Expatria · Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

A little less conversation, a little more action (or the Twenty-third Report on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, April 18, 2005)

The Commission continued its discussion of Item 17 on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, with similar comments on the situation of human rights defenders, capital punishment, sexual orientation and the like being debated by the various governments and NGO’s.

Mr. Akich Okola, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi gave a very intense presentation on the horrific situation going on there, even amidst the peace negotiations that are taking place. Even though his presentation focused mainly on the technical aspects of his report, how many people he met with, the current political climate and progress being made by the government, it was evident that the situation remained quite grotesque, and this was made surprisingly clearer by the delegate of Burundi when he took the floor. You remember that I was saying how I wished a government would step up and admit when someone has forgotten to mention some violations, well in essence they did this on the floor of the Commission (although, to be fair, the report on the situation does detail these things so it wasn’t as if the violations had not been documented, only that the Expert did not mention them and the government delegation did). The Burundi government also informed the Commission that it was unfortunate timing that the Expert happened to be visiting the country when a brutal massacre occurred, an issue which the government is dealing with currently. Congo and Burundi are in the middle of talks to work through the human rights situation as it effects both of them.

One of the notable statements on Item 17 from governments came from the USA, from which I will directly quote the UN Briefing summary as well as give you the link to the USA’s human rights website so you can go and read their nonsense word for word as stated by them.

“LEONARD LEO (United States) said freedom and personal responsibility were the hallmarks of a people who were endowed with individual dignity and worth, and they were the bedrock principles for the promotion and lasting protection of human rights. But freedom and personal responsibility could not thrive without strong and transparent democratic governments. The was because democracies that were true to their purposes placed a unique premium on the rule of law by allowing domestic legal institutions that protected human rights to flourish. The United States was committed to advancing democracy, and, in turn, tangible promotion of human rights, by helping build and preserve such legal institutions. Among other things, the United States had committed over $600 million in humanitarian assistance to Darfur and nearly $100 million in support to the African Union Mission. It had pledged an additional $853 million at the Oslo Donor’s Conference, had helped broker the 8 April cease-fire, and had sponsored recently passed Security Council resolutions on peacekeeping and sanctions. It was time for the Government of Khartoum to take seriously its duty to deter violence.

Countering terrorism was an effort to end impunity just as much as the efforts to build capacity in domestic legal systems around the world. Unfortunately, some today did not share a commitment to human rights, and had no respect for the rule of law or the democratic institutions that made it possible. They sought despotism and the enslavement of the human spirit through a reign of terror that perpetuated fear and misery. Those terrorists were intent on tearing down the domestic legal institutions that protected human rights. The United States remained committed to the view that lasting protection of human rights demanded unrelenting and effective counter-terrorism strategies, and those who rejected the laws of war and terrorised citizens would be dealt with in accordance with international obligations. He urged all members of the Commission to join the United States in defending human rights by advancing the rule of law and security, and the United States stood ready to work with other nations on that important effort.”

One does not normally feel hypocrisy as a tangible thing, but for me each time I hear statements such as this about democracy and human rights as if there is a true democracy in the USA which gives them the right to vomit this hogwash into our ears, hypocrisy begins to take on the mythical form of Uncle Sam with the stars and stripes hat, the scowl and pointing finger that says ‘Do as I say, and don’t you dare question or do as I do because, see this finger? This finger can push the button that will kill you if you don’t listen.’

Cameroon and Zambia made Pre-Emptive Defence Statements.

Egos who took the floor discussed many of the same issues as governments, but of course and as usual, from the view on the ground. Cases of extreme violence against human rights defenders from around the world were detailed, sometimes quite vividly, and it would appear that even though governments claim that they are committed to the promotion and protection of human rights, they do not seem to care very much for the individuals who end up risking and losing their lives to promote these rights for the citizens of any given nation. It was pointed out by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) that women human rights defenders face a whole other level of attacks against their person on the emotional as well as physical level, as rape and gendered violence enter the picture. ISHR informed the Commission of an International Campaign on Women Human Rights Defenders which is being organised and supported by a coalition of NGO’s world-wide. Other issues that were discussed included the abolition of the death penalty, human rights education, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoples (LGBTs), conscientious objection to war, human rights in the context of anti-terrorism as well as the situation of human rights in Ethiopia, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, South Korea, Spain and also interventions detailing violence against human rights defenders in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Thailand, Iran, Indonesia, and Nepal. Violations of human rights by the USA were also mentioned in regards to Guantanamo Bay. Several NGO’s pointed out that some Iranian human rights defenders who are well known were not allowed to attend the Commission because the Iranian government had placed their names on a ‘red list’ as terrorists. Rights of refugees were also mentioned.

The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) gave a brilliant intervention in which they discussed why certain nations would be against Mexico’s resolution on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism. This resolution attempts to not only create a new Special Rapporteur to monitor compliance, but also to act as an early-warning mechanism on this heated issue. SAHRDC feels there are three possible battles to be faced by this resolution, the first being Russia’s attempt to sabotage it by manipulating the Mexican position to meld terrorism and counter-terrorism (with assistance from China, Pakistan and India), the second being the USA and India’s desire to diminish the weight of the potential Special Rapporteur’s mandate through various machinations that would eliminate early-warning mechanisms, country visits and communications, and thirdly Australia has outright rejected the need for a Special Rapporteur on this topic. The USA is really working their ‘alliance’ with Australia to their advantage, no? Making them take the ‘no’ stance and look like the bad guy on this issue. I guess the USA must get tired of being the only opposing voice in the room and now have to get others to do the dirty work for them. I apologise, once again, for my government. This is just so embarrassing I barely can stand it.

Earthjustice made an interesting and relevant intervention linking the environment and human rights as many governments have been saying that environmental issues are not human rights issues. Earthjustice noted that the Environmental Rights Report from this year clearly elaborates the links between the environment and human rights on all levels of society.

The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action gave a fantastic intervention where they pointed out the numerous violations against indigenous human rights defenders working on the issue of land rights in the USA and Australia. They called upon the Special Representative of the secretary-general on human rights defenders to examine the situation in Australia.

At the end of the discussion on Item 17, in the Right of Reply segment, Colombia took the floor to say that the comments made against them were not necessarily true, and certainly human rights defenders were not being specifically targeted by the Colombian government. Oddly, they said that political crimes are not considered crimes against humanity as it had been implied by speakers that this connection is explicit.

The General Debate on Item 18, Effective functioning of human rights mechanisms: a) Treaty bodies, b) National institutions and regional arrangements, c) Adaptation and strengthening of the United Nations machinery for human rights, was opened for comments from the Commission.

Many governments who took the floor spoke favourably towards Kofi Annan’s UN reform plans, especially the idea of the standing body of the Human Rights Council which would replace the Commission on Human Rights. But many delegates noted that if this Council were to be established, it would be vital to not lose the various special mechanisms and treaty bodies in the process. Many States agree that the most vital part of the human rights mechanisms in the UN has to do with the treaty monitoring bodies, and these must be protected at all costs. Some discussed the improvement of National Human Rights Institutions and various methods to mainstream their work in human rights protection, and some feel that it would be more appropriate if NHRI’s could address the Commission under all agenda Items. Norway would like to see less declarations on rights and more implementation of rights (in terms of indigenous peoples I found this comment disturbing because could it mean that Norway will begin to go towards the Dark Side on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?). Many criticised the horrid politicisation of the Commission which has impeded its work more and more over the years. Furthermore, States noted that in order for the treaty body mechanisms and subsequent recommendations or resolutions to mean anything, States must comply with these and this has also been a problem contributing to the undermining of the Commission’s work. China and the USA made their ridiculous comments as usual, I am not sure if it’s even worth it to mention them because they are just empty and irritating in their arrogance. Okay, just a few words. China noted once again their commitment to human rights and how they protect all of their citizens from all human rights violations. The USA feels that many of the mandates of the Commission are redundant and that a review must be done to eliminate all of the work that is unfavourable to their economic interests, because the USA is the only one with economic rights in the world. Hah! I wish they had said that. It was true up until ‘eliminate all of the work that’ and what they would like to see is quality not quantity in the various monitoring bodies. There are too many with overlapping and useless mandates which sap the resources of the OHCHR. Kenya made a Pre-Emptive Defence Statement.

egos were given the floor and discussed various issues regarding National Human Rights Institutions as well as the work of the Commission. Several urged the Commission to pay closer attention to those States who are not complying with special mechanisms, as well as encouraged the depoliticisation of the Commission’s work. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) noted that the problem with the Commission’s credibility erosion has to do with the extreme lack of political will among States to comply with Commission or UN resolutions and recommendations in general. International Federation of University Women in a joint statement discussed the very absent issue of gender mainstreaming. ISHR mentioned some problematics regarding NHRI’s, some of whom attend the Commission to promote their activities and programmes but very little else. Furthermore, ISHR stated that several NHRI’s that were given the floor were in fact not accredited by the International Coordinating Committee, meaning they are not in compliance with minimum standards to be considered a NHRI.

Before the closing of today’s sessions, Algeria took the floor in response to comments made by various egos and pointed out that Algeria has a legitimate right to fight against ongoing colonial repression. Algeria also noted the advances they had made in human rights protections as well as allowing civil society to participate in human rights discussions. The statements from the NGO was completely unacceptable.

In honour of Tony Black Feather,