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U.N.: Setback on Human Rights Votes

Defeat of Key Resolutions at Geneva Commission

(Geneva) – The United Nations Commission on Human Rights today condemned some of the world’s worst human rights violators, but let others off the hook, Human Rights Watch said.

Resolutions were rejected on the situation in Chechnya (15 yes, 21 no, 17 abstentions) and Sudan (24 yes, 26 no, 3 abstentions). The defeat of the Sudan resolution ends U.N. human rights monitoring there despite the ongoing conflict.

A resolution critical of Zimbabwe was blocked by a so-called no-action motion (28 yes, 24 no, 1 abstention), which prevents the commission from even debating the subject matter of a resolution and in effect amounts to a self-imposed ‘gag order.’

Resolutions were not even tabled on several countries previously under scrutiny at the commission, including parts of southeastern Europe (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro), Iran and Equatorial Guinea. A chairman’s statement on Afghanistan, drafted for final adoption next week, fails to endorse a proposal for an international commission of inquiry to address past crimes, or to call for an increase in U.N. human rights monitors.

These results repeated the pattern set at last year’s session, when the commission voted to stop monitoring of human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea and Iran.

The commission did adopt critical resolutions on some countries, including for the first time on North Korea and Turkmenistan. The commission also expressed concern about ongoing human rights abuses in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

“Today’s voting shows that many commission members are more concerned with protecting each other than protecting the victims of human rights abuse,” said Joanna Weschler, U.N. Representative at Human Rights Watch. “It also highlights how Western governments have lost the political will to take action against abusive governments, particularly their newfound friends in the fight against terrorism.”

A growing bloc of repressive governments – including Algeria, China, Cuba, Libya, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe – have become progressively more aggressive in blocking or obstructing resolutions critical of any specific country. The African group voted as a bloc against action on Zimbabwe and (with the exception of Uganda) against the resolution on Sudan.

Western governments have weakened the commission’s response to some of the worst human rights situations. In a sudden and deeply disappointing shift in its approach, the United States decided not to co-sponsor a resolution on human rights violations in the Chechen conflict in Russia. Neither the United States nor the European Union tabled a resolution critical of China or Iran.

The European Union was nearly the only sponsor of country resolutions and took welcome new initiatives on North Korea and Turkmenistan. But on other country situations, the European Union showed internal discord, softening its criticism for instance on Chechnya.

Resolutions on Belarus, Burundi, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq will be voted on tomorrow.

“The commission is trapped between governments intent on undermining it and those that lack the political will to take them on,” Weschler said. “This year’s session underlines once again the urgent need to reform the commission, starting with the establishment of clear criteria for membership.”

Human Rights Watch has argued that, as a prerequisite for membership of the commission, governments should have ratified core human rights treaties, complied with their reporting obligations, issued open invitations to U.N. human rights experts and not have been condemned recently by the commission for human rights violations.

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