Author Topic: The UN's human rights council farce: U.S. silent as brutal regimes take seats  (Read 284 times)

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Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by
The UN’s Human Rights Council farce: U.S. silent as brutal regimes take seats

 John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — You can’t make this up.

In recent elections for the UN’s 47 member Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) some of the winners of the coveted seats are ironically the countries who are among the major global human rights transgressors. This hypocrisy ironically evokes the old adage of the foxes guarding the henhouse or of Tony Soprano chairing a Senate Subcommittee on organized crime.

Here’s the setting. Sixteen countries were running for fourteen seats on the Geneva-based Council tasked with monitoring and reporting on the pulse of human rights worldwide. As is usual in the UN, the countries were competing in regional groups for the two year tenure.

Chen Guangcheng: “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.” /South China Morning Post/Reuters
Chen Guangcheng: “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.” /South China Morning Post/Reuters

So for the African group there’s Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and South Sudan. Algeria remains an authoritarian state with few human rights nor press freedoms. Yet the Algiers government won a seat. So too did the Kingdom of Morocco, generally ranked as a partly free country as well as South Africa and Namibia, listed as “free” by New York’s Freedom House but dabbed as a “flawed democracy” by the Economist of London.

Now it gets interesting viewing the Asian Group, whose four contenders are predictably unopposed; China, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

People’s China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam all share the dubious distinction of “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist, while Freedom House lists the three countries as “not free.” As to press freedoms there, you have to be kidding.

The Maldives in the Indian Ocean are listed as partly free.

Turning to the Latin American group there were three contenders for two seats; Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay. Guess who won? Cuba came in first with 148 votes followed by Mexico 135 and sadly with democratic Uruguay in the dust. Without question Cuba is rated as “not free” by Freedom House and an “authoritarian regime,” by the Economist.

Mexico is viewed as “partly free” by Freedom House but a “flawed democracy” by the Economist. Uruguay a genuine democracy, fell by the wayside in this contest.

For a positive break, let’s look at the West European group. Both France and the United Kingdom won two year terms on the Council. Happily both are free countries and vibrant democracies, though the Economist, a British publication after all, describes France as a “flawed democracy.”

The Eastern European Group fielded two candidates for two seats; Russia and Macedonia.

Need I say more? Freedom House rates Russia as “not free” while the Economist describes the Moscow government as an “authoritarian regime.” Macedonia (known officially in the UN as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is viewed as “partly free” and a “flawed democracy” respectively.

According to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch “China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens and they consistently vote the wrong way on the UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”

“Regrettably, “added Neuer, “so far neither the U.S. nor the EU have said a word about the hypocritical candidacies that will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system.”

In a program sponsored by UN Watch and the Human Rights Foundation, famed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng stated “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.”

Chen, a former blind political prisoner, was spirited out of China last year in a high profile case, and now lives in New York.

Rosa Maria Paya, a Cuban dissident added, “The presence of the Chinese, the Russians and the Cuban regimes, is disappointing for the victims of repression, and it sends a message of complicity from the international community. “ She lamented that “democratic governments should not share seats with criminals which behave with impunity since they are not suffering any consequence.”

The UNHRC election offers a stunning wake-up call that despite the surge of freedom throughout the world, there’s still a strong and entrenched group of authoritarian regimes who will use and abuse these very human rights mechanisms to cynically counter civil and political rights everywhere.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for He is the author of Transatlantic Divide ; USA/Euroland Rift (University Press, 2010).
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness -- these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles."
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