Message to one diktator re another

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hillel Neuer at UN Watch:

UN Watch Testifies to U.N. Human Rights Council
on its Betrayal of Kofi Annan's Promised Reforms

Testimony before U.N. Human Rights Council
Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on the 
2011 Review of the Work and Functioning of the Human Rights Council
Delivered by Hillel C. Neuer for UN Watch
Geneva, 25 October 2010
Mr. President,

UN Watch is committed to the founding mission and principles of this council, as set forth in UNGA Resolution 60/251.

Foremost in our minds, as we commence the 2011 review process, must be the council’s purpose: to help millions of victims worldwide whose basic human rights are violated.

This council was created on the initiative of then Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to redress the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  Let us recall what he sought to reform, and then let us see where we stand today.

In his 2005 reform proposal, Mr. Annan publicly acknowledged what many human rights NGOs, including UN Watch, had been saying for years.

Secretary-General Annan said the Commission had a “credibility deficit”—one that was casting “a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”

He said the Commission “suffer[ed] from declining professionalism.” Countries sought membership “not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others.”

The Commission was undermined by the “politicization of its sessions [and the] selectivity of its work.” Indeed, “politicization and selectivity,” said Mr. Annan, were nothing less than “hallmarks of the Commission’s existing system.”

What he was referring to was not a mystery. At the time, 50 percent of the commission’s resolutions on countries, and an entire agenda item, targeted one single state. Paradoxically, that target happened to be a liberal democracy with free elections, individual rights, and an independent judiciary. Meanwhile, with a handful of exceptions, the world’s millions of victims, suffering from gross and systematic violations, went ignored. Year after year, session after session.

And so the Secretary-General called for a new body that would change things. A year later, in 2006, this council was created. Resolution 60/251 promised that the new council would elect members committed to the promotion of and protection of human rights. Serious violators would have their membership suspended. The council would address the world’s most severe abuses, including by the use of urgent sessions that could be easily convened. The council’s work, we were told, would be objective, impartial and non-selective.

Mr. President, five years later, where do we stand?

We recognize the noble efforts of certain members, such as the U.S., to achieve change. The recent naming of monitors for freedom of association and women’s equality offers some potential. So does the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which some countries use to apply real scrutiny. Regrettably, though, even here, the worst violators game the system by using up the scarce time—three hours per country every four years—to exchange mutual praise and shield abusers. 

However, to take an overall measure of whether the new council has brought change, let us go back to the three principal criteria articulated by Secretary-General Annan:

1. Membership: According to Freedom House, the membership of this council is actually worse than that of its discredited predecessor. Current members include China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. The newest addition this year is Colonel Muammar Qadaffi's Libyan regime, elected by a landslide of U.N. member states in May. Mr. President, is this a membership "committed to the promotion of and protection of human rights"?

2. Country scrutiny: What happened to the former monitors on human rights violations in Cuba, Belarus, Liberia, and DR Congo? Mr. President, why did this new council eliminate them as its first order of business?

3. Objectivity, Impartiality and Non-Selectivity:  The U.N. itself, in a 2006 comparison chart, promised that the “agenda item targeting Israel” would be replaced by a clean slate. Yet as soon as this council was created, it re-instituted the permanent agenda item targeting Israel, an act of discrimination and selectivity built in to every single council meeting.
Mr. President, where is the promised clean slate?

Instead, here is what the council has held, adopted and pronounced since its creation in June 2006:

• One single urgent debate — on Israel;
• Nine special sessions that criticized countries — with six of them being on Israel. (And another one that praised Sri Lanka after it killed 20,000 civilians);
• Out of 40-odd council resolutions that criticized countries, 35 were on Israel,
• Five "fact-finding" missions — all on Israel, all with the guilty verdict declared in advance.

Mr. President,

The question before us today is this: What about the millions upon millions of victims worldwide who continue to go ignored? Is there anything that Secretary-General Annan said in 2005 about the old, discredited commission, that does not apply today to this new and reformed council?
Thank you, Mr. President.

Link to website here.

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