The HRC is dead, long live the HRC?

The UN has elected a brand new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. Why was the old HRC discredited? Well, basically and officially, because several of its members were known to violate human rights and/or to protect their own interests. It is only logical. However, who will be taking a seat in the new and improved HRC? Right, some of those very same countries that were known to violate human rights: China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In all fairness, Zimbabwe did not get elected this time around and, according to Human Rights Watch:

it was noteworthy that some countries with the worst human rights records had not put themselves forward as candidates, despite the prior membership of many on the old Commission on Human Rights. The group hoped that this reflects those governments’ assessment that they stand little chance of winning a General Assembly majority when voters are obliged to consider a candidate’s human rights record.

“The good news is that many of the worst violators – including Sudan, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, and Nepal – have not even dared to run for the new council,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Now it is up to U.N. members to exclude other abusive governments so that the council can be a real champion for human rights.”

In order to help the UN make a better choice this time, Human Rights Watch set up a special website summarizing the human rights records of the other candidates.

Let’s see what they say about Saudi Arabia:

Human rights violations are pervasive in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy. Despite international and domestic pressure to implement reforms, improvements have been halting and inadequate.

And China:

While many governments have praised recent developments in China, the country remains a one-party state that does not hold national elections, has no independent judiciary, leads the world in executions, aggressively censors the Internet, bans independent trade unions, and represses minorities such as Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians.

On Pakistan:

Six years after seizing power in a coup d’etat, President Pervez Musharraf’s military-backed government did little in 2005 to address ongoing human rights concerns, such as legal discrimination against and mistreatment of women and religious minorities, a rise in sectarian violence, arbitrary detention of political opponents, harassment and intimidation of the media, and lack of due process in the conduct of the “war on terror” in collaboration with the United States.

Now, I do not want to single out these particular countries, there is a lot more badness going around worldwide, but what use is any human rights body if offending countries are part of it?

Foreign Policy Magazine stated in March of this year (emphasis mine):

The Commission was mostly a finger-pointing committee, but the new council has a much stronger mandate. It is designed to help countries on the ground, which may include, for example, providing legal advice on U.N. treaties or helping to develop national human rights policies. Another strength is that the council’s mandate calls for follow-up on the resolutions it passes, which means fewer issues will be allowed to fester without at least council acknowledgement. (…) To fulfill its potential, the council needs the United States to play a strong role in shaping its methods, rules, and procedures as it develops into a real institution. The new body’s first test will come in May, when wannabe members will be voted on for the first time. If the GA is able to keep abusers off the council, it would go a long way toward ensuring the body’s success. If the United States joins like-minded nations in making that happen, it may find last week’s compromise to be “good enough” indeed.

Legal advice on treaties? Develop policies? Wow, that is going to be efficient. And the US needs to play a strong role? Sure thing.

I do not want to get too cynical, but even that emphasized first test has already failed… Partly, anyway. And what human rights body is going to force big players like the US and China to play according to the rules? I mean, I am all for human rights, but how are you going to enforce those rules? It is one thing to use ‘official’ human rights records to slam other countries, and this may have some effect in their respective pr-departments, but I fail to see how any of this can have a real impact.

On a personal note, I once dreamed of becoming a ‘blue helmet’. I wanted to work for the UN peace corps. You know what changed my naïve young mind? The dismissal in 1982 of Theo van Boven as director of the UN Division of Human Rights because he had criticised Argentina’s track record on human rights too harshly at the time:

As director of the UN Division of Human Rights, van Boven argued consistently that concern for human rights should not be a marginal activity within the UN system, but should become the core element of development strategies on all levels. He sought to break through the selective approach of the UN in human rights matters, and to deal more consistently with the gross violations of human rights in a large number of countries on all continents, including enforced disappearances, torture, summary and arbitrary execution, and discrimination against indigenous peoples.

He contributed to the creation of fact-finding mechanisms in these areas in order to bring pressure on defaulting authorities and to provide relief to victims. He was concerned also to identify the root causes of human rights violations in connection with the development process, patterns of economic and political domination, militarisation of societies and racial discrimination. In addition, he worked hard to strenghten the links of his office with non-governmental organisations.

Van Boven’s uncompromising approach to these matters led to major policy differences in the UN Secretary General, which in turn led to his UN contract being terminated in 1982.

Okay, maybe I do not know everything about his dismissal, feel free to correct me, but Van Boven’s departure made me doubt the value of having an international human rights body. I love being idealistically naïve and I hate cynicism, but sometimes I fail to be impressed by great expectations:

China supports the creation of the new UN Human Rights Council, which will strengthen the body’s role in this field, Zhang Yishan, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said on Wednesday. (…) Zhang told the General Assembly: “The international community and people all over the world lay great expectations on the council.

“They all hope that the council will play its due role, and more effectively enhance all human rights and fundamental freedoms at global level,” Zhang said.

Zhang pointed out that the draft resolution stresses that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development are interlinked and equally important.

Please, prove my cynicism wrong this time.

10 thoughts on “The HRC is dead, long live the HRC?

  1. enough finger pointering yet?
    groundless blaming is no better than violating human rights, the rights to remain innocent till proven guilty..
    Also human rights come in different standards, for example, legal ban of abortion might be considered as against women’s rights, while certainly some other people don’t think so..
    failed to protect its citizen from virus such AIDS can be considered as a failure of the government… it all depends.. understand other people, other cultures might help .. and stop this pointless blaming game

  2. “enough finger pointering yet?”

    Ironically, this is probably why so many offending countries coveted a seat in the old HRC. To cover their asses.

    “Also human rights come in different standards”

    This is true and one could argue that Human Rights Watch does not have it standards straight, but my post is not about blaming countries. It is about the failure of, at least, the old HRC to be effective. Whether we should condone human rights violations in other people’s cultures is an entirely different question.

  3. “but my post is not about blaming countries.”

    Okay, I gave a few examples. That is finger-pointing by proxy, I suppose.

    I’ll try to understand the oppressive cultures of China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan better. I promise. Shame on me.

  4. Its not about pointless blaming, its just the way to put light on the failures of old HRC and how they can be more effective. These methods r adopted by people in every field.The fact is just that they came into picture and others go away.

  5. The problem you outline applies to all sorts of areas at the UN. In many areas the UN provides good PR for countries that want to appear to be doing something while not having to actually commit to anything important or decisive. This especially is true in nuclear non-proliferation, human rights in general and genocide in particular. The UN allows countries to assure their citizens that such problems are not being ignored–they are being dealt with “through the proper channels”. It is saddest when people who actually want to make change get sucked into the UN system because their efforts get drafted into the illusion of action–which can be very disheartening when it becomes obvious what is really going on.

  6. Its is sad to know that people who work sincerly often came into picture with the ones who don’t. Theie sincere efforts easily gets stucked in the system. Leave the recognization, they r misunderstood.

  7. These kind of violation is not new. Its happening every now and then.Everybody is trying to violate rights in order to protect their own rights. The list is endless.

  8. I personally think it is sickening to see how ineffective this blog is at fighting human rights abuses. I think it should be abandoned.

    One of the essences of the UN is to form a community of all nations, and use this community to advance certain goals like peace and human rights.

    Insisting on excluding countries from this community is counterproductive. Only on rare occasions where a commision cannot function with certain countries present, should they be excluded. But at the same time it should be taken into account that that would reduce the authority of that commision.

    In the case of the HRC the selection is made by voting. And it serves no purpose to undermine the legitimacy of that vote.

    And as an aside, on the TPM blog it was shown that even if the US got its way and the voting rules would require 2/3′s of the votes it wouldn’t have made much difference.

  9. Goodbye HRC. It was the time to bid you farewell now when you had started working for your personal interests and for the welfare of the country as a whole.
    May long live the new HRC.

  10. This politics is simply fuck. I doubt the new HRC is not going to work for their personal interests? Lets wait and watch???????????