Archive for the 'Third Committee' Category
GENEVA, Nov. 17– In an attempt to influence a UN resolution on Syrian abuses now being debated by member states, a coalition of 20 famous dissidents and rights groups today circulated their own draft which specifically calls for the post of an independent UN expert to investigate gross violations in that country. Click here for proposed UNGA Resolution on Situation of Human Rights in Syria.
“We welcome the draft UN General Assembly resolution on Syria, and congratulate Britain, France and Germany for their initiative,” said Hillel Neuer, director of the non-governmental UN Watch monitoring group in Geneva, which sent the draft to 193 UN member states on behalf of a coalition of human rights groups and dissidents. “We strongly hope that Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco and Kuwait will stand up and be counted as co-sponsors.”
Sponsors of the NGO draft resolution include well-known former political prisoners Yang Jianli of China, Ahmad Batebi of Iran, Fidel Suarez Cruz and Berta Antunez of Cuba, Rebiya Kadeer of the Uyghur people and Grace Kwinjeh of Zimbabwe, as well as UN Watch, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, Human Rights Foundation and Viet Tan.
The text was drafted at a recent summit of dissidents held in New York during the UN General Assembly, which included an opening address by Syrian rights activist Rami Nakhleh.
The dissidents’ draft calls upon the Human Rights Council to “urgently establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic, to monitor the situation in the country, collect information and recommend to the UN system actions to be taken.”
The NGO text also asks the Secretary-General to report on Syria to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council at its next sessions, and would ensure discussion of the Syrian human rights situation at future sessions.
The debate on the official UN text is expected within the next week at the world body’s Third Committee on human rights, which meets this month in New York.
On November 23, Sudan, on behalf of the Group of 77, introduced in the General Assembly’s Third Committee a resolution on the adoption of the Outcome Document of the Durban Review Conference. The Conference was held in Geneva from April 20 – 24, 2009, and is best remembered by the dozens of democracies that walked out during Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial opening address.
The delegation of Israel called for the vote, explaining that her government refused to afford credibility to a process that was “obsessed” with the Middle East. The text was initially adopted with 161 countries in favor, 6 against, and 12 abstaining.
After the vote, however, the delegation of the Russian Federation raised a point of order to note that their “yes” had been recorded as an abstention; they then requested a new vote. The United States responded that it was “highly unusual” for a new vote to be recorded, asking under what rule of procedure the Committee would be acting. The Chair replied that although it was, indeed, unusual, the rules do not prohibit the retaking of votes. Furthermore, in previous demands for a new vote, the requesting delegation had pressed the wrong button. As the Russian delegation had insisted that he had pressed the correct button, the Chair deemed it acceptable to grant a re-vote. However, the United States argued that because the delegation had not requested a reconsideration of the resolution, a second vote would be invalid.
The Chair decided to hold another vote, and the final count was 163 in favor, 5 against, and 9 abstaining. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Russian Federation, changed their votes from abstentions to “yes.” The Marshall Islands, which initially voted “no” was absent during the second vote, as was Macedonia, which had voted “yes” originally.
Canada was one of five nations to refuse to vote for the Durban Outcome Document (the other four were Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States.) The Canadian representative explained that the language in the text reaffirmed the outcome document of the first Durban Conference in 2001, and that his government would not lend its approval to such a politicized process. Moreover, the delegation argued that references in the document to the Middle East bore no relevancy to the fight against intolerance.
The other five countries that walked out of the Conference, namely Germany, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Poland and Italy, all abstained. They were joined by Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Romania and Tonga.
In a general statement on the resolution, the delegation of Israel remarked that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” Israel argued that the 2001 Durban Conference “had descended in a brazen display of anti-Semitic racism,” and the promotion of racist agendas. The representative of Israel further explained that they had initially decided to reserve judgment on the General Assembly’s decision to convene the Durban Review Conference; that they had realized the Conference’s potential to rectify the wrongs of 2001, but that these hopes had been misplaced. Though Israel acknowledged the importance of various elements of the Review, the Conference had, nevertheless, reaffirmed the 2001 Durban Declaration. The delegation explained that Israel was “fully committed to address, in a professional manner, the scourge of racism, xenophobia and intolerance,” but that it could not support a document that endorsed the 2001 Durban Declaration.
On November 23, the General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted the Report of the Human Rights Council, introduced by Zambia for the African Group, and covering the period of March through May 2009. Unlike last year’s resolution, which was approved by a vote of 117 in favor, 5 against and 55 abstaining, this year’s text was adopted by consensus.
There was a subtle, but important, difference in wording between last year’s resolution and the current one, which enabled this year’s consensus. Last year’s text “takes note of the report of the Human Rights Council, and endorses the recommendations contained therein.”
The resolution just adopted, however, “Takes note of the report of the Human Rights Council and acknowledges the recommendations contained therein.” In 2008, Australia, Canada, Israel, Palau, and the United States voted against the resolution. An affirmative vote would have signified that their governments endorsed the recommendations contained within the report. The abstaining nations, while not flatly rejecting the recommendations through a negative vote, also would not positively endorse them. This year’s resolution, however, did not require active endorsement on the part of state governments. To acknowledge the recommendations is to accept that they exist, without the obligation to support their provisions.
The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, explained that the group had joined consensus on the resolution despite their belief that the wording of the resolution brought “no added value.” Furthermore, the delegation expressed its concern that there had been no informal consultations on the draft, and that the text’s co-sponsors had not provided Member States with adequate time to consider the resolution.
Although Israel joined consensus on the draft, it expressed concern that the work of the Council, as well as its methods, is biased and prejudiced, focusing disproportionately on the Middle East. By joining consensus, Israel hoped that the Council would improve its treatment of human rights.
On Thursday, November 19, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted a resolution that “strongly condemns the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar,” with 92 countries voting in favor, 26 voting against, and 65 abstaining. Sweden, representing the European Union, as the main sponsor of this resolution, explained “there are still over 2,000 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains in house arrest. Fundamental freedoms in Myanmar, including the freedom of assembly and expression, remain severely restricted.”
The Third Committee also approved a resolution expressing “very serious concern at the persistence of continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” 97 nations voted in favor of the resolution, 19 voted against, and 65 abstained. Sweden, for the European Union, was also this resolution’s main sponsor. In its statement, it criticized the government of the DPRK for “the grave, widespread, and systematic violations of human rights” and noted that “the DPRK has made no substantial effort to meet earlier requests made by the international community.”
On Friday, November 20, a draft resolution on the human rights situation in Iran was approved by a vote of 74 in favor to 48 against, with 59 abstentions. Before voting on the resolution, Canada, as the main sponsor, explained:
“What is routine is Iran’s consistent failure to live up to its international human rights obligations. These failings were only made all the more evident following the June 12th presidential election when the use of force by Iranian security forces resulted in the death, injury and arrest of many individuals, when many of those who were detained were subject to torture and denied access to legal representation, when freedom of association, assembly and expression were drastically curtailed.”
Iran, however, argued that the draft text represented an example of an “unhealthy and dangerous trend” of politicization and abuse of human rights mechanisms. After the vote, Iran considered the abstentions and absences to represent, alongside the “no” votes, support for Iran.
Additionally, on November 19, the representative of Zambia, on behalf of the African Group, introduced a draft decision on the Report of the Human Rights Council. The Committee will likely be taking action on this resolution within the next few days.
On November 12, the representative of Malaysia, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Belarus, and Venezeula, introduced in the General Assembly’s Third Committee a resolution on combating the “defamation of religions.” The text was approved by a vote of 81 in favor to 55 against, with 43 abstentions.
The draft introduced by the OIC noted with deep concern “the serious instances of intolerance, discrimination, acts of violence based on religion or belief… particularly [against] Muslim minorities… that threaten to impede their full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” In that respect, it expressed concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations.
Among the 55 countries voting against the resolution were the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, all the EU states, and other democracies. Sweden, on behalf of the EU, said they shared the OIC’s concern that people were “routinely victimized on the grounds of religion or belief,” but they could not agree with the concept of “defamation of religion” as a response to such discrimination, because it would “limit freedom of expression and might endanger the atmosphere of tolerance that would enable people of different religions or beliefs to coexist without fear.”
The United States representative lamented that the “increasingly splintered view on this text” did not adequately reflect the views of every state. He went on to say that “freedom of religion was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… [F]reedom could not be universally achieved by imposing governmental laws regarding who could say what, when. The United Nations must remain faithful to the central tenet of human rights law, which said that human rights were held by individuals not nations or religions.” The representative finished his statement saying that the U.S. opposed the resolution because it would not agree that prohibiting speech was the way to promote tolerance.
Amongst the 43 countries who abstained, the representatives of Brazil and Jamaica spoke in explanation of their votes. The representative of Brazil stated that his delegation could not support the text as tabled because it believed the concept of the “defamation of religion” needed to be addressed in such a way that was “not detrimental to other rights.” Jamaica’s representative said the draft “should have been more balanced and not confined itself to the concerns of one religion. It had failed to account for the violations of rights of persons of other faiths or religions.”
A coaltion of 100 human rights groups from 20 countries warned that the move would “punish the peaceful expression of disfavored political or religious beliefs and ideas.”
By a vote of 165 to 7, a UN General Assembly committee last Friday approved “institution-building” changes to the Human Rights Council that actually weaken or eliminate several of its key institutions. The package scraps the independent investigators of abuses in Cuba and Belarus, makes it harder to criticize specific countries for violations, and institutes the permanent censure of Israel as a fixed agenda item, an initiative pushed by the group of Islamic states.
The U.S., Canada, Australia, Israel and three Pacific Island states voted in opposition. The European Union countries supported the package, arguing it was the best possible compromise to preserve a functioning council.
The changes were first adopted on June 19, 2007 by the Human Rights Council in Geneva under dubious circumstances. As documented by a UN Watch photo timeline, “How the Human Rights Council Was Born” — an eye-opener into the dark side of international law and diplomacy — the package was rammed through in middle of the night, with Canada denied its right to vote. Continue reading ‘UN Ends Scrutiny of Cuba and Belarus, Indicts Israel’
Iran, Belarus, Burma (Myanmar) and North Korea lashed out after resolutions highlighting abuses in their countries were presented in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with economic, social, and human rights issues. The heated debate saw Belarus insist that it “was no rabbit; it had the strength and self-respect not to give in to threats, intimidation and haughtiness.”
Thursday’s debate at the General Assembly’s Third Committee touched on the plight of rural women and refugees, self-determination, and racism. A report by António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, noted with concern that “after several years of steady decrease, the number of refugees worldwide rose to nearly 10 million [people].”
Discussing self-determination, Syria said that the creation of Israel was a “caesarean birth.” Pakistan rebuked India regarding the disputed Kashmir region, saying that “no one should offer lessons in human rights to Pakistan.”
In other business, draft resolutions were introduced on the death penalty, the promotion of human rights, internally displaced persons, and the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance.
UN Watch highlights follow below.
- UN Racism Expert Doudou Diène addressed the General Assembly’s Third Committee on social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, noting a “resurgence” in racist and xenophobic violence, as well as growing “defamation of religions.” He cited racial as well as religious hatred, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and, particularly, Islamophobia. Diène took the unusual step of criticizing French President Nicolas Sarkozy for a July 2007 speech in Dakar that allegedly stated that “Africans had not become part of history.” According to Diène, this was “an example of the legitimization of racism…it recalled the essentialism of racist constructions of the 18th and 19th centuries.”
- Diène also defended the Durban follow-up conference, saying it faced “a campaign to discredit its outcome.” Continue reading ‘UN Racism Expert Accuses Sarkozy of ‘Legitimizing Racism,’ Defends Durban II Conference’
Tuesday afternoon saw heated exchanges at the UN General Assembly (GA) as its Third Committee, which oversees human rights issues, debated a package of reforms proposed in June by the Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the GA. (Click here or the statement by UN Watch and 26 other NGOs opposing the changes, as reported by Canada’s National Post).
Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman accused the new Human Rights Council of “moral bankruptcy.” The new Human Rights Council, he said, “was delivered by some who thought they were giving birth to a new baby, but they have given birth to a horrendous monster.”
The United States expressed “concern” at the “relentless” campaign against Israel at the Council. However, the Palestinian observer said that the situation in Palestine “had become a ‘test for the West’ regarding its commitment to the human rights.” Cuba, Syria and Iran also welcomed the Council’s focus on Israel.
Syria, Egypt, Myanmar (Burma), and Iran all voiced support for the proposed “code of conduct” for Special Procedures—a mechanism designed by China, Algeria, and other authoritarian members of the council to cow independent human rights monitors into silence.
Although many countries praised the non-selective nature of the proposed Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, France and the United States emphasized that it could not replace the need for country-specific actions and investigatory mandates.
For the official UN summary of the debate, click here. Our own highlights follow below.
Continue reading ‘Iran Expresses “Satisfaction” with Human Rights Council, Supports New Reforms’
UN Human Rights Council President Doru-Romulus Costea of Romania, appeared on Monday before the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which oversees human rights matters, as it began consideration of changes to the council’s make-up that would end scrutiny of Belarus and Cuba.
“Let us make the good choice, between what is right and what is easy,” said Costea. When this institution deals with human rights, it is worth trying it out all the way through.” Ambassador Costea also highlighted some of the new mechanisms and structures of the Council, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the rationalization and improvement of mandates, the selection of new mandate-holders, the new agenda, and the rules of procedure.
Canada, an outspoken critic of the reform package in June 2007, reiterated its objection that consensus was declared when “there was no consensus, and the manner in which that package was pushed through did a disservice to the Council and to the causes it espoused.” (For more information about the scandal surrounding the adoption of the Human Rights Council reform package, click here). Despite its objections, Canada pledged to “continue to work to ensure that the Council remained able to respond to urgent human rights situations.”
Portugal on behalf of the EU expressed similar concerns, most notably regarding the Council’s treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. While the European Union remained “very concerned” about the human rights in the region, it had doubts about the effectiveness of “unbalanced and divisive resolutions.”
Most countries supported adopting the June package of reforms.
While the debate remained mostly civil, Cuba and Sudan denounced the United States and “western accomplices.” Cuba accused the United States of “political manipulation,” “hypocrisy” and “double standards,” and of using the UN human rights machinery to hide its “abhorrent crimes.” Sudan expressed hope that the new UPR mechanism would be take up the “atrocious scandals unfolding in Guantanamo Bay and other prisons.”
For the entire summary, see click here.
— Reporting by Toby Frankenstein