Islamic Solidarity Disappears As U.N. Human Rights Council Appoints Investigator for Iran
(CNSNews.com) – The Islamic solidarity usually so evident at the U.N. Human Rights Council melted on Thursday as the body adopted a resolution setting up an expert to investigate and report on human rights abuses in Iran.
It was the first time in its five-year history that the Geneva-based HRC has created a new “special rapporteur” position for a country-specific situation.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) bloc and its allies, which dominate the council, oppose country-specific mandates on principle, except for the case of Israel. The OIC-backed mandate of special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, currently held by controversial international law scholar Richard Falk, was created in 1993 and is set to run “until the end of the Israeli occupation.”
But on Thursday, the customary OIC bloc voting unraveled as the council endorsed a resolution, introduced by the United States and Sweden, appointing a special rapporteur for Iran and calling on the regime in Tehran to cooperate and to allow the person, who is yet to be appointed, to visit.
The resolution passed by a vote of 22-7, with 14 abstentions.
The OIC comprises 56 Muslim-majority nations. Of the 18 OIC countries on the 47-member council, only three – Pakistan, Mauritania and Bangladesh – opposed the measure.
Two others – Senegal and the Maldives – voted in favor and 10 abstained. They were Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Uganda.
(Of the remaining three OIC members, Qatar did not vote, Libya’s membership has been suspended, and Kyrgyzstan is temporarily disqualified from voting because it has not paid its U.N. dues for two years.)
Apart from the three Islamic states, the other “no” votes came from China, Cuba, Russia and Ecuador.
China’s envoy said his government believed human rights issues should be dealt with through dialogue, not pressure; Cuba’s delegate said the resolution may be a pretext for military action against Iran.
The U.S. ambassador to the HRC, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, hailed the move as “a seminal moment” for the council, which the Obama administration joined in 2009.
“As you know, country-specific actions by the council have generated a lot of resistance in the past,” she told reporters after the session. “Today we’ve seen the council able to respond to a chronic, severe human rights violator which is Iran, and we’re very pleased with this development.”
Pointing to other recent developments like the HRC’s vote to suspend Libya, Donahoe said the month-long council session ending on Friday had seen “a significant shift.”
“That is what this council is here to do – to deal with crisis situations [like Libya] and deal with chronic, severe situations [like Iran],” she added. “So the fact that we have had results in these areas makes this an important day for the council.”
In a statement issued in Washington, national security advisor Tom Donilon called the decision “a historic milestone that reaffirms the global consensus and alarm about the dismal state of human rights in Iran.”
‘Destructive U.S. role’
The HRC has four other special rapporteurs, but all were established by its predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). They are rapporteurs for Burma (set up in 1992), the Palestinian territories (1993), Cambodia (1993), and North Korea (2004). In 2007, the HRC voted to end the mandate of the special rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram said Thursday that on principle, the OIC does not support country-specific mandates as they are “counterproductive.”
Iran is not a member of the council, but speaking as a representative of a concerned country ahead of the vote Iranian envoy Mohammad Reza Sajjadi said the HRC must avoid politicization and double standards, calling for a no vote.
He also complained about the “destructive” role of the U.S. in driving the initiative, saying U.S. membership had stopped the council from functioning effectively.
Sajjadi said the U.S. role in the council’s predecessor, the UNCHR, had prompted the international community to suspend its membership of that body.
(In 2001, the U.S. lost its seat on the UNCHR for the following year for the first time in the body’s half-century history, when three seats earmarked for Western nations went to France, Austria and Sweden.
Voting was by secret ballot, but observers attributed the defeat to countries hostile to the U.S. as well as liberal European countries upset with the Bush administration’s positions on issues like the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol.)
In another vote on Thursday, the HRC extended for one year the mandate of the special rapporteur for North Korea. The vote was 30-3, with 11 abstentions. China, Cuba and Russia voted no.