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Non-Democratic Nations Elected onto UN Rights Watchdog
A country nicknamed "Europe’s last dictatorship" has failed in its bid for election onto the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, but three other nations with frequently criticized human rights records did make it onto the body.Belarus was kept out after strenuous lobbying by Western nations, but Egypt, Qatar and Angola were among 14 countries winning three-year terms on the 47-seat council in
Saturday, May 19,2007 00:00
by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com Managing Editor

A country nicknamed "Europe’s last dictatorship" has failed in its bid for election onto the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, but three other nations with frequently criticized human rights records did make it onto the body.

Belarus was kept out after strenuous lobbying by Western nations, but Egypt, Qatar and Angola were among 14 countries winning three-year terms on the 47-seat council in elections Thursday.

Despite support from its allies in the Non-Aligned Movement, Belarus lost out to rival Bosnia and Herzegovina in a 112-72 vote to fill a seat earmarked for Eastern Europe. All U.N. member-states were eligible to vote.

Bosnia entered the race late, reportedly at the behest of the U.S. and European nations. Had it not done so, Belarus would have taken one of two vacant Eastern European seats without contest, as the region had originally only submitted two names (Slovenia took the other seat.)

In three of the five regional groups, the number of seats open equaled the number of countries standing - a frequent occurrence at the U.N. which critics say calls into question whether the process should be called an "election" at all.

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was "particularly heartened by the election of Bosnia," having been concerned about the possibility of Belarus taking a seat.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also welcomed Bosnia’s success - and by implication Belarus’ defeat - saying that members of the council "carry a heavy responsibility to lead the U.N.’s human rights work around the world, and must have shown themselves worthy of the task entrusted to them."

The year-old Geneva-based council already boasts a number of countries with poor human rights records, among them China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Russia. The election this week of Egypt, Qatar and Angola further boosts the number of non-democratic members on the council.

"In Geneva it’s still the foxes guarding the chickens," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based organization U.N. Watch.

In a statement, Neuer welcomed Belarus’ defeat but voiced concern about some of the newcomers.

He noted that 19 Egyptian rights groups earlier this week challenged their country’s suitability for a seat, citing abuses including torture, arbitrary detention and election rigging.

"Celebrating the Mubarak regime sends a profoundly discouraging signal to the human rights heroes in that country who on Monday had urged the U.N. to reject their repressive government’s candidacy," he said.

The resolution that set up the council requires members to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

Neuer said countries like Angola, Egypt and Qatar must take "immediate and concrete steps" to prove they meet their member obligations. He listed specific measures including cooperating with council rights rapporteurs, allowing radio stations to broadcast, releasing jailed journalists, and permitting independent human rights groups to operate.

"Those of us who want the new council to work must ensure that it is composed of members who, as [former U.N. secretary-general] Kofi Annan envisioned, are serious about human rights," he said.

Reacting to Egypt’s membership, Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom group, said the country had a disturbing rights record.

"Many journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents have been arrested and prosecuted for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule and his government’s repeated human rights violations," the Paris-based organization said.

Eye on the U.N., a project of the Hudson Institute, said the election left the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) - a grouping of 56 Islamic nations - with a "chokehold" on the council.

Between them, the African and Asian regional groups dominate the body by holding 26 seats, in line with a negotiated formula. And member states of the OIC hold a majority in both the African and Asian groups, Eye on the U.N. noted.

In its first year, the council drew criticism for a disproportionate focus on Israel - the only country to be targeted in a condemnatory resolution. Israel was also the subject of three special sessions of the council during its first five months of existence.

Other countries winning seats on the Human Rights Council this week were Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines and South Africa.

The U.S., which opposed the resolution setting up the council on the grounds it did not go far enough to reform its discredited predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, chose to stay out of the running for the second consecutive year.

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Non-Democratic Nations Elected onto UN Rights Watchdog
CNSNews.com - Alexandria,VA,USA


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