(Geneva) – Instead of exposing human rights problems, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights risks drawing a veil across some of the worst human rights situations in the world, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of its annual session.
“Abusive governments have long used their membership of the commission to block criticism of each other’s human rights records,” said Rory Mungoven, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “But now, some Western governments that profess to champion human rights are trying to shield their friends and allies in the international fight against terrorism from criticism.”
This year’s session will consider proposals for the creation of a special mechanism to monitor the human rights impact of counterterrorist measures. However, the United States, Britain, Spain and Australia have joined India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in resisting the idea.
In the face of U.S. pressure, no EU government has pushed to renew the mandate of a U.N. expert to monitor human rights conditions in Iraq. Meanwhile, the United States and Italy are seeking a resolution that would ignore continuing and systemic human rights problems in Afghanistan.
So far, neither the United States nor any EU member has committed itself to tabling a resolution on China. While early discussions among the commission’s European members suggested there was momentum for a resolution on Chechnya, it is still unclear whether EU states will introduce a resolution.
The European Union has also been split on whether to condemn the deteriorating situation in Iran, and Canada is still weighing up whether to introduce its own resolution. A resolution on Iran was voted down at last year’s session, but subsequently adopted at the U.N. General Assembly.
Governments with poor human rights records have continued their efforts to prevent the commission from criticizing or even discussing human rights violations in specific countries. In particular, Cuba, Zimbabwe and China have in the past used procedural motions to block the discussion of their own human rights practices.
Human Rights Watch warned that the Commission was increasingly offering technical assistance rather than condemning abuses.
“In the case of repressive governments that have no intention to reform, such as Uzbekistan, relying solely on technical assistance is a completely inadequate approach,” Mungoven said.
The United States and some EU members have appeared halfhearted in pressing for the Commission to take action on Uzbekistan.
However, some of the most positive human rights initiatives have now come from Latin American and African governments, Human Rights Watch said. Mexico is spearheading efforts to safeguard human rights in the fight against terrorism. Brazil is championing a new resolution to tackle violence and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. African members of the commission are leading an initiative on behalf of children abducted in the continent’s many wars.
“The commission can still regain some of the credibility it has lost in recent years,” Mungoven said. “But only if governments that support human rights rally together to confront the worst abuses, regardless of where they occur.”