ACHR REVIEW
[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 12 April 2006
Review: 120/06

Shame on Asian States: HRC Elections 2006


As the Human Rights Council elections come closer, a number of countries have submitted candidacy. As of 11 April 2006, 4 States from African Group, 10 States from Asia, 13 States from East Europe, 9 from Latin American and Caribbean Groups and 9 from Western Europe and other States have submitted candidacy. Given the fact that 13 seats each are allocated for African Group and Asian Group, 8 seats for Latin American and Caribbean Group, 6 seats for Eastern European Group and 7 seats for the Western Europe and other States' Group, the elections will test the much vaunted “democracy at work” at the United Nations Human Rights Council – elections of members directly individually by a majority of the Members of the General Assembly.

As of 11 April 2006, 25 candidates have submitted voluntary pledges of the measures to be taken at national and international level on human rights while 21 countries made no such pledges. This is all set to change as majority candidates from the Asian and African groups have not yet submitted candidacy while all the candidates from Western Europe made voluntary pledges.

I. Asia: The dark continent for commitment to rights and democracy

If submission of voluntary pledges is any yardstick to measure commitment to human rights and democracy, Asian continent is dark. Sri Lanka is the only country from Asia to submit a pledge. The rest of the candidates from Asia i.e. Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan and Republic of Korea did not submit any such pledges. In fact, the largest democratic country in the world, India, did not make any pledge but is  referred to by Germany which highlighted the joint initiative with India on “Advisory Services and Technical Cooperation in the field of human rights.”

The failure of the most Asian States to make any voluntary pledge is not surprising considering that Asian countries have been on the forefront to discredit the Commission on Human Rights. This is despite the fact that the Asian countries played a critical role in the establishment of investigatory mechanisms at the United Nations in 1960s and 1970s to investigate gross human rights violations in South Africa. The Asian countries supported Group of Three under the Apartheid Convention.

However, once the Special Procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, first established in 1980, started universal review irrespective of whether a country has ratified any international treaty or not, Asian countries started questioning the socalled intrusive role of the UN human rights mechanisms. The Asian Bloc played the most negative role to destroy the mechanisms of the CHR and discredit it. At the 54th session, the CHR on the insistence of the Asian group adopted a decision on “Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights” and “Restructuring the Agenda of the Commission on Human Rights” through Resolution (E/CN.4/RES/1998/84) and introduced the “Rationalization of the Work of the Commission”. As the agenda to destroy the Special Procedures remained unfinished after the review of the Commission on Human Rights, at the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights, the Asian Group forced the CHR to take the decision 2005/113 to hold a seminar on “Enhancing and strengthening the effectiveness of the special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights” based on the Asian Group's Non-Paper on Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Special Mechanisms of the Commission on Human Rights".

II. OHCHR – an unlikely ally of the Asian Group?

The Asian Group is all set set to find an unlikely ally in the form of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which proposes to publish an annual thematic World Human Rights Report. This is being supported by none other than Switzerland which is the only country to put in its pledge - “developing and supporting the updating of a country by country Human Rights Index, which is based on UN official documents”. If such a report is prepared by the OHCHR, many countries especially the Asian bloc are most likely to question the usefulness of many thematic Special Procedures. The Office of the High Commissioner as the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council is unlikely to be able to take independent positions like the independent experts. If the OHCHR indeed makes a critical report, heads will start rolling and a resolution on the composition of the staff of th OHCHR will be most the controversial resolution at the Human Rights Council.

III. A cursory scrutiny of the pledges

The pledges made so far make an interesting reading about the commitment of the States to human rights and democracy. While Algeria and Cuba did not go beyond the rhetoric, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukhrain etc made no specific new pledges.

Yet, many of the pledges made are important. Sri Lanka despite a deadlocked peace process committed to extend invitation to Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Special rapporteur on the question of torture.

Finland 's commitment to ratify the ILO Convention No 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries and the commitment of the Netherlands to establish a National Human Rights Institutions in conformity with the Paris Principles are welcome. Yet, Switzerland which has taken a leading role in the establishment of the Human Rights Council and to bring the seat of the Council in Geneva made little commitment either to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture or establish a National Human Rights Institution in conformity with the Paris Principles.

A cursory scrutiny of the pledges is given below:

Asian States

Key pledges

Missing pledges

Sri Lanka

  • Implementation measures in respect of the recommendations of the treaty bodies and cooperation with treaty bodies;
  • Invitation to Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and Special rapporteur on the question of torture;
  • Ratify OP-CRC-SC
Ratification of Optional Protocol to CAT;

Eastern European States

 

 

Albania

  • Ratification of Optional protocols to ICCPR and  CRC;
  • Amendments of reservations to Article 17(7) and 18(5) of CAT, Article 20(1) of CEDAW, Article 4392) of the CRC

 

Czech Republic

  • Ratification of Optional Protocol to CAT and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;

 

Azerbaijan

 

OPCAT

Hungary

  • Ratification of Optional Protocol to CAT

 

Slovenia

  • Ratification of Optional protocol to CAT and Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions;

 

Western European and other States

 

 

Canada

  • No specific commitment to ratify OPCAT or support adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of IPs

 

France

  • Ratify OP-CAT
  • Funds for OHCHR and Voluntary Funds for Victims of Torture

National Institution for Human Rights in conformity with the Paris Principles

Finland

  • Ratify OP-CRC-SC,  OPCAT, ILO Convention No 169 concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries and Protocol supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime

No specific commitment to withdraw reservations to Article 10, 14 and 20 of the ICCPR.

Germany

  • Ratify OP-CRC

No commitment on OPCAT

Greece

  • Ratify Optional Protocol to CRC on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Protocol supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.

No commitment on ratification of OPCAT.

Netherlands

  • Ratification of OPCAT and CRC Optional Protocol on Armed Conflicts and creation of NHRIs consistent with Paris Principles.

 

Switzerland

 

No firm commitment to ratify the OPCAT or create an NHRI consistent with the Paris Principles

IV. Don't vote for those who do not practice democracy

Voluntary pledge is an important element of democracy. It is not mandatory but almost all political parties, small or big, submit election manifestos prior to elections. Most political parties seldom fulfill the manifestos and in democratic countries, non-performing political parties are kicked out during elections.

Yet, most Asian States do not practice the basic principle of democracy at the United Nations. That only one country out of 10 countries which include democratic countries like India, Japan and Democratic Republic of Korea has submitted a pledge is shameful. Most Asian countries submitted their nomination to defend their country's record rather than strengthen the UN Human Rights Council.

Since 1998, when a Special Rapporteur was appointed on Nigeria, the African group has been increasing by following the footsteps of the Asian group. Not surprisingly, among the African countries, only Algeria has submitted a voluntary pledge. Rather than emulating Asia on rights and democracy, African States should emulate the Latin American and Caribbean countries. Asian group represents many of the neo-rich – arrogant, self-righteous and self-obsessed which often boast of providing technical cooperation projects to the poor African countries like the Western counterparts.

If democracy is to work at the United Nations Human Rights Council, those who do not make voluntary pledges should not be given votes.


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