November 26, 2006.
Geneva – As the U.N. Human Rights Council gets ready to begin its third
session, concern is rising among governments and human-rights organizations
about the growing politicization of the body. Critics accuse the Council of being
more intent on scoring political points than on tackling human-rights objectively.
Some groups contend the new U.N. Council might be even worse than the
discredited Commission on Human Rights that it replaced. They say the Council
has become obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the near exclusion of
the vast majority of the world’s human-rights violators.
Since the Council was inaugurated in June, it has held two special sessions
dealing with the situation in the Gaza Strip and one special session on the
Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon in August.
Even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who pushed strongly for the creation
of the Council, says it should broaden its focus and look at as many situations
“Whether their meetings coincided with the Lebanese war, or not, they
have tended to focus on the Palestinian issue, and of course, when you focus
on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, without even discussing Darfur and other issues,
some wonder what is this Council doing? Do they not have a sense of fair play?
Why should they ignore other situations and focus on one area?,” Mr. Annan
Some countries have severely criticized the 47-member Council for condemning
Israel four times, while not taking up human-rights violations in countries such
as Myanmar, North Korea, and Sudan.
Some of the more democratic members of the Council and Human Rights
groups are concerned about a proposal put forth by 13 African members,
backed by some Asian and Islamic members, as well as Cuba and Russia.
Assistant Director of the monitoring group U.N. Watch, Elizabeth Cassidy, says
this group wants to abolish U.N. rapporteurs or independent experts that deal
with particular countries.
“With one large exception. They do not want to abolish the one that
deals with Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories,” Cassidy says.
“So, there is a fight going about whether the system will still continue to
include the country rapporteurs.”
There are about 15 rapporteurs who investigate human-rights abuses in
countries such as Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo and North Korea.
U.N. Watch says a majority of the 47 members of the Council is composed of
non-democratic, repressive states. It says only a minority of 11 members
consistently defends the values and principles the Council is supposed to
promote. They include European countries, Canada, and Japan.