Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

The First Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights

The 61st UN Commission on Human Rights began on March 14 amidst ‘unprecedented controversy’

And I wasn’t there to see it! Unfortunately, there were administrative problems in issuing my badge (which hopefully will be sorted out by tomorrow) and so I was unable to enter Fortress United Nations Geneva to witness the opening ceremonies. That said, would certainly not like today to have been a totally wasted day so I have done a bit of research on what has been written so far on today’s sessions and will also go ahead with a little bit of background on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) itself for a brief context of the upcoming six weeks events.

The 1st CHR took place in 1946, the year after the establishment of the United Nations, in order to create a space where human rights violations could be brought to light and to justice. The Commission consists of 53 members who rotate their membership based on the voting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and serve for three year terms. Membership is broken into geographical blocs allowing for 15 members from Africa, 12 from Asia, 5 from Eastern Europe, 11 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 10 from Western Europe and Others. The CHR is meant to be a non-political forum in which States will discuss human rights, their violations, and the consequences. Such issues of focus within the Commission are:

the right to self-determination; racism; the right to development; the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine; the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world; economic, social and cultural rights; civil and political rights, including issues of torture, detention, disappearances, summary executions, freedom of expression, independence of judiciary, impunity, and religious intolerance; human rights of women, children, migrant workers, minorities and displaced peoples; indigenous issues; the promotion and protection of human rights, including the Sub-Commission, treaty bodies and national institutions; advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights.

Already, there has been harsh criticism of this year’s CHR as many member countries are being called out as some of the worst human rights violators in the world. These would include North Korea, Cuba, Eritrea, Nepal, among others are being labeled as monsters in the quest for human rights for all amidst controversy and hubbub over the soon-to-be-appointed UN representative for the USA who appears to believe that the USA is the only member the United Nations will ever need. For the daily briefing issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights follow this link:

Obviously, the above UN briefing will be the super-dry martini version of the report I would have written, but from reading between the lines, I can already see that this years CHR will be a real pot-boiler. Firstly, there seems to be no mention as of yet of the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetuated by the United States of America and their ‘coalition’ in Iraq, the horrific sex scandals in Abu Ghraib being the first images to pop into my mind. Secondly, the Chairman of the CHR, Mr. Makarim Wibisono, is from Indonesia and anyone who works in indigenous issues knows that the Indonesian government has been the host to the military occupation of indigenous territories for many violent and bloody years, a pattern that the December tsunami cleared right up when it took most of Aceh with it. Thirdly, there seemed to be a theme within the opening statements of the morning focusing on the strengthening of States in order to combat human rights violations worldwide, which to me reads like the USA’s ongoing goal to eliminate the participation of civil society in the form of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from these forums in general, even though it is usually the NGOs who have the clearest idea of the actual reality of human rights violations on the ground. It is problematic to put the onus of retribution of/for human rights violations on States when the very definition of a human rights violation includes involvement of the State or functionary of the State in the violations.

The first agenda item discussed today was on the Organization of the Work of this year’s CHR and as is the tradition, the developing countries spoke out against country-specific resolutions as well as the growing anti-Muslim fervor in the tone in the plenary sessions of the CHR. The so-called ‘Name and Shame,’ an unofficial policy of the developed nations which seeks to glorify their status as non-human-rights-violators (a lie) while listing in great detail the human rights violations of Third World governments (many of which are funded by above noted developed nations), has been the bane of the CHR’s existence for many years and in the last two years the developing nations have been pushing towards the banning of country-specific resolutions in general. They claim that this type of aggressive finger-pointing is counter-productive to effective diplomacy as well as creates an awkward First World versus Third World dynamic within the CHR which negatively affects forward progress in the enjoyment of human rights for all. Although this is true to some extent, States never table resolutions against First World violators such as the USA, Australia, etc. even though technically they could. Last year, a resolution was in fact tabled against the USA and their treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, but it was not passed and so their torture and illegal imprisonment continues.

As the UN briefing for this afternoon’s session will not be released until tomorrow morning, I will reserve some time in my write-up tomorrow to make a few comments on what transpired from 3-6. Say a prayer that my badge will come through by tomorrow and these reports can be done properly!

In honour of Tony Black Feather,



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