By JOHN J. METZLER
UNITED NATIONS — You can’t make this up. In recent elections for the UN’s 47-member Human Rights Council (UNHRC), some of the winners of the coveted seats are, ironically, the countries who are among the major global human rights transgressors. This hypocrisy evokes the old adage of the foxes guarding the henhouse, or of Tony Soprano chairing a Senate subcommittee on organized crime.
Here’s the setting. Sixteen countries were running for 14 seats on the Geneva-based council tasked with monitoring and reporting on the pulse of human rights worldwide. As is usual in the UN, the countries were competing in regional groups for the two-year tenure.
So, for the African group, there are Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, and South Sudan. Algeria remains an authoritarian state with little in the way of human rights or press freedoms. Yet the Algiers government won a seat. So, too, did the Kingdom of Morocco, generally ranked as a partly free country, as well as South Africa and Namibia, listed as “free” by New York’s Freedom House but dabbed as a “flawed democracy” by the Economist of London.
Now it gets interesting, viewing the Asian Group, whose four contenders are predictably unopposed: China, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. The People’s Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam all share the dubious distinction of “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist, while Freedom House lists the three countries as “not free.” As to press freedoms there — you have to be kidding!
The Maldives in the Indian Ocean are listed as partly free.
Turning to the Latin American group, there were three contenders for two seats: Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay. Guess who won? Cuba came in first with 148 votes followed by Mexico with 135, and sadly with democratic Uruguay in the dust. Without question, Cuba is rated as “not free” by Freedom House and an “authoritarian regime,” by the Economist. Mexico is viewed as “partly free” by Freedom House, but a “flawed democracy” by the Economist. Uruguay, a genuine democracy, fell by the wayside in this contest.
For a positive break, let’s look at the Western European group. Both France and the United Kingdom won two-year terms on the council. Happily, both are free countries and vibrant democracies, though the Economist, a British publication, after all, describes France as a “flawed democracy.”
The Eastern European Group fielded two candidates for two seats: Russia and Macedonia. Need I say more? Freedom House rates Russia as “not free” while the Economist describes the Moscow government as an “authoritarian regime.” Macedonia (known officially in the UN as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is viewed as “partly free” and a “flawed democracy.”
According to Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch: “China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens and they consistently vote the wrong way on the UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”
“Regrettably,” added Neuer, “so far neither the U.S. nor the EU has said a word about the hypocritical candidacies that will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system.”
In a program sponsored by UN Watch and the Human Rights Foundation, famed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng stated: “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.” Chen, a blind former political prisoner, was spirited out of China last year in a high-profile case, and now lives in New York.
Rosa Maria Paya, a Cuban dissident, added, “The presence of the Chinese, the Russians, and the Cuban regimes, is disappointing for the victims of repression, and it sends a message of complicity from the international community.”
She lamented that “democratic governments should not share seats with criminals that behave with impunity since they are not suffering any consequences.”
The UNHRC election offers a stunning wakeup call that despite the surge of freedom throughout the world, there’s still a strong and entrenched group of authoritarian regimes who will use and abuse these very human rights mechanisms to cynically counter civil and political rights everywhere.