Economist: UN Human Rights Council in trouble


Hi Blog. Bad news from The Economist. I really have no comment at this juncture, as I don’t have enough information about the situation to draw conclusions, and don’t want to bend over backwards to paint an overly rosy picture. Debito


Human Rights and the UN
Great expectations
Hopes fade for a fairer UN policy on human rights
Mar 22nd 2007 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

A LOT of optimism attended the birth of the UN Human Rights Council, created last year by a 170-4 vote of the General Assembly. Whereas the United States kept on the sidelines (and confirmed this month it would stay away), many Western states saw the new body as an improvement on the discredited Human Rights Commission it replaced.

But now some of the commission’s critics are fretting that the Geneva-based council may prove only a little better, or perhaps even worse, than its predecessor. What they are watching keenly is the council’s reaction to the massacres and humanitarian disaster in Darfur.

This month the council received a report on Darfur which did at least spell out some basic facts. It said the Sudanese government has aided janjaweed militias, “including in violations of human rights”. The council’s investigators had to glean this from refugees in Chad and elsewhere, as they were denied visas to visit Sudan. But the UN investigation managed to bring certain harsh truths to light: at least 200,000 are dead (many think the number is double that), the situation is getting worse not better, and the government is largely to blame.

Sadly, though, the full council is unlikely to draw the logical conclusion and hold Sudan’s rulers to account. That is partly because Muslim countries, along with various non-democracies with a soft spot for tyrants, hold a majority of the council’s 47 seats; between them they are shielding the Khartoum regime.

More surprisingly, countries such as South Africa and India are siding with Sudan. The best that can be expected is a weak EU-sponsored resolution that vows to monitor events and urges all parties to do their bit. That would leave Israel the only state to have been condemned by the council—eight times.

This sort of imbalance is all too reminiscent of the old commission. One much-vaunted improvement was a new universal-review system—under which every country’s record would be scrutinised from time to time. This would at least force human-rights abusers to answer some hard questions.

But it now looks clear that any follow-up to these inquiries will be feeble; and a group led by the Cubans wants to use the universal review as an excuse to get rid of the special rapporteurs who keep an eye on places such as Belarus, North Korea—and Cuba.

At best, the council is a declamatory body; real power lies with the Security Council in New York. But the mess in the UN’s top human-rights agency augurs ill for the reform of the UN as a whole.

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