| Commission on Human Rights caught in transition
From 15 March to 23 April 2004, the 60th session of the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights will be held in Geneva. While
human rights violations in the Occupied Arab Territories of West
Bank and Gaza dominated the 58th session, the war against Iraq
overshadowed the 59th session. The violations of the right to
life in the occupied Arab Territories and occupied Iraq have become
rituals and therefore, increasing insensitivity and decreasing
outrage against the killings.
The Commission on Human Rights for the first time will deal with
human rights violations by the Occupying Powers in Iraq. For decades,
the world’s attention has been drawn to massive human rights violations
by Saddam Hussein. As no Weapons of Mass Destruction, the main
raison d’etre for the war, has been found, human rights violations
by Saddam Hussain are raised to justify the Iraq war. Yet, those
who preached Saddam Hussein about the rule of law are all set
to try him in a Kangaroo court that fails to meet international
judicial standards of openness and fairness. The Occupying Powers
and their allies are likely to advocate to do away with the country
rapproteur on Iraq to escape international scrutiny.
The situation of human rights in Iran reflects the dilemmas before
the Commission. In a clear sign of cooperation with UN, the reformist
government led by President Khatami invited the UN Working Group
on Arbitrary Detention and Special Rapporteur on the right to
freedom of opinion and expression to visit the country last year.
But, the rigged elections in February 2004 might reverse the reform
processes. Canada, which had earlier sponsored a resolution against
Iran at the General Assembly after the death of photo journalist,
Zahra Kazemi is likely to lead the censure motion against Iraq.
Though President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti has been dislodged
from Port Au Prince, the involvement of the leader of the rebel
National Resistance Front for the Liberation of Haiti, Guy Philippe
in the future government will not help to improve the human rights
situation. Haiti’s former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Boniface
Alexandre, has been sworn in as interim President. But establishing
the rule of law in a wretchedly poor, conspicuously corrupt and
politically divided country will be an uphill task.
At the 59th session, the CHR in an unusual decision released the
report of the Independent Expert on Liberia under 1503 Confidential
Procedure. The Independent Expert provided information on widespread
impunity, deliberate and arbitrary killings, extrajudicial executions,
arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, forced recruitment and
use of child soldiers, violations of freedom of expression and
attacks on human rights defenders and the judiciary in Liberia.
The Independent Expert has not been able to visit Liberia owing
to security concerns last year. However, as the High Commissioner
in his report to the 60th session informs “over 250,000 persons
have lost their lives in the conflict since December 1989. At
least half of the dead were civilian non-combatants”. The High
Commissioner further urges, “The crimes committed against the
people of Liberia must not go unpunished. Those responsible for
the atrocities committed in Liberia must be brought to justice
irrespective of their position or status and whether they are
members of the Government or rebel forces.” Double standards is
synonymous of diplomacy at the Commission on Human Rights. At
the 58th session after being voted off the CHR, Kevin E Moley,
the US Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva accused the
European Union of hiding behind the United States after the EU
failed to sponsor a resolution on the situation of human rights
in China. After being voted on, the US itself did not sponsor
a resolution at the last 59th session. It remains to be seen whether
the State Department’s recent grumbling on human rights situation
in China will lead to sponsoring a resolution against China.
The fact that India was not mentioned even in the oral intervention
of the European Union on country situations at the 58th session
immediately after the Gujarat riots speaks of the divisions within
EU and therefore, the failure to censure gross human rights violations.
Even a resolution for monitoring human rights abuses by the Maoists
and the Nepal’s security forces appears difficult at the 60th
session. India has consistently opposed any international mediation
including overtures from Secretary General Kofi Annan for resolving
the conflict between the Maoists and the government of Nepal.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will rally
behind Nepal and India if any resolution on human rights situation
in Nepal is tabled.
Since September 11th, counter-terrorism has become synonymous
of State terrorism. Though five Britons have been released from
Gunatamo bay, the United States has so far failed to clarify the
situation of the prisoners in Guantanamo in respect of international
human rights standards and humanitarian law, and consequently
either to put them on trial or to release them. Since the post
September 11th, the number of countries, which need to be preached
the respect for rule of law, have increased manifold with the
admission of the United States and United Kingdom into the rank
and files of the States, which need to be named and shamed.
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