left to wonder whether rights in the world have become more secure. In Iran, for example, the number of publicly known executions grew by more than 80 percent last year to 177, and Iran leads the world in the execution of juveniles. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to deny accountability for the 2005 massacre in Andijan in which security forces killed hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters, and are (is) conducting a fierce crackdown on civil society. However, the Human Rights council has more urgent issues to deal with. During a session in March of this year, the HRC decided to discontinue scrutiny of both Iran and Uzbekistan. Instead it chose to focus on the “real” problems of Human Rights in our world.

Yet, in the past year, the council focused (only) on two specific countries: Israel and Sudan. It adopted nine condemnatory resolutions against Israel, where it concerned itself with Human rights in the “occupied Syrian Golan” and the situation in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The council also held one special session on Sudan – but here, rather than issuing a condemnation, it praised Sudan for its “cooperation and sought to work “with the Government of Sudan” in order to implement the “resolutions and recommendations on Darfur.”

Off course, the explanation for the approach of the UN Council has less to do with the issue of human rights and more to do with politics and structure. Of the 47 Council members, only 25 are considered free democracies. Four of its members – China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia-are also among Freedom House’s 2006 “Worst of the Worst” abusers of human rights. On the other hand, a coalition of convenience can further strengthen this anti-western, anti-democratic line. For example, NAM, a political alliance of developing countries that includes many repressive regimes (currently led by Cuba) holds a majority-57.5%- of the Council seats. The OIC, a political alliance of Muslim countries holds 36% of the council’s seats on its own. With this in mind, one should not be surprised with the current council’s record.

“To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy,” said the historian Will Durant. It is a pity that such an important institution has brought this art to perfection under the wings of the International Community.

 

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