Cuba, Venezuela, Iran Top the List of Countries Lining Up to Scrutinize U.S. Human Rights Record During U.N. Review

November 4, 2010 - 5:40 AM

Iran-US Human Rights

Iran is taking the lead in encouraging a tough verdict on the U.S. human rights record when that record comes under review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday. This was the front page of the Tehran Times on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. (Image: Tehran Times)

(CNSNews.com) – Scores of countries, more than half of them in the developing world, are lining up to take part in the first U.N. Human Rights Council assessment of the United States’ human rights record.

A limited number of speakers can be accommodated during Friday’s three-hour “universal periodic review” (UPR) session in Geneva, and a copy of the list obtained by CNSNews on Thursday is topped by Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.

Others high up on the list of 85 countries include Russia, North Korea, Egypt, China and Libya, all countries that are regularly criticized by the U.S. – and by human rights advocacy groups around the world – for poor human rights records.

A lawmaker who chairs Iran’s parliamentary human rights committee, Zohreh Elahian, said this week that the countries registering to take part in the UPR are doing so “to declare their criticisms of the U.S. policies in area of human rights.”

Charging that the U.S. holds itself up as the example for others to emulate even while violating rights at home, Elahian told Iran’s Fars news agency that this had “redoubled the importance” of the U.S. review.

She said Iran’s delegation planned to address the session and would also hold sideline meetings with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the subject of the U.S. human rights record.

As part of the UPR  process, every U.N. member state presents its rights record, once every four years, for the rest of the international community to examine, question and offer recommendations. More than 100 countries have gone through the process since it was inaugurated in mid-2008.

Although carried out under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, countries under review as well as those participating are not limited to the HRC’s 47 members.

Of the three-hour UPR, two hours are reserved for statements from country representatives, who usually speak for no more than two minutes each.

Michael Posner, Harold Koh

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, left, and State Department legal adviser Harold Koh speak at a press briefing in Geneva on September 28, 2009, ahead of the Human Rights Council meeting at which the U.S. record will be reviewed. (Photo: U.S. Mission Geneva)

Ahead of a particular country’s UPR, diplomats interested in speaking sign up on a first come, first serve basis.

The speakers' list usually is compiled just before the UPR but, according to diplomats cited Wednesday by a Geneva-based NGO, U.N. Watch, Cuban officials “took the lead last week in circulating an advance sign-up sheet.”

“We are concerned that Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other non-democracies are planning to hijack the session to score propaganda points and drum up anti-American sentiment worldwide,” said the organization’s executive director, Hillel Neuer.

Human Rights Council spokeswoman Claire Kaplun, who provided the list on Thursday, said it was possible the list could change before Friday morning. She also confirmed that due to the large number of signed-up countries, not all would be accommodated.

As such, the fact that countries hostile to the U.S. are high up on the list is significant.

Politicization

Since the UPR process kicked off in 2008, the speakers’ list has emerged as a problem, with a growing number of countries raising concerns that the process is being abused and politicized.

In a bid to preempt anticipated criticism from liberal democracies, countries with poor records are reportedly ensuring that their allies sign up in large numbers so as to dominate proceedings with anodyne expressions of support.

Conversely, when a state under review (SuR) is a democracy that for some reason is viewed with antagonism by other countries, the speakers’ list is quickly filled by countries wishing to use the UPR as an opportunity to attack their chosen target.

(A delegate from Georgia complained to the HRC last year about country representatives lining up at midnight outside the building to ensure they obtain a coveted slot on the speakers’ list.)

A report evaluating the UPR process, prepared this year by a Geneva-based NGO called UPR Info touched on the difficulties.

“Very often the speaking time is taken over by the so called ‘friendly’ states to the SuR,” it said.

“Sometimes these friendly states take a lot of time to praise the SuR’s accomplishments rather than make constructive critiques. Limited speaking time and number of speakers contradicts to the principle of universality of the UPR.”

UPR speakers list

The top five countries on the list of those wanting to speak during the Human Rights Council’s review of the U.S. human rights record in Geneva on Friday are Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Russia and Nicaragua. (Photo: UPR Info)

The trend began with the very first UPR session, in July 2008, when most of countries that took the floor to comment on the SuR, Bahrain, were fellow Islamic states.

When China was reviewed last year, it won praise from other countries with poor human rights records, including Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Burma and Zimbabwe.

Similarly, Iran’s UPR early this year saw the Islamic Republic present its human rights situation in glowing terms, while its allies expressed admiration and chided Western governments for criticizing Tehran.

The U.S. Mission in Geneva has called for “a definitive and impartial reform of the speakers’ list modalities,” saying that the way it now works does not allow all states wishing to speak to do so.

It says the UPR format should be changed, even if that means extending the current three-hour session when necessary.

The U.S. will be represented on Friday by a senior delegation led by two assistant secretaries of state, Esther Brimmer (International Organization Affairs) and Michael Posner (Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), and State Department legal advisor Harold Hongju Koh.

Iran, whose human rights record is frequently criticized by the U.S. and other Western countries, is taking a lead in encouraging a tough review for the U.S. on Friday.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast this week called on countries that are concerned about the human rights situation in the West to take an active part in the UPR session and to urge the U.S. to show greater respect for human rights.

Examples of the “violations” prevalent in the U.S., he said, were police brutality, discrimination toward minorities, and insults directed religion under the pretext of freedom of speech.

A Tehran Times article quoting Mehmanparast’s remarks reported that there were 45 executions in the United States in 2009, up from 37 in of 2008.

More executions take place in Iran than in any other country apart from China. Human Rights Watch reports that Iran in 2009 executed at least 388 individuals, at least five of them juvenile offenders.