Last night’s election of 10 of the world’s worst violators of free expression – Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia – to be members of the UN’s new Human Rights Council was called a “scandal” today by Reporters Without Borders.
“It is outrageous that 10 countries that violate the rights of journalists and free expression on a massive scale should have been chosen to ensure that human rights are protected throughout the world – we foresee nothing good coming from this council,” the press freedom organisation said.
“There is no difference between the composition of the former Human Rights Commission – whose work was unanimously condemned by NGOs, and by many countries as well – and that of the new council,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They have taken the same countries and started over. What is more, seven of these 10 countries have been elected for three-year terms, the longest envisaged under the council’s rules, terms that can be renewed once. So the reforms adopted by the United Nations are clearly insufficient. The UN will not guarantee respect for human rights in the world in the future any more than it has in the past.”
The organisation said the system of regional quotas and vote by a simple majority were responsible for the planet’s most repressive countries being elected to the council, which will meet for the first time on 19 June.
“What a victory for them, and what a defeat for the United Nations,” the organisation said. “We are deeply disappointed, even if the result is not surprising. We had already voiced our concern last week about the candidacies of certain countries.”
Reporters Without Borders continued: “Our only hope now is that the other countries elected to the council that respect free expression – such as Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Japan, Mali, Mauritius, Switzerland and United Kingdom – will use their influence to prevent the council from discrediting itself as soon as it takes office.”
The organisation added: “On the eve of the election, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan had warned that it would depend on the member countries ‘whether the council really is a spectacular improvement or simply continues the practices of the old commission under a new name.’ Today we have the answer. This election was one more lost chance.”
The wheeling and dealing customary during elections for the former commission were again in evidence yesterday. Kenya, which was the 14th candidate in the African group, pulled out at the last moment with the result that all of the other 13 candidates for the 13 African seats were elected automatically. Meanwhile, 17 of the countries elected to the council are members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
“Regional, cultural and religious solidarity and alliances were much more decisive in the election of the council’s members than their commitment to protect human rights,” Reporters Without Borders concluded. “And let us add a final, disturbing figure: about 90 per cent of the capital punishments carried out worldwide last year took place in single country that is a member of the new council.”
China and Cuba are the world’s two biggest prisons for the press. Censorship is the rule in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, where journalists are exposed to harsh reprisals if they overstep the mark. In Russia, the Kremlin has already taken over the leading news media, starting with the TV stations. There is almost daily violence against journalists in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan. Dozens of journalists are in constant risk of imprisonment in Algeria, where the most critical media are repeatedly prosecuted. The murders of two journalists in Azerbaijan in 2005 remain unpunished.
The list of countries elected to the Human Rights Council and the length of their terms (determined by lottery):
African States: Algeria (1 year), Cameroon (3 years), Djibouti (3 years), Gabon (2 years), Ghana (2 years), Mali (2 years), Mauritius (3 years), Morocco (1 year), Nigeria (3 years), Senegal (3 years), South Africa (1 year), Tunisia (1 year) and Zambia (2 years).
Asian States: Bahrain (1 year), Bangladesh (3 years), China (3 years), India (1 year), Indonesia (1 year), Japan (2 years), Jordan (3 years), Malaysia (3 years), Pakistan (2 years), Philippines (1 year), Republic of Korea (2 years), Saudi Arabia (3 years) and Sri Lanka (2 years).
Eastern European States: Azerbaijan (3 years), Czech Republic (1 year), Poland (1 year), Romania (2 years), Russian Federation (3 years) and Ukraine (2 years).
Latin American & Caribbean States: Argentina (1 year), Brazil (2 years), Cuba (3 years), Ecuador (1 year), Guatemala (2 years), Mexico (3 years), Peru (2 years) and Uruguay (3 years).
Western European & Other States: Canada (3 years), Finland (1 year), France (2 years), Germany (3 years), Netherlands (1 year), Switzerland (3 years) and United Kingdom (2 years).