Thursday, November 14, 2013

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Algeria win seats on the UN "Human Rights" Council

No that's not an Onion parody, but a straight news story.  It's not even a very unusual bit of news, given the way that UN "human rights" bodies have generally operated.  This latest development falls in the category of 'astonishing, but not surprising'.

I should add that the professional staff attached to the UN's "human rights" bodies are often quite serious and honest about their work, file valuable reports, and genuinely oppose social and political repression, brutality, mass murder, and similar abuses and crimes against humanity.  The bodies themselves, on the other hand, often function mostly as protection rackets that major human-rights abusers are especially eager to join in order to prevent their records from being scrutinized or criticized.  (But it's not as though these bodies are completely inactive, since they do steadily churn out resolutions condemning one particular country, Israel.) As Human Rights Watch pointed out, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria have all "refused to allow UN investigators to visit the countries in order to investigate alleged abuses." Now it will be easier for those governments to make sure that investigators simply don't get sent in the first place.

The old UN Commission on Human Rights had become so notorious in these respects (Qaddafi's Libya was once selected to head the Commission, and at the height of the Darfur genocide the government of Sudan was given a seat) that the Commission was 'reformed' and replaced with the current Human Rights Council.  It quickly became clear that little had changed, and that still seems to be the case.

–Jeff Weintraub

France 24
November 14, 2013
China, Russia and Cuba to police human rights abuses
By Sophie Pilgrim

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria won seats on the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, in a vote that has left human rights activists incredulous. The governments of all six of the countries are accused of ongoing rights abuses.  [JW: That's a euphemistic way of putting it.]

A secret ballot vote at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday saw six highly controversial additions to the body’s human rights watchdog.

China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria were all awarded three-year terms on the 47-member Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is tasked with policing human rights abuses around the world and monitoring “problem countries”.

Rights campaigners say that welcoming the six countries – which they deem “problem countries” – will dismay victims of human rights abuses and wholly discredit the council.

“This is a black day for human rights,” Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of Geneva-based monitor UN Watch, told FRANCE 24 by video link from Jerusalem. “The world’s worst human rights abusers have been given the status of world judges on human rights.”

Neuer, whose organisation is a frequent critic of UN rights practices, listed the most prominent examples of human rights abuses of the countries mentioned, citing the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (who has recently gone missing) in Russia; the imprisonment in China of dissidents Liu Jiabao and Wang Xiaoning, and the persecution in Cuba of rapper El Critico, who has recently staged a month-long hunger strike in protest against charges brought against him. Neuer also accused Saudi Arabia of “lashing and punishing” rape victims.

“It’s absurd,” Neuer said. “For victims of human rights around the world who look to the UN for protection, it’s a very sad day.”

One of those is Oleg Kozlovsky, a Russian civil rights activist and FRANCE 24 Observer who has been arrested in Moscow numerous times for protesting against alleged torture practices carried out by the Russian government. Kozlovsky says he is concerned that the move will allow the government more clout in dealing with rights campaigners like himself.

“This development will give the Kremlin another advantage in repelling any criticism of Russia’s human rights situation,” he told FRANCE 24. “It means international pressure, however small it is already, will probably get even smaller.”

UN investigators unwelcome

Seats on the council are allotted by region and all 193 members of the General Assembly can vote. The UK, France, the Maldives, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa were also awarded three-year terms on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch, another critic of UN rights practices, noted on Tuesday that five of the new members – China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Algeria – have refused to allow UN investigators to visit the countries in order to investigate alleged abuses.

China, Russia and Algeria have 10 or more unfulfilled requests for visits by UN experts, some of them dating back to 2000, global advocacy director of the New York-based group, Peggy Hicks, told AP. Saudi Arabia and Vietnam each have seven outstanding requests, she said.

“Countries that haven't allowed UN experts appointed by the council to visit have a lot of explaining to do,'' she said. “It's like hiring someone, then not allowing them to enter the office.”

Across the street from the entrance to the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, pro-Tibetan activists hung a huge banner reading “China fails human rights”.

‘Return to the past’

The UNHRC was set up in 2006 to replace the widely-discredited Human Rights Commission, which was repeatedly criticised as toothless and hypocritical; in its final years it was led by Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

Tuesday’s vote, Neuer said, signified the nail in the coffin for the “new and improved council,” and a return to the “ignominious past of the commission”.

Current members include Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, and the US.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power released a statement on Tuesday alluding to the election of the six controversial members. “Fourteen countries were elected to the Human Rights Council today, including some that commit significant violations of the rights the Council is designed to advance and protect, she said, without mentioning any names. “Today's election in the General Assembly is a reminder that the Council's important work remains unfinished.”

The countries who lost out on Tuesday were Uruguay (beaten by Cuba and Mexico for seats in the Latin America and Caribbean group); and South Sudan, which failed to garner enough votes to win one of the four African seats.