(CNSNews.com) – Four months after the world’s governments elected
Citing the Lockerbie bombing and various cases of political imprisonment and torture, campaigners say the U.N. should remove
Under the 2006 U.N. resolution that created the HRC, the General Assembly may vote to suspend any council member “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.” A two-thirds vote is required.
As a three-week council session began on Monday,
The push to remove it comes amid a continuing effort by the Obama administration to justify its decision to join the 47-nation council last year, after its predecessor shunned it.
A report by the Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House Wednesday gave the HRC poor grades in several areas, noting in particular the malign influence of rights-violating countries on the council.
Over its four years of existence, the proportion of members deemed “free” by Freedom House has dropped, from 25 in 2006 to 20 this year.
Meanwhile the number of countries graded “not free” has risen, from nine in 2006 to 13 in 2010. Rounding out the numbers are countries rated “partly free.” (See graph: HRC-freedom house scores.doc)
“[T]he ratio of rights-respecting countries to rights-abusing countries has been slowly shifting in the wrong direction,” the report said. Freedom House has carried out the annual grading, which scores countries on political freedoms and civil liberties, since the 1970s.
Critics have attributed the problem to several factors, including:
-- No enforceable criteria for HRC membership; Although governments are expected to take a candidate’s human rights record into account when voting, this clearly has not happened in many cases. When
-- Regional group seat allocation; At any one time, more than half the total number of seats (26) are filled by countries from Asia and Africa, while only seven seats are held by members of the Western group. The rest are designated for countries in Eastern Europe (six seats) and
-- The failure of governments to ensure that the strongest possible candidates are elected; In the May 2010 election, not one of the five regional groups put forward a competitive slate. Instead, each group decided its representatives in advance – the same number of candidates as there were seats available.
The only way
Similarly, the other 12 current “not free” members of the HRC were all elected with little difficulty –
‘Vacuum of leadership’
Because of these failings and in-built weaknesses, critics argue that no matter how well-intentioned, there is little democracies can do to change the way the council operates in a meaningful way.
U.S. ambassador to the HRC Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe disagrees.
“There are a lot of critics back home,” she told a press breakfast in
“I personally disagree with this idea vociferously,” Donahoe continued. “I believe very deeply that if the
In its report, Freedom House did see value in
On the other hand, the
The Freedom House report called that language “vague,” and said it “could be misused to protect religions, religious beliefs, and religious symbols rather than the rights of individuals.”
Next year the HRC is due to hold a five-year review of its workings, and proponents of
Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive report on the subject in June, calling on the council to use the review “to engage on all human rights situations that need its attention and to overcome selectivity in its work.”
An uphill battle looms, however. In an opening salvo Monday,
Libyan victims speak out
Backing the call to expel
Also taking part was Mohamed Eljahmi, brother of
Other participants include Dr. Ashraf el-Hajouj and Kristyana Valcheva, victims of one of the more bizarre cases of Libyan rights abuse – an allegation that a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses had deliberately infected Libyan children with the HIV virus.
Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1999 and allegedly tortured while in custody, they were released in 2007 thanks to heavy lobbying by European governments.