The report (below) on the fourth session of the Human Rights Council that ended on 30 March concentrates on two substantive issues where resolutions were actually adopted: Darfur and Defamation of Religions. What it does not cover, however, are the gaping holes where resolutions ought to be: against systematic human rights abuse in North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Iran, Sri-Lanka, China, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and against torture, summary executions and disappearances. No resolutions were presented or approved on any of these subjects. Pressure continued to be applied by the so-called “like-minded” states to wind down investigation by special rapporteurs of specific cases human rights abuse in their countries, while several countries, including Israel and the Sudan had refused to cooperate with missions to their territory. Particularly disturbing was the decision of the Council in closed session to end the monitoring of human rights abuse in Iran and Uzbekistan even as the human rights situation in both of these countries continues to deteriorate.
Reports and debates on violence against women and violence against children resulted in no decisions being taken – other than to continue to gather data on these crimes. IHEU, in a joint statement with three other NGOs was able to speak on the subject of child marriage and to refer to our written statement submitted to the Council just prior to the session. I was however one of only two speakers to deal with child marriage among over 30 who spoke on violence against children.
The report on the special rapporteur Doudou Diene on contemporary forms of racism was remarkable for its focus almost exclusively on Islamophobia and for its attack on European secularism, to the total neglect of the racism elsewhere. One wonders how long the Council will continue to tolerate this appallingly incompetent and biased “expert”.
One form of contemporary racism totally absent from the three week session was caste and untouchability, known in human rights circles as “discrimination based on work or descent”. The neglect of this continuing form of systematic abuse affecting more than 250 million people world-wide, is difficult to understand. Despite waiting for a day and a half to deliver a statement on untouchability, Babu Gogineni was unable to deliver it because of time pressure.
Negotiating the chance to speak continues to be a problem for NGOs. One could always be assured of the chance to speak during sessions of the old Commission on Human Rights, but with the much shorter sessions of the Council it is the NGOs who are being squeezed most severely. Despite our almost continuous presence throughout the three-week Council session Babu Gogineni and I were together only able to speak on three occasions for a total of seven minutes between us.
Given the difficulties with which NGOs are faced, the question arises of whether it is worth the time and expense of participating in the Human Rights Council. Despite the difficulties I believe the answer has to be “yes”. One can never tell what effect one’s contribution has to the outcome of affairs, but judging by the thanks we receive from delegates, and the number who pick up on issues we raise, it seems we do have some effect, however minor. On several occasions I have found that we were the only speakers to make certain points. If we did not make them they would not be made.
The resolution combating defamation of religion received only 24 votes this year, the minimum needed for adoption by the Council. We must keep up the pressure to prevent this massive abuse of the right to freedom of expression becoming enshrined in international law.
Roy W. Brown