(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council's decisive action on Iran and Cote d'Ivoire sends a clear message that ongoing violations in those countries should end, Human Rights Watch said today. The council agreed in its session ending on March 25, 2011, to establish new mechanisms to increase scrutiny of human rights conditions in both countries.
The decision to appoint an expert to investigate rights abuses in Iran was the first by the council, since it was created in 2005, to create a new post dedicated to a particular country. The resolution establishing the post was adopted handily, with 22 member states in favor, 7 against, and 14 abstentions.
"The Human Rights Council's appointment of an expert on Iran shows how dire the situation is there," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. "Iran has been put on notice that the world is watching and that its continuing abuses will have consequences."
The council also took strong action to address the human rights crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, where a three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity. In the face of escalating abuses in that country, the council unanimously agreed to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Cote d'Ivoire since the presidential election on November 28, 2010.
"The steady crescendo of abuses including targeted killings, enforced disappearances, politically motivated rape, and indiscriminate shelling continues to claims many lives," de Rivero said. "Establishing a Commission of Inquiry for Cote d'Ivoire sends a strong signal to all parties to the conflict that they will be held accountable for their actions."
During its four-week session, the council also continued its scrutiny of human rights violations in North Korea and Burma by renewing the long-existing mandates of experts appointed to investigate and report on their human rights situations. The council also took action relating to Guinea and Tunisia, adopting resolutions calling for the UN to assist in reform efforts.
Also at this session, the council took a major step forward by discontinuing its consideration of a perennial resolution on "defamation of religions." Instead it adopted a new resolution on combating intolerance and incitement to violence against persons based on their religion or belief. This shift implicitly rejects the "defamation of religions" concept, which had polarized discussions in the council for years. The move was particularly significant given that the new resolution was proposed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and adopted by consensus.
While these steps showed a significant improvement in the council's performance, this progress was in part overshadowed by its failure to address violent clampdowns on peaceful protesters in Bahrain and Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. The council will also need to respond to the Syrian government's brutal attacks on demonstrators in Daraa, where state security forces have killed at least 35 people over two days.
Human rights organizations have appealed for the council to convene a "special session" or separate meeting to condemn excessive use of force in Yemen and Bahrain and to call on both states to admit UN teams to monitor the ongoing human rights situation. On February 25, the council held a special session on Libya and adopted a resolution condemning serious violations, recommending that the General Assembly suspend Libya from the council, and establishing an international inquiry into the situation.
The council also failed to address widespread human rights violations in Belarus following recent elections, although some states had called for the council to take up that situation as well. Human rights Watch together with more than 100 human rights organizations had urged the council to condemn the abuses committed in the crackdown against peaceful protests in December 2010.
"The council was right to take quick action on Libya, and that same logic compels it to act urgently on Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria," de Rivero said. "But the council's work should not stop there. It should move beyond the Mid-east crises to take up post-election violence in Belarus, as well as endemic violations in places like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe."
The council continued to focus disproportionately on the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and was expected to adopt six resolutions on related topics at this session alone. In one of those resolutions, the council urged the General Assembly to take further steps regarding the findings of the Goldstone inquiry into laws-of-war violations committed during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict. Human Rights Watch has also called for General Assembly action, given the inadequate investigations by Israel and the absence of investigations by Hamas into alleged violations by their respective forces.
Earlier this week, 85 states co-signed a declaration calling for the end of violence based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, a development Human Rights Watch strongly supported. The declaration, which also called for the decriminalization of same-sex relations, was presented at the council on March 22.