Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cuba, China Hope for Less 'Politicization' on UN Rights Body

Cybercast News Service

By Patrick Goodenough

CNSNews.com International Editor

May 09, 2006

(CNSNews.com) - Members of the new U.N. Human Rights Council will be elected Tuesday, and a representative of the Cuban government, which hopes for a seat, said the council would be of value only if it tackles issues such as the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Addressing a press conference in Beijing, Havana's Ambassador to China Alberto Rodriguez Arufe gave Cuba's view of what was wrong with the outgoing U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), which the HRC is replacing.

The UNCHR had fallen into disrepute, he said, because of the political manipulation, hypocrisy and double standards imposed by the United States and European Union.

There was no point in replacing the UNCHR with the HRC if the new body did not confront those problems, Arufe added, citing as an example the fact that the commission had not taken up the issue of Guantanamo Bay.

According to Western critics, the UNCHR's real problem was the presence of rights-abusing nations that used their positions to fend off criticism while protecting fellow despots.

Cuba is among the more controversial candidates widely expected to be elected to the HRC Tuesday, despite appeals by rights campaigners around the world for U.N. member states to reject violators.

Another candidate is China, which said in a pledge in support of its candidacy that it expected the HRC to eliminate "double standards and politicization."

As in the case with Cuba, this is similarly understood to refer to U.S.-sponsored or supported resolutions at the commission that were critical of China's human rights record. Beijing invariably garnered enough support from allies to block censure.

'Reject' lists

Tuesday's secret-ballot election aims to fill 47 seats, with 13 seats each reserved for Asia and Africa; eight for Latin America and the Caribbean; seven for Western nations; and six for Eastern Europe.

Candidates for the HRC will need at least 96 votes in the 191-member General Assembly to be successful.

Unhappy with the extent of improvements, the U.S. voted against the resolution setting up the HRC, and said it would not stand for election this year.

The hottest races are expected to be in the Asian group, where 18 countries are vying for 13 seats, and Eastern Europe, where 13 nations are competing for six seats.

A number of human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have issued assessments of the 68 declared candidates, recommending some countries and rejecting others.

The "reject" lists invariably include Cuba, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Human Rights Watch cites the seven as being "unworthy of membership on the new council."

U.N. Watch has more comprehensive list of countries among the candidates "whose records demonstrate hostility to human rights both domestically and abroad."

It includes the seven on Human Rights Watch's list, and adds Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia and Venezuela.

The Geneva-based NGO based its recommendations on candidates' previous voting records at the U.N., and also on how each was assessed by two watchdogs - Freedom House, which rates political rights and civil liberties; and Reporters Without Frontiers, which maintains a world press freedom index.

In Reporters Without Frontiers' own appraisal of the candidates, the same handful of countries are cited - Cuba, China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia - as well as Tunisia.

"These are countries that violate freedom of expression and human rights on a massive scale and yet they are all candidates," the group said. "If they are elected, the council will be discredited from the outset."

It also questioned the commitment to press freedom of some other candidates, including Algeria, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan.

Another NGO, the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, has not called for the rejection of specific countries, but assessed Asian candidates' "commitments to human rights," and noted that Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and China ranked poorly - with China scoring zero.

Executive director Anselmo Lee urged U.N. member states to "consider the human rights situation of the country as a basis of their voting decision."

China's bid for a seat also drew reaction from the International Campaign for Tibet, which said Beijing's conduct was "one of the factors in the demise of the commission."

"ICT and other NGOs, as well as governments, have consistently documented human rights abuses against Tibetans under Chinese rule and the U.N. has frequently acted upon these reports, calling on China to cooperate with the U.N. or halt the violations," the group said.

"Yet time and again China has simply ignored the most senior U.N. officials."

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