The United Nations Human Rights Council was the scene of vigorous debate on Friday, when one scheduled speaker elicited the ire of authoritarian regimes that were less than enthusiastic about reports of human rights abuses committed in their respective countries.
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of United Nations Watch, addressed the council four days ahead of its 10th anniversary, questioning the organization’s efficacy thus far in combating human rights abuses.
UN Watch, a human rights organization based in Geneva has criticized the Human Rights Council in the past for turning a blind eye to violations of civil liberties in member states, while focusing disproportionate attention on alleged incidents in Israel.
Neuer listed eight cases of inaction by the Human Rights Council, citing speakers at last month’s 8th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
The human rights violations Neuer mentioned included the rampant, state-supported restrictions on movement, employment, and education on women in Iran; repression of free speech in Saudi Arabia, the arbitrary arrest of political opponents in Venezuela and Cuba; and the rape and sexual enslavement of women in Iraq and Syria.
A number of Human Rights Council member states, including Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, and China, were noted for human rights abuses.
The UN Representatives for these states were hardly thrilled by the criticism, and were joined by Pakistan in an attempt to shut down the discussion.
As these five authoritarian regimes sought to bar the speaker, representatives from democratic member states stepped in to support freedom of speech in the council. The Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, and Canada all vouched for Neuer’s right to address the council and freedom to criticize member states.
The Human Rights Council has been noted for its lopsided condemnations of Israel. Israel has been condemned by the council more times than the rest of the world combined. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan admitted the council’s bias and “disproportionate focus” on Israel.
Prior to President Obama’s election in 2008, the United States refused to join the council, as the Bush administration voiced concerns about the council’s agenda.