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Advocates Disappointed by New UN Rights Council

The advocacy group, Human Rights Watch says the U.N. Human Rights Council has under-performed in its first year of existence. Human Rights Watch says the Council, so far, has not lived up to the promise of being a stronger, more effective body than the Human Rights Commission that was replaced last June. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the new Council has been meeting.

Human Rights Watch and others critical of the U.N. Human Rights Council say African and Asian countries, as well as Cuba, Russia and China are behind efforts to weaken the organization. They say their almost single-minded focus on censuring Israel for its conduct in the Palestinian occupied territories has deflected attention away from other troubled parts of the world, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.

But, Global Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, Peggy Hicks, tells VOA Western countries must also share the blame. "The fatal blow has not come just from countries that want to stop scrutiny, but also been dealt by countries that ought to be human rights supporters and ought to be doing the right thing within this body. As I said, some States have had a very inconsistent level of engagement. So, the Council is a new institution. It needs time to be able to engage more effectively. It has got off to a very weak start. But, there certainly is room for it to do better and hand-wringing and writing it off is not going to serve human rights victims," he said.

Many developing countries would like to do away with the practice of assigning special investigators to report on nations with poor human rights records. They claim this process of naming and shaming is not productive and does not make a big difference to people suffering abuse.

Hicks disagrees. She says the threat of condemning a country on its human rights behavior often persuades governments to make changes. "A great example of this is Nepal in the last session of the Commission where Nepal feared a resolution following its imposition of martial Law. And, because of its concern over a possible resolution, it ultimately agreed to a human rights monitoring mission. That mission made a real difference and saved lives on the ground," she said.

The United States has been skeptical of the Council since its formation and has refused to become a member. Hicks regrets this decision and says the United States would be much more effective by being at the table than by staying away. "By saying that it does not want to run, it sent a signal that it does not care. Now, I think they have tried to mitigate that signal by engaging quite effectively here-both at the Council here in Geneva and, as I said, in New York in the elections. But, they would be more effective if they were at the table," she said.

Hicks says the Council has important work to do and she hopes it is up to the task. She says countries such as Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Belarus, Iraq and Iran should remain on the human rights watch list.

She says the Council should get behind a proposal to send a rights monitoring mission to Sri Lanka. As in the case of Nepal, she says she believes such a mission could make a real difference.