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Human Rights Watch sounded an urgent alarm at today's votes by the world's highest human rights body, which chose one by one to ignore severe human rights violations in several countries on its agenda, such as Russia/Chechnya, Zimbabwe, and Equatorial Guinea.

"This is a frontal attack on one of the most effective human rights tools: the naming and shaming of human rights violators," said Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch's United Nations Representative.

In recent years, many highly abusive governments facing censure by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) successfully fought to gain seats on the U.N. body as a way of fending off criticism. Today, as the period in which the CHR considers the records of individual countries began drawing to a close, that cynical strategy reaped big rewards.

Countries with disturbing human rights records now command a significant bloc of votes on the commission. Those countries include: Algeria, Burundi, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Togo and Vietnam.

In addition, many Western countries, particularly those from the European Union, have been less outspoken this year than in the past. In a bow to the opponents of "naming and shaming," the European Union departed from its long-established practice of naming the worst violators in its speech under the agenda item dealing with country situations. Instead it chose to distribute that part of its statement in a separate written text.

"Today's votes underscore a serious crisis at the Commission on Human Rights," said Weschler. "Governments around the world that profess commitment to human rights must undertake immediate steps to prevent the current situation from recurring or degenerating further." Weschler said those steps should include making a country's human rights record the decisive factor in election to the CHR and working year-round on issues related to the CHR, rather than making it a discreet, six-week process largely confined to Geneva.

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