Global Policy Forum

UN Rights Chief Urges Council to Begin Country Scrutiny

Associated Press
September 13, 2007

Member nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council must allow their records to be scrutinized as soon as possible to show the global watchdog can be taken seriously, a top rights official said Thursday. U.N. High Commissioner Louise Arbour said it was high time the 47-member council agreed the ground rules for a system of regular country reviews foreseen when the body was created more than a year ago. "We are acutely aware that the credibility of the United Nations human rights system hinges upon satisfactory implementation of the review," she said.

Member states have been debating how to conduct these reviews since the council took over from the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission in June 2006. Rights groups complain that debates over the review process have dominated the council's work when it should have been examining urgent allegations of abuse around the world. "There are still too many delegations that want to drag out this institution building and avoid the council getting down to its real work," Amnesty International's William Spindler told The Associated Press.

He said the flaring violence and alleged rights abuses in Sri Lanka, for example, need to be addressed by the council during its three week session in Geneva, which started Monday. More than 5,000 people have been killed in the South Asian country since fierce fighting resumed in 2005 between Tamil Tiger separatist rebels and government forces. "I think we could do a world tour and find quite a few situations that the council should at least be starting to look at, and there's not much sign of that happening at this session," Spindler said. African and Asian states - who far outnumber Western countries in the council - have been pressing for further debate on procedural matters, arguing that the review process should not begin until April 2008 at the earliest.

"I suspect they or some of their friends may find themselves in the spotlight if the council actually does what it's supposed to," said Spindler. Other observers said lack of support from the United States, which is not a member, was preventing the formation of a strong bloc of human rights defending countries. "If you don't have the United States, you are not going to be as effective," said Michael Anthony of the Asian Legal Resource Center. The U.S. Senate voted last week to cut off funding to the council for regularly passing resolutions condemning Israel because of its military actions in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. No other country has so far been singled out for criticism by the council, although it has expressed concern over the human rights situations in Darfur, where Sudanese government-backed militias have killed thousands of civilians in recent years.

"The council has been delaying examining situations that are worthy of its attention," said Julie de Rivero of Human Rights Watch. "We hope that that will end with this session." Western countries on Thursday used the council's meeting with Arbour as an opportunity to highlight the issue of the growing number of executions in Iran. Arbour said she raised the matter with Tehran during a visit there last week, and expressed particular concern about the death sentences handed out to juveniles in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Arbour said she also discussed the need for the Iranian government to safeguard the right of its citizens to peaceful protest. Tehran has cracked down on public displays of dissent in recent months.

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