Only 45% of UN Member-States Back Iran Human Rights Measure; Cuba Leads the Opposition

By Patrick Goodenough | December 19, 2014 | 5:08am EST

The U.N. General Assembly votes on December 18, 2014 on a resolution criticizing Iran's human rights record. (Screenshot: U.N. Webcast)

( – The U.N. General Assembly on Thursday passed an annual resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran, but fewer than half the world’s nations supported the measure, marking the third consecutive year in which the number of countries voting in favor fell.

The “yes” vote dropped to 83, which is 45 percent of the 186 votes cast in the 193-member UNGA – down from 86 in 2013 and 2012, and from 89 in 2011.

For the three years prior to 2011, the number of countries voting for the annual text had risen steadily, from 69 in 2008, to 74 the following year and to 78 in 2010.

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Thirty-five nations supported Iran by voting “no,” and another 68 abstained, making a total of 103 countries not prepared to support a text expressing “deep concern” about violations including abuses against religious and ethnic minorities, torture, the execution of minors, restrictions of free assembly and speech, and violence against women.

The resolution was introduced earlier this year by Canada on behalf of a group of mostly Western democracies.

The 35 countries which opposed the resolution fell into three broad categories – Islamic states; communist, leftist or other authoritarian regimes; and two Asian democracies with “non-aligned” tendencies (India and Indonesia). A full list appears at the bottom of the page.

The UNGA during Thursday’s session also passed resolutions critical of rights abuses in North Korea (by a vote of 116-20, with 53 abstentions) and in Syria (127-13, with 48 abstentions).

Leading the opposition to the three so-called “country-specific” resolutions was Cuba, whose delegate charged that the “toxic practices and double standards and selectivity” contained in the measures “violate human rights.”

“These resolutions are intended to harm developing countries, and they are politically motivated and have absolutely nothing to do with the defense of human rights and contribute nothing to that cause,” she said, pledging that Cuba would continue to oppose such measures that target “friendly countries.”

The vote on the North Korea resolution was also contentious. For the first time, the UNGA passed a text seeking to refer Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court for severe human rights abuses.

The next step in ICC referral requires the approval of the U.N. Security Council, however, and Russia and China – both veto-wielding Security Council members – were among the 20 “no” votes on Thursday.

Before the vote, North Korean delegate An Myong Hun lashed out at the resolution’s sponsors – the E.U. and Japan – saying their intention was not to advance human rights “but purely for subservience and sycophancy to the hostile policy of the United States against the DPRK [North Korea], to overthrow our political and social system.”

If the sponsors were really interested in promoting human rights, he continued, they would focus on abuses in Western nations, “such as the recently-revealed CIA torture crime committed by the United States in the most brutal and shocking manner.”

The U.S. government considers the annual Iran and Syria human rights resolutions to be among the most important measures to come up for a vote at the UNGA each year.

Under U.S. law, the State Department is required to compile an annual report on U.N. voting practices, focusing among other things on a small number of resolutions on “issues which directly affected United States interests and on which the United States lobbied extensively.” The most recent report identifies 11 texts falling into that category, and the Iran and Syria human rights resolutions were among them.

Despite the expressions of opposition to “country-specific” resolutions by Cuba and others, both the General Assembly in New York and U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva adopt dozens of resolutions critical of Israel each year.

The same UNGA session on Thursday dealt with a resolution on “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” – which contains language criticizing Israel over the security barrier it built between areas under its control and those administered by the Palestinian Authority in a bid to deter suicide bombings. The measure passed by a huge vote: 180-7 (Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and the United States), with four abstentions (Cameroon, Paraguay, South Sudan, Tonga).

Before the end of December, the UNGA will also pass another nine resolutions critical of Israel. During a committee stage last month all nine were adopted by overwhelming margins.

At the HRC, Israel was criticized in at least 32 resolutions between 2009 and mid-2014. Over the same period the tally for some of the world’s most repressive regimes was: Syria 13, Iran 4, North Korea 4, Libya 4, Burma 4 and Sudan 3.

--The 35 “no” votes for the Iran human rights resolution on Thursday came from: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brunei, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

--Member-states voting against the North Korea human rights resolution were Belarus, Bolivia, Burma, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

--The countries that voted against the Syria human rights resolution were: Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

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