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United Nations21.06.2007

One year after its creation, Human Rights Council achieves disturbingly little
Rights Council has been operating since its creation a year ago

A year after the creation of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the new body’s functioning and, in particular, the obstructionist manoeuvres by member countries that are the worst human rights violators.

A year after the creation of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the new body’s functioning and, in particular, the obstructionist manoeuvres by member countries that are the worst human rights violators.

“The mandates for the special rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus, two of the world’s worst press freedom predators, were not renewed,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This is extremely disturbing and is indicative of the state of mind in which the Human

“We have seen endless wheeling and dealing between council members that finally led to what most observers described as an ‘acceptable compromise.’ The resolution on working procedures presented at the last moment on the initiative of the council’s president, Luis Alfonso de Alba, may have saved some face. But the fact remains that the council is already limping, before it has begun to walk. Everything still remains to be done, and human rights meanwhile continue to be violated with complete impunity.

“The Belarus mandate was not renewed although this country was not elected as a council member in May 2006 because of its disastrous human rights record. This paradoxical situation highlights how difficult it is for the real human rights defenders within the council to do their work. There is also concern that cancellation of the mandates to investigate Belarus and Cuba could open the way to the scrapping of country reports, as initially demanded with active support from Iran, China and other repressive countries.”

It was only at the very last moment before the expiry of the midnight 18 June deadline set by the UN general assembly that De Alba, who is Mexico’s representative on the council and its outgoing president, went before the council and forced through his resolution on working procedures after a day-long marathon of consultations and meetings.

De Alba’s proposal that his draft should be accepted as a compromise was greeted with applause, although most of the delegates were unaware of its content. The session was quickly terminated without anyone being able to speak because the interpreters had gone home. This sleight of hand came close to being scotched the next day in the first session with Romanian representative Doru Romulus Costea as the new president.

In a gallant last stand, Canada’s representative challenged the previous day’s compromise and demanded a debate, which was rejected by 46 votes to one (his own). He also criticised the fact that point 7 of the 11-point agenda was “the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” although no other region of the world was on the agenda.

Swayed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has 17 of the council’s 47 members, the council has established a reputation for selective outrage by dedicating three of four special sessions to the Middle East and by condemning Israel nine times without ever criticising other countries in the region.

China, which wants to do away with special rapporteurs altogether, blocked discussion by demanding that these experts would be chosen by a two-thirds majority instead of a simple one, which would have prevented any country except Israel being criticised. China finally settled for the inclusion of a mention that “promoters of a resolution against a country have a duty to ensure the broadest possible support from at least 15 members” before submitting it to the full council.

In another major concession, the choice of a rapporteur must now be submitted for the council’s approval instead of being left to the president, as it was with the commission. Similarly, African and Islamic countries led by Algeria have imposed a “code of conduct” designed to “define ethic and professional standards of behaviour” for the experts - a roundabout way of limiting their freedom of speech, if not of gagging them altogether.

The worst human rights violators will now, like all other countries, have to submit to a “universal periodic review.” But there are already signs of resistence and manoeuvring behind the scenes with the aim of sabotaging its implementation.