Islamic and African States Fail to Block UN Webcast of Human Rights Hearings

Bahrain First to Undergo “Seriously Flawed” Review Procedure

Geneva, April 7, 2008 — Facing opposition by Arab, Islamic and African states, the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to webcast its review of Bahrain, the first to undergo a new procedure that will scrutinize all UN members, constituted a small victory for reform, UN Watch said today.

“The new system of universal periodic review has serious institutional flaws, including its grant of excessive control over the outcome to the state under review,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization.

“Although the official verdicts are likely to be questionable at best, the very fact of holding debates on countries that were previously given a free pass, even if only once every four years, helps activists to shine an international spotlight on human rights violations, and to challenge government responses that are inadequate or false.”

Today’s three-hour session on Bahrain offered little in the way of scrutiny, and was dominated by praise of the gulf state’s record. In his presentation, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nizar Al Baharna told the council that Bahrain respected women’s rights, equality and freedom of expression. Of the more than 30 states that then took the floor, most were fellow Islamic nations that complimented Bahrain’s record on “social and economic rights,” with Pakistan citing the growth of its GDP.

“We are deeply disappointed that the session summarily ignored the detailed NGO submissions, which presented evidence of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, torture, and violations of women’s rights,” said Neuer. “Although the U.S., Canada, France and a handful of Western democracies posed questions, their interventions were overly cautious and diplomatic, and did little to make this new procedure into one of real scrutiny. Human rights victims deserve far better.”

On Friday, the Arab, Islamic and African blocs made a last-ditch effort to block UN webcasting of the session, but their attempt failed. Click here to read set of demands.

“After a series of major setbacks at the council—including the outrageous insertion of anti-blasphemy provisions into the freedom of expression mandate—this is one small victory that human rights activists must cherish,” said Neuer.

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