The UN Human Rights Council adjourned its second regular session today without taking any effective action to address the world’s human rights crises, Human Rights Watch said today. States with poor human rights records dominated the council’s deliberations and countries more committed to human rights failed to exercise effective leadership.
“In the face of atrocities in the Sudan, attacks on civilians in Sri Lanka, and impunity for mass murder in Uzbekistan, this council was largely silent,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “As the premier international human rights body, the council needs to demonstrate its credibility by taking robust action against violator states.”
The council heard detailed reporting from its independent experts on human rights violations in a number of countries during its “interactive dialogue” segment, but was not able to agree on any follow-up to their findings.
The council also adopted only a short procedural decision allowing continuation of its activities, and will meet again in late November to continue its work.
The council postponed consideration of all resolutions presented during this session, including two on Darfur, despite Sudan’s responsibility for ongoing war crimes and its continuing defiance of UN Security Council resolutions when African states and the European Union could not agree on a text. It also failed to act on a proposal by the European Union to address the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka because of strong opposition from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and a number of Asian states.
Four of the independent experts appointed by the council, after a fact-finding mission to Lebanon and Israel, found serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law by Israel and Hezbollah during the recent conflict, in line with findings by Human Rights Watch. The council’s discussion of their report, however, largely ignored these findings. Numerous Arab and Muslim states denounced the report as biased towards Israel, while Israel faulted the report for failing to discuss Lebanon’s role in the crisis. The debate demonstrated the council’s continuing inability to objectively address the responsibilities under international law of all parties to the conflict in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said.
Despite the Uzbek government’s abusive crackdown following the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Andijan in May 2005, the council also refused to publicly address the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, deciding instead to continue to examine the situation in private.
The Human Rights Council, which was established in June 2006, is struggling to distinguish itself from its discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Human Rights Watch has proposed that the council adopt a new process for handling human rights situations, with a full range of responses to abuses, ranging from assistance for human rights programs to measures designed to compel changes where cooperation fails.
At this session, the council continued work relating to establishment of a “universal periodic review” under which the human rights records all UN member states will be examined. The UN General Assembly resolution that created the council requires that this system be in place within a year.
One bright note at this session was the broad participation of non-governmental organizations, including those from countries where there are widespread human rights violations.
As in the previous session, a number of states with poor human rights records played an active and particularly troubling role in the council’s deliberations. Discussions were frequently dominated by abusive governments, and decisions gravitated towards the lowest common denominator in order to achieve consensus. States with stronger records on human rights, including many that have emerged recently from periods of substantial abuses, were on the defensive. These states were frequently outflanked by the spoilers, who seemed able to act both more cohesively and more strategically. If the council is to succeed, Human Rights Watch said, human rights supporters will need to elevate their efforts and demonstrate greater leadership.
“The council showed that it is not yet up to the challenge of objectively assessing rights abuses and taking concrete action to address them. It lacked both vision and resolve at this session,” Hicks said. “A course change is urgently needed if this new body is to get on track.”