(Geneva) – The Human Rights Council, whose fourth session begins on March 12, has a growing backlog of abuses it must address, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.
“Addressing severe abuses shouldn’t be put on hold while the Human Rights Council finds its way,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Dozens of appalling situations the world over demand the Human Rights Council’s immediate attention. Human rights victims and defenders deserve better from the council – much better.”
In a briefing paper released today, “More Business Than Usual: The Work Which Awaits the Human Rights Council,” Human Rights Watch profiled serious human rights situations in 26 problem countries from Afghanistan to Iraq and from Sudan to Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch noted that the council has taken action regarding only three country situations so far, and called for attention to the many more areas of concern described in the paper.
On the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, where both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Karuna group, with the open support of government forces, continue to recruit child soldiers, the council has not acted. On Iraq, one of the most dangerous countries in the world today, the council is silent. On Burma, where more than 1,100 political prisoners are held, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the council has not engaged.
The Human Rights Council will consider two countries – Uzbekistan and Iran – during this session, both in closed meetings. In Uzbekistan, where security forces slaughtered hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters in Andijan in 2005, no one has been held accountable and a fierce crackdown on human rights defenders continues. In the last two months alone, authorities have arrested another two human rights defenders on politically motivated charges, raising the number of jailed defenders to at least 14. In Iran, the number of executions rose by 70 percent in 2006, and more juveniles are executed there than anywhere else in the world. Iranian authorities restrict freedom of expression by closing newspapers and imprisoning writers, journalists and editors, and limit freedom of association by imprisoning peaceful demonstrators, including women’s rights protesters, arrested in Tehran ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8.
Despite this, the Human Rights Council will take up a recommendation to end its consideration of both Uzbekistan and Iran. Both countries are currently subject to the council’s “Resolution 1503” procedure, which is intended to encourage government cooperation through its use of confidential proceedings. Uzbekistan has, however, failed to even allow the independent expert appointed under the procedure to enter the country. Shockingly, the council permitted Zimbabwe to remain a member of the five-state working group that reviews these cases, despite the fact that it is not a council member, a step which in itself breached the confidentiality of the proceedings.
Human Rights Watch argued that severe human rights abuses in both countries demand the council’s continued attention. It called for public consideration of both situations, and for appointment of “special rapporteurs” (independent experts) to report to the council at future sessions on each country.
“The council should be greatly expanding its reach, but instead it’s poised to shut the door on abuses in Uzbekistan and Iran, two of the few countries it’s looking at now,” Hicks said. “Ending consideration of Uzbekistan and Iran now would actually reward them for their abuses and their refusal to cooperate with the Human Rights Council.”
There remains a real possibility that the Human Rights Council, which replaced the much-criticized UN Commission on Human Rights, can be a much stronger and more effective institution than its predecessor. Unlike the commission, the Human Rights Council sets standards for its members to fulfill basic human rights norms. A system of universal periodic review – whose final details will be agreed by the end of June – will mean that the human rights records of all countries, even the most powerful, will be reviewed.
Some governments have sought to weaken the system of “special procedures,” including the special envoys known as rapporteurs, who report on particular themes or on individual countries. “The rapporteurs have an enormously important role and any attempt to undermine their independence strikes at the heart of the human rights protection system,” Hicks said.
The council meets for a minimum of 10 weeks in sessions held throughout the year. Under the old system, with the commission holding only one session a year in the spring, abuses like the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan, which took place in May 2005, would not be discussed for nearly a year.
“The Human Rights Council can deal with abuses in real time,” Hicks said. “Sadly, it has failed to make use of the new opportunities, and those who want the council to succeed must take the lead to ensure it makes a real difference for human rights victims throughout the world.”
For broadcast-quality audio commentaries on the Human Rights Council by Human Rights Watch experts, please see the below interviews.
- “‘Bringing women in’: A discussion on women’s rights at the Human Rights Council”
Human Rights Watch’s press director, Emma Daly, speaks with Marianne Mollmann of the Women’s Rights Division on how women’s concerns are still not part of a broader dialogue on human rights, and what Human Rights Watch hopes the Human Rights Council will accomplish on the topic this year.
- “Free expression, the treatment of juveniles, and the rights of human rights defenders in Iran”
Human Rights Watch researcher Hadi Ghaemi hopes the Human Rights Council’s agenda this year will prominently include Iran, a country with high rates of execution and harsh penalties for activists. Emma Daly speaks to Hadi on what to expect, and what Human Rights Watch hopes to see in the council’s fourth session.
For additional audio commentaries (to be released on the week of 3/19/07) and background on the Human Rights Council, click here.