FreePressers Staff

Syria, Libya, Nicaragua flunk the smell test for UN Human Rights Council

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By John J. Metzler 

UNITED NATIONS — It’s one of the traditional Rites of Spring at the United Nations, the election of new members to the Human Rights Council, the 47 member deliberative body viewing and monitoring the pulse of civil and political rights the world over. The full 192 member General Assembly votes for new members within regional groups to serve three year terms. As in the past, most slates presented candidates who went unopposed

Ironically given the composition of some of the Geneva-based Council membership, with countries like China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia sitting in judgment of global human rights issues is like having Tony Soprano sit on a Senate sub-committee on organized crime. In the African group Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso and Congo were elected, uncontested. Well done for Botswana, one of the continents longtime democracies and a relatively prosperous place where free enterprise and civil liberties are part of the landscape.

But Congo? You have to be kidding. The Brazzaville government presents a tawdry model of what’s wrong in the developing world, a lack of rights and political liberties. The respected human rights watchdog group Freedom House rates Congo as Not free” while the Economist describes it as an “authoritarian regime.” West African Benin and Burkina Faso hold decent political records.

Balloting for the Asian Group, though uncontested, saw India, followed by Indonesia, Philippines and Kuwait. Again good for multi-ethnic India, a working sectarian democracy, which despite the still terrible undertow of poverty, has been able to keep its democratic structures. India deserves a place as does modern Indonesia, a multi- ethnic archipelago state which has positively transformed itself into a secular Muslim society. While both India and Indonesia were founders and political pillars of the old-nonaligned movement, today both countries are looking to enterprise to encourage a more open economy and to underpin their civil and political structures.

The Philippines remains a working if not corruption-challenged democracy and an old and true American friend. India, Indonesia and the Philippines are called “flawed democracies,” by the Economist.

Originally Syria was going to run for a seat in the Asian Group. Yet political backlash to the current crackdown on civilian protesters put the Assad regime out of the running. The United States, and European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands strongly lobbied against Syria’s bid for the council seat. At the last minute Kuwait decided to run and picked up the seat unopposed.

Libya who ludicrously won a seat on this very Council last year, had its membership suspended, just a few months ago, given its governments actions during the ongoing revolt. This example of suspending Libya, and the prospect of electing Syria, a serial persecutor of its own people, was a political bridge too far even for the majority of the UN General Assembly’s voting members.

In the Eastern European state category, competition became more interesting as three countries ran for two seats. The Czech Republic handily won with 148 votes while Romania gained 131. Both were elected. Georgia however lost with 89 votes, largely due to Russian vigorously lobbying against her candidacy. For the Western European state category, the two seats were unchallenged and handedly won by Austria and Italy. Bravo, both are good choices as Austria and Italy remain sterling democracies and positive examples of human rights .

The Latin American and Caribbean state selection saw four countries contesting three seats. Chile, Costa Rica and Peru were elected. Without question Chile and Costa Rica remain sterling democracies and a positive examples of economic development. Peru for its part has impressively increased political and economic freedoms in the past decade.

Nicaragua lost its bid for the Latin American group and happily so. Given the eroding human rights situation in Nicaragua, and the country’s cozy ties with Chavez in Venezuela, this poses no great loss. The newly elected Council members will serve for three years.

According to Hillel Neuer of the rights-monitor group UN Watch, “Congo, Kuwait and Nicaragua have poor records in respecting the basic human rights of their own citizens, and have consistently voted the wrong way on UN initiatives to promote and protect the human rights of others.”

In fact, fewer than half of the 47 member council can be characterized as democracies. They nonetheless present another flawed reflection of the world.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.

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