UN: Human rights violators must not be allowed to further weaken UN human rights protections

Freedom House
The UN Human Rights Council should vote to maintain all country-specific rapporteurs and should reject limits on the Council’s ability to address human rights abuses proposed by some of the world’s worst human rights violators, Freedom House said today.
As the UN Human Rights Council’s inaugural year comes to a close, the Council is meeting this week in Geneva to determine some of the fundamental procedures that will be used by the body in years to come. A number of member countries have proposed that country-specific “special procedures”—the special experts, representatives and rapporteurs who investigate human rights abuses in particular countries—be abolished, particularly those assigned to Cuba, Belarus, Burma and North Korea. The system of special procedures had been one of the few effective mechanisms of the UN Commission on Human Rights in responding to urgent human rights issues both thematically and regionally and prescribing avenues for improvement.
“The significance of the policies under debate in Geneva this week cannot be overstated,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “The future of the Council is in question: will it fulfill its mandate of promoting and protecting the human rights of the world’s citizens in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or will it simply protect those governments that have good reason to fear scrutiny?”

A few member states, including China and Belarus, have also suggested that new country-specific resolutions require a majority of two-thirds in order to pass. A restrictive code of conduct for special rapporteurs, sponsored by Algeria on behalf of the African group, is also on the table.

“The loss of country-specific special procedures, and steps to weaken the mandates and independence of special rapporteurs, would cause even further damage to the effectiveness and reputation of the world’s only global human rights body,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “Those countries that consider themselves democracies—almost 80 percent of the Council, by some counts—must reject these provisions if the Council is to remain viable.”

Currently, 79 percent of Council members belong to the Community of Democracies. Nonetheless, restrictive provisions sponsored by non-democratic countries such as Algeria and China have frequently gained support by a majority of the Council.

Other procedures determining the Council’s future activities will also be voted on this week. In particular, the structure of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which was mandated by the resolution that established the Council last year, will be established. Under discussion is whether outside experts and nongovernmental organizations will be able to play a key role in the review; currently, documents provided by the state in question appear to comprise the bulk of the evidence used for the review.

“It should go without saying that an effective review of a state’s human rights record requires information beyond what that state itself is willing to provide,” said Ms. Schriefer. “At this point, however, one is reminded of Voltaire’s oft-quoted description of the Holy Roman Empire: UPR is moving in a direction that could make it neither universal, nor periodic, nor a review.”

June 11, 2007

[Freedom House is an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.]