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UN Human Rights Council Criticized For Politicization


As the U.N. Human Rights Council gets ready to begin its third session, concern is rising among governments and human-rights organizations about the growing politicization of the body. Critics accuse the Council of being more intent on scoring political points than on tackling human-rights objectively. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the Council opens Monday.

Some groups contend the new U.N. Council might be even worse than the discredited Commission on Human Rights that it replaced. They say the Council has become obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the near exclusion of the vast majority of the world's human-rights violators.

Since the Council was inaugurated in June, it has held two special sessions dealing with the situation in the Gaza Strip and one special session on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon in August.

Even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who pushed strongly for the creation of the Council, says it should broaden its focus and look at as many situations as possible.

"Whether their meetings coincided with the Lebanese war, or not, they have tended to focus on the Palestinian issue, and of course, when you focus on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, without even discussing Darfur and other issues, some wonder what is this Council doing? Do they not have a sense of fair play? Why should they ignore other situations and focus on one area?," Mr. Annan asked.

Some countries have severely criticized the 47-member Council for condemning Israel four times, while not taking up human-rights violations in countries such as Myanmar, North Korea, and Sudan.

The President of the Council, Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, rates the work of the Council as fair.

"I would not say good. I wish it could have been much better," de Alba says.

But, de Alba says he expects the Council to improve and notes that in the last session it dealt with a number of substantive issues.

"We addressed situations as complex as the question of religion, intolerance," de Alba says. "The question of Guantanemo, the question of Sudan, the question of Sri Lanka. We dealt with a lot of issues, not only the Middle East."

Some of the more democratic members of the Council and Human Rights groups are concerned about a proposal put forth by 13 African members, backed by some Asian and Islamic members, as well as Cuba and Russia. Assistant Director of the monitoring group U.N. Watch, Elizabeth Cassidy, says this group wants to abolish U.N. rapporteurs or independent experts that deal with particular countries.

"With one large exception. They do not want to abolish the one that deals with Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories," Cassidy says. "So, there is a fight going about whether the system will still continue to include the country rapporteurs."

There are about 15 rapporteurs who investigate human-rights abuses in countries such as Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo and North Korea.

U.N. Watch says a majority of the 47 members of the Council is composed of non-democratic, repressive states. It says only a minority of 11 members consistently defends the values and principles the Council is supposed to promote. They include European countries, Canada, and Japan.