Sunday, March 7, 2010

Geneva Summit Will Focus on Countries Ignored by U.N. Human Rights Council

( – When the U.N. Human Rights Council continues its month-long session in Geneva on Monday, a coalition of human rights groups will hold a parallel event focusing on some of the items kept off the HRC agenda by its powerful members.

The human rights of Iranians, Cubans, Tibetans, Uighurs and Burmese will be the focus of the two-day Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy.

The summit is co-sponsored by several dozen rights-oriented nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from developed and developing countries. Its honorary committee is being chaired by the former presidents of Poland and the Czech Republic, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, both leading anti-communist dissidents during the Cold War.

Organizers say the summit offers a global platform and forum for dissidents and human rights advocates to discuss their struggles and visions for bringing about change.

“Regrettably, the chief international body charged with protecting human rights is failing to live up to its mission to stop … abuses,” they said in a statement, in reference to the 47-member HRC.

“Strong politicization of the council, driven by bloc-based voting patterns, has led to inaction in face of atrocity and abuse.”

Critics note that in the almost four years of the HRC’s existence, the only condemnatory resolutions passed relating to the world’s worst rights abusers have been those relating to North Korea and Burma.

Logo of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy.
With support from developing world allies, countries like China, Cuba, Iran and Saudi Arabia have managed to avoid censure, while Israel continues to draw disproportionate scrutiny.

In a recently-released scorecard on the HRC’s performance over the past year, the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch said 18 out of 30 key resolutions passed were “actually counterproductive to human rights.” They included resolutions on Sri Lanka, Sudan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and religious “defamation.”

The scorecard also found that only 13 of the council’s 47 members had voted in a way deemed positive in upholding human rights – European countries plus Canada, Japan and South Korea (The U.S. was not a member for the whole year under review.)

The worst scoring nations in this regard were Islamic states, plus Russia, China, Cuba, South Africa and the Philippines.

‘World’s worst’

“The UNHRC failed to adopt any resolution, special session or investigative mandate for Belarus, China, Cuba, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Zimbabwe – all on Freedom House’s list of the 20 world’s worst abusers,” U.N. Watch said in the report. “The same holds true for Iran, despite ongoing show trials and executions.”

It is not by coincidence that some of those countries will feature most prominently at the Geneva Summit on Monday and Tuesday.

The program of speakers includes Caspian Makan, the fiance of Neda Agha Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a symbol of the post-election protests after her death by gunfire last June was captured on amateur video and the clip posted on the Internet. Makan was subsequently detained and escaped from Iran late last year.

Also speaking are exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, Burmese dissident Bo Kyi, Dong-hyuk Shin, a survivor of North Korea’s notorious prison camps, and Phuntsok Nyidron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun who was accused of spreading “counter-revolutionary propaganda” and jailed by the Chinese government from 1989 to 2004.

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, the president of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement and a former prisoner of conscience, was also on the program but the organizers say the Cuban government has barred him from leaving the country to attend.

This week 30 NGOs submitted an appeal to the U.N.’s top rights official, High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, asking her to urge Havana to let Lobaina travel.

During an interactive session at the HRC on Thursday, U.N. Watch director Hillel Neuer asked Pillay about Lobaina, but Cuba’s envoy interrupted the session, objecting to the raising of an issue which he said was not on the meeting’s agenda.

Lobaina was imprisoned from 2000 to 2005 for the offenses of “public disorder,” “disrespect” and “damage.”

The Geneva Summit also plans to explore ways of using the Internet more effectively to advance human rights.

The summit is the second of its kind. The inaugural one was held on the eve of the controversial HRC-hosted “Durban II” racism conference last April.

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