(Geneva, April 23, 2004) – The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which concluded its annual six-week session in Geneva today, appointed a monitor to investigate the human rights situation in Sudan, even though it failed to condemn the government for massive abuses and attacks on its civilians, Human Rights Watch said.
“Although the Commission should have added a firm condemnation of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, its appointment of an independent expert helps to keep international scrutiny focused on ongoing atrocities there,” said Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Advocacy Director. “Now it’s time for the U.N. Security Council to move beyond scrutiny to ensure that the killing ends.”
Some member countries also called for a special session on the human rights situation in Darfur upon return of the U.N. human rights team from Sudan. Last week, the Commission approved resolutions critical of specific governments during the session and appointed three new human rights monitors for Belarus and North Korea, in addition to Sudan.
The Commission adopted several crucial resolutions and appointed new human rights monitors despite sustained solidarity among abusive states and continued attacks on basic principles of rights protection.
“Human rights monitors charged with investigating specific countries looked like a dying breed at the outset of this session,” said Weschler. “But with three new country mandates established, this most powerful tool that the Commission has at its disposal should help scrutinize the worst abusers.”
The Commission took a groundbreaking step when it appointed an independent expert to monitor the impact of counterterrorism measures on human rights. In adopting by consensus the Mexican-sponsored resolution, “Protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism,” the Commission acknowledged the serious impact counterterrorism has had on human rights worldwide and underscored the globalized nature of these concerns.
However, in continuing the trend toward rejecting censure of its most powerful members, the Commission failed to pass resolutions critical of Russia—for grave human rights abuses in Chechnya—and China. The resolution on China was not even discussed, due to a procedural motion brought by the Chinese government. Commission members also succumbed to pressure from the United States and did not take up a draft resolution regarding the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“The use of ‘no-action motions’ and other procedural measures are one of the most shameful aspects of the Commission’s practice,” Weschler said. “In effect, the Commission puts a gag order on itself, and this goes against the very basic principles that this human rights body was created to uphold.”
Another glaring failure of this session was the absence of a resolution on human rights in Iraq, due to very strong pressure by the United States against any attempt to introduce it. The lack of a resolution on Iran, despite significant worsening of the situation on the ground, was another example of the Commission’s lack of resolve on many country-specific matters.
Deeply disappointing was the Brazilian decision to postpone, for yet another year, the consideration of a draft resolution on sexual orientation. Despite its being put on hold, the Brazilian initiative nevertheless helped generate tremendous interest among governments, human rights activists and U.N. monitoring mechanisms. The momentum it generated is likely to lead to further affirmation that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are both widespread and unacceptable. In a sign of growing attention to such violations, the Commission’s resolution on extrajudicial executions mandated action against killings based on sexual orientation.
The positive developments in this otherwise difficult session were largely due to the work of a growing group of member countries that have undertaken an effort to restore the Commission’s credibility and taken the lead on some of the key issues. In particular, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and Uruguay have helped the Commission to make key steps forward in its commitment to human rights.
Nevertheless, several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated the resolve and willingness to work constructively on other important human rights issues, such as the abduction of children in Africa including in Northern Uganda.
The European Union, while playing the lead role in several of the country-specific initiatives, continued to be bogged down by political considerations of its members and was subdued on some key issues, such as the resolution on China or effective lobbying on behalf of its own resolution on Chechnya.