Tuesday, June 14, 2016

UN Human Rights Council at Ten: Cause for Celebration?

"I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises." Václav Havel, Forum 2000, October 12, 2009 

Ten years ago the United Nations Human Rights Council was founded on a small moral compromise that sacrificed human rights oversight in Belarus and Cuba in what U.N. officials called the dawn of a new era. Special rapporteurs with mandates to specifically monitor the human rights situation in those two countries were formally gotten rid of in 2007 and a code of conduct established that undermined the independence of all special rapporteurs.

At the same time the worse human rights violators continued to be elected to the Human Rights Council. Consider for a moment that in 2004, in the old UN Human Rights Commission, after losing a vote, a young Cuban diplomat physically assaulted a 60 year old man - who was part of the American delegation - attacking him from behind in front of numerous eyewitnesses. Despite this the Cuban dictatorship was elected as a member on the new UN Human Rights Council.

There are consequences to giving the worse human rights violators free reign. Human rights and democracy have been in retreat worldwide for the past decade coinciding with the tenure of the new United Nations Human Rights Council. Between 2006 and 2016 there has been a steady decline in global liberty and human rights.

The big claim to fame of the new Council was the Universal Periodic Review which provided oversight to all countries once every four years.  The Universal Periodic Review has one feature that is a threat to dictatorships and that is that anyone who produces a report can submit it for consideration to the Office of the High Commissioner and free Cubans in the island did just that to try to break through the communist regime's information monopoly.

UN Watch in their report "Massive Fraud: The Corruption of the 2013 UPR Review of Cuba" exposed how the Cuban government has corrupted and abused the Universal Periodic Review process. One of the regime's tactics was to flood the NGO process with front groups to drown out critical reports. In its summary, UN Watch described how:

Cuba used hundreds of front groups to hijack the United Nations compilation of NGO submissions and turn it into a propaganda sheet for the Castro Communist regime. While critiques of genuine NGOs do appear, they are overwhelmed by an unprecedented amount of submissions by fraudulent “NGOs” that, if they do exist, are mere puppets of Cuba and its allies abroad. UN Watch examined 28 recent UPR country reviews. There were 9 NGO submissions on Turkmenistan, 12 on Romania, 23 on Germany, 32 on Russia, and, the highest, 48 on Canada. For Cuba, however, the number soars to an incredible 454.
 Unfortunately the communist regime in Cuba did not limit its assault on human rights to the island nation but has had a negative impact worldwide on human rights standards and for victims of repression including at the UN Human Rights Council.
The end result is that the Castro regime, along with other systematic human rights violators, have made a mockery of the United Nations Human Rights Council. During Cuba's first Universal Periodic Review in 2009 a Castro regime diplomat in the UN Human Rights Council twice threatened to beat me down if I crossed an imaginary line that he had set. A formal complaint was lodged at the time and nothing came of it. In 2014 while addressing the horrific human rights situations in Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela the worse of the worse tried through points of order to shut down the two minutes I had to speak.

Now on the tenth anniversary of the UN Human Rights Council, a member of the Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) received a death threat electronically from a "diplomat" working for the Russian Federation. Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy for HRHF on March 24, 2016 received a graphic image with an accompanying written threat against his life over twitter. The account was traced to a Russian diplomat.

Regime agents regularly beat up Cuban women and UNSG celebrates their treatment of women
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for the United Nations Human Rights Council to increase its impact on the ground over its second decade. However the Secretary General, who visited Cuba in 2014, and whitewashed the Castro regime's human rights atrocities is a prime example of what is wrong. Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, met with Castro regime oppressors and praised them for their work on violence against women.

Cuba is a leader on many development issues, including expanding opportunity for women and girls.  It has battled stereotypes and worked through its institutions to advance equality and prevent and end all forms of violence. [...] Since this threat is rooted in discrimination, impunity and complacency, we need to change attitudes and behavior – and we need to change laws and make sure they are enforced just like you are doing in Cuba.
The Secretary General ignored the well documented regular beatings visited on Cuban women who dissent from the official government line such as the Ladies in White and the Rosa Parks Women's Movement. On July 9, 2013 two dissident Cuban attorneys, Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent presented their report to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it examined Cuba, that touched on the institutional violence against women:

The brutality of the police and state security agents, including women members of these bodies, against women dissidents, is supported by the state, which exemplifies the institutionalized violence as a means to repress women opposition activists. Arbitrary detention is one of the methods to prevent them from exercising their rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. In detention centers agents use violence, sexual assault and insults as means of repression. The cells enclosed in unsanitary and sometimes sanitary services have no privacy or are not appropriate for women, even having them share prison cells with men. In some cases, they forced to strip naked or forcibly stripped, obliging them to squat to see if they have items in their genitals and claims that have been reported that they have introduced a pen into the vagina, under the justification of seeking recording objects.
At the time Amnesty International condemned an ongoing crackdown against nonviolent activists, including many women, by the Cuban government and called on the UN Secretary General and other dignitaries to address it:
It is outrageous that those who disagree with the Cuban government are not allowed to express themselves in a public and collective manner.  The heads of state of the CELAC member countries and the high officials of regional and international organizations, such as UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, should not ignore the fact that as they arrive in Havana to participate in the summit, Cuban activists are being repressed by their government.
Instead UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon failed to address the crackdown publicly but instead met with Raul Castro to discuss in part how the US embargo impacts on human rights in Cuba and later his daughter, Mariela, where he celebrated the regime's treatment of women and finally met with Fidel Castro for 55 minutes.  

UN Secretary General in Havana, Cuba with murderous tyrants in 2014

In March of 2009, addressing the opening of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy the shortcomings of the UN Human Rights Council were outlined and remain relevant today.
Regrettably, the chief international body charged with protecting human rights is failing to live up to its mission to stop these and other abuses. The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council—as acknowledged in a recent report by 17 of its 47 member states, supported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists—falls short in its handling of country situations, in the efficiency of the process involved in highlighting violations, and in its reactivity to crisis situations. Strong politicization of the Council, driven by bloc-based voting patterns, has led to inaction in face of atrocity and abuse. We saw this sad spectacle last week within the Council, first with the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights denying the documented and rampant instances of torture, executions, and mass detentions of Iranians followed by the Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech who echoing his Iranian colleague also denied Cuba’s horrible human rights record and to add insult to injury went on to blame the United States for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo as well as slander the deceased Cuban prisoner of conscience as a criminal.
 If UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon wants the UN Human Rights Council to have a bigger impact then he should lead by example and not remain silent in the face of glaring injusticesAs Katrina Lantos Swett citing Adlai Stevenson in reference to the UN Human Rights Council observed: "Solutions begin by telling the truth." Many do not take the UN Human Rights Council seriously not only due it lacks of an enforcement mechanism, but also because it is not telling the truth preferring all too often to remain silent. Truth telling is important and powerful. The failure on too many occasions of the UN Human Rights Council and UN officials to speak truth to power is why they now risk irrelevance.

No comments:

Post a Comment