U.S. Joining Human Rights Abusers on U.N. Human Rights Council

By Penny Starr | May 11, 2009 | 6:41 PM EDT

Gregg Rickman, senior fellow at the Institute for Religion and Public Policy and former U.S. Special Envoy for Secretary of State to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Bush Administration, says that the United States should not legitimize the United Nations Human Rights Council by becoming a member because of the violation of human rights by some countries on the council. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) –  For the first time since the United Nations formed the U.N. Human Rights Council three years ago, the United States is expected to earn a seat on the council during a secret ballot vote of the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday in New York City.
The election will end the Bush administration’s rejection of a seat on the council because many of the 47 member countries violate human rights – countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Nigeria.
Critics say that the U.S. decision to join the council, which replaced the controversial U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006, sends the wrong message.
The United States “should not be legitimizing this council,” Gregg Rickman, senior fellow at the Institute for Religion and Public Policy and the former U.S. Special Envoy for Secretary of State to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in the Bush administration, told CNSNews.com at a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation last week.
“I worked in Congress for a long time, and there’s a principle that people say that it’s like a handshake – it’s a meeting,” Rickman said. “You are legitimizing their presence as your equal, and if you join with them, it’s the old ‘laying down with dogs and waking up with fleas argument.’”
But President Barack Obama is in favor of the move, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice announced on March 30 that the United States would run for a seat on the council.
“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy” Clinton said. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system to advance the vision of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights.” 
“The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organization’s genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations,” Clinton said.
“Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible,” Rice said. “The U.S. is seeking election to the council, because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.
“We hope to work in partnership with many countries to achieve a more effective council,” Rice said.
The U.S. State Department’s 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, issued on Feb. 25, 2009, shows that many of the countries that have served, or currently are serving, on the council have records of human rights abuses that include rape, kidnapping, forced abortion and executions without trial. See full report 
Here are some excerpts from the report focusing on countries that have served or are serving on the council.
In March, family-planning officials in Henan Province reportedly forcibly detained a 23-year-old unmarried woman who was seven months pregnant. Officials reportedly tied her to a bed, induced labor, and killed the newborn upon delivery. In April, population-planning officials in Shandong Province reportedly detained and beat the sister of a woman who had illegally conceived a second child in an attempt to compel the woman to undergo an abortion.
The government's human rights record remained poor, and government officials at all levels continued to commit serious abuses. The most significant human rights problems included the abridgement of citizens' right to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; the use of lethal and excessive force by security forces; vigilante killings; impunity for abuses by security forces; torture, rape, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees, and criminal suspects; harsh and life?threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention; executive influence on the judiciary and judicial corruption; infringement on privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; domestic violence and discrimination against women; female genital mutilation (FGM); child abuse and child sexual exploitation; societal violence; ethnic, regional, and religious discrimination; trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution and forced labor; and child labor.
Most killings resulted from police brutality. Although the exact number of deaths was unknown, the Al-Nadim Center for Psychological Rehabilitation of the Victims of Torture documented 32 cases of police officers torturing victims to death in a nine-month period from June 2007 to March [2008]. Security forces also unlawfully killed refugees and asylum-seekers (see section 2.d.). 
On April 21, Public Prosecutor Mahmoud Abdel Meguid ordered a reinvestigation into the case of 13-year-old Mohamed Mamdouh Abdel Aziz, who allegedly died after chief of investigations Captain Mohamed Qandil, police officer Abou el-Ezz Fathy Mansour, and detective Yasser Mekawy tortured him with electric shocks in August 2007. At year's end there were no further developments in the case.
Between 2000 and 2007, the EOHR [Egyptian Organization for Human Rights] documented more than 226 cases of torture inside police stations, including 93 deaths likely caused by torture and mistreatment. In numerous trials, defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning. Human rights activists also continued to call attention to more than a dozen amateur videos that observers with mobile phone cameras circulated on the Internet documenting abuse of citizens by security officials.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens and upheld civil liberties. Nonetheless, there were problems during the year in the following areas: killings by security forces; vigilantism; harsh prison conditions; impunity for prison authorities and some other officials; corruption in the judicial system; limitations on free speech; societal abuse and discrimination against religious groups and interference with freedom of religion, sometimes with the complicity of local officials; instances of violence and sexual abuse against women and children; trafficking in persons; child labor; and failure to enforce labor standards and worker rights.
Despite some improvements after the state of emergency at the end of the previous year, the human rights situation remained poor. Major problems included extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances. There were also instances in which local police acted independently of government authority. Collective punishment was a problem particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which falls under the legal framework of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). Lengthy trial delays and failures to discipline and prosecute those responsible for abuses consistently contributed to a culture of impunity. Poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, and lengthy pretrial detention remained problems, as did a lack of judicial independence. Corruption was widespread within the government and police forces, and the government made few attempts to combat the problem.
Although implementation of the 2006 Women's Protection Act somewhat improved women's rights, rape, domestic violence, and abuse against women remained serious problems. Honor crimes and discriminatory legislation affected women and religious minorities respectively. Religious freedom violations and inter-sectarian religious conflict continued. Widespread trafficking in persons, child labor, and exploitation of indentured and bonded children were ongoing problems. Child abuse, commercial sexual exploitation of children, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and worker rights remained concerns. 
Saudi Arabia
During the year the press reported that the government announced executions (by beheading) of 102 individuals who were convicted of murder, narcotics related offenses, armed robbery, and rape. Court proceedings in capital cases were closed, making it impossible to determine whether the accused were allowed to present a defense or were denied basic due process. Contrary to the previous year, there were no executions for sorcery, although death sentences for two women accused of witchcraft remained in effect. The government executed 153 persons in 2007 and 37 in 2006.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a United Nations watchdog group, said the Human Rights Council is corrupt, but that the U.S. might make a positive difference if it sits on it. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

At the Heritage event, Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, cited a report his organization wrote with Freedom House. Both U.N. watchdog groups called for the U.N. to ban Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Zambia from sitting on the council because of grievous human rights abuses.
Neuer said the Human Rights Council is no different from its predecessor. “This body has become worse than ever,” Neuer said. “It is largely accomplishing the opposite of human rights.
“Those who are likely to be re-elected include Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia – some of the worst abusers in the world,” Neuer said. “We fear that once again it will be a case of the foxes guarding the chickens – if you want to be even less charitable, the inmates running the asylum.”
Like its predecessor, both Neuer and Rickman said the Human Rights Council has singled out Israel for alleged human rights violations while using regional alliances to block criticism of certain members and their allies.
But Neuer also said that the U.S. seat on the council could preserve the cause of human rights and win “the hearts and minds” of people around the globe if the U.S. takes the right stand during its tenure.
“The fact is that the U.S. was not a member for three years, but the council continued,” Neuer said.
“If we are concerned about hearts and minds, the Human Rights Council’s decisions are Web cast around the world. They’re published in every language, and they affect hundreds of millions of hearts and minds,” Neuer said. “While I get the argument and very much understood the thinking of not legitimizing such a hijacked body, the reality is it continued, stayed on and it only got worse.
“The U.S. is somewhat skeptical about the U.N,” Neuer said. “But in most places in the world, they are not skeptical of the United Nations. The U.N. is gospel. And so things that come out of the U.N. have enormous impact around the world.”
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2008 report released earlier this month named 13 countries as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) and 11 on a “watch” list because of violations of religious and human rights.
Among those 24 countries cited by the commission, eight are named on the U.N. Web site as previous or current members of the Human Rights Council from 2009 to 2011 – China, Cuba, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan.