Goodbye/Hello 7 "Human Rights Gone Wrong"


On March15, 2006 the United Nations created the Human Rights Council. Its mission is to strengthen, promote, and protect human rights around the globe. And yet, in reading the Vaclav Havel's piece A Table for Tyrants in the New York Times it appears that the council is failing to hold fast to the principles for which it was originally created. How is it that just three years after its creation the council is teetering on a "business as usual" course. As Havel writes in his piece,

The council was supposed to be different. For the first time, countries agreed to take human rights records into account when voting for the council's members, and those member-states that failed to, in the words of the founding resolution, "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" would find themselves up for review and their seats endangered. For victims of human rights abuses and advocates for human rights worldwide, the reforms offered the hope of a credible and effective body.

This lack of courage and conviction will jeopardize the council's credibility and extinguish, for many, the firewall that human rights activists need to stand up to abuses.

Human rights activists like Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, brothers and doctors from Iran, Dr. Kamal Labwan of Syria, Suzanne Scholte for North Korea, Ulises Cintra Suarez of Cuba, Valyantsin Stefanovich of Belarus, Tolib Yoqubov of Uzbekistan, Dania Avallone of Eritrea, and Georgette Gagnon, Kamal al Jizouli, and Ajras al-Huriya of Sudan are the short list of the many who stand up, document, speak out and go to jail to put light on human rights abuses around the world.

Their courage, and the people that face inhumane treatment at the hands of abusive regimes, dictators, governments, and terror states is statistically very real. There were a total of 2,390 executions worldwide in 2008, of which 1,718 or 72% took place in China. The figures show a marked increase from 2007, when the total stood at 1,252, according to research carried out by Amnesty International. There were also at least 8,864 death sentences handed down in 52 different countries.

To those activists in front lines of human rights, this lack of will of the council to challenge the rights of abusive regimes and governments to hold seats, is deeply disturbing and wrong. There can be no justification for such a failure of the Human Rights Council to live up to its original principles. Human rights activists around the world need to have the backing of a body that has a backbone that will not bend for the sake of expediency.

As Suzanne Scholte, a renowned American human rights activist and the winner of the Seoul Peace Prize said, "By recognizing my work through this award, you also honor the people of North Korea and Western Sahara for they have inspired me in all my efforts and given me the strength and endurance to continue this work despite many trials, setbacks and difficulties. My efforts, however, are nothing compared to the enormous challenges and suffering these people face in their daily lives.'' Aung San Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy activist leader of the National League of Democracy in Burma said in her Freedom From Fear, " It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." Additionally, Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch said, "The government's pre-print censorship, harassment, and arrests of journalists, editors, and human rights activists are stifling free speech as Sudan faces crucial elections."

On May 12, 2009 the United States won its first seat on the Human Rights Council by a wide
margin. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said,

We received 90 percent of the valid votes cast. And we're gratified by the strong showing of encouragement for the United States to again play a meaningful leadership role in multilateral organizations including the United Nations on the very vitally important set of issues relating to human rights and democracy.

However, countries accused of serious human rights violations, like: Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia were also seated. While welcoming the U.S. election, and its decision ''to re-engage with the world'' by joining the council, Steve Crawshaw of New York-based Human Rights Watch said, "The lack of competitiveness sends a regrettable signal that could diminish efforts to keep out rights-abusing countries." Quoting again from Vaclav Havel's piece

Now, it seems, principle has given way to expediency. Governments have resumed trading votes for membership in various other United Nations bodies, putting political considerations ahead of human rights. The absence of competition suggests that states that care about human rights simply don't care enough.

Goodbye to seating inhumane governments and regimes at the human rights table.
Hello to removing inhumane governments and regimes at the human rights table.

Goodbye to global human rights bodies that bend to political pressure.
Hello to global human rights bodies that stand up to political pressure.

Goodbye to governments turning away from human rights issues for the sake of expediency.
Hello to governments staring straight at human rights issues for the sake of humanity.