Human rights matter! That's why the UN had a Human Rights Commission, and that's why the main abusers of human rights made sure they were on the commission - to prevent any inconvenient interference from the UN. Not so much "set a thief to watch a thief" as let the thieves run the police. It wasn't working.
The UN realised this was undermining their credibility, and last year they completely changed everything, while leaving it almost the same as before. The Human Rights Commission became the Human Rights Council, and the world waited with bated breath for the UN to get to grips with the problem.
It's the first anniversary of the shiny new UN Human Rights Council's first meeting, so what has happened?
- They tried to add Belarus (Europe's last dictatorship, already under investigation for human rights abuses) to the Council - fortunately this failed. Egypt and Angola were added though.
- Embarrassing human rights investigations into abuses in Belarus and Cuba have been cancelled.
- The Non Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Group, and the Asian Group called for the end of all the other investigations - except for one into Israel, which they want to make permanent.
- For now, the other investigations continue, but Algeria has written new rules to restrict the activities of the investigators. These have been adopted.
- The universal periodic review of all countries, mandated when the HRC was set up, is being whittled away. The council wants the review to be based solely on information provided by the state (a "cooperative mechanism") and the outcome to be adopted by the HRC only with the consent of the state being reviewed (they will be "fully involved in the outcome"). Not much to worry about there, if you're up to no good.
- Just in case the reviews throw up any inconvenient truths, China and Belarus want to make it harder to start new investigations by requiring a two-thirds majority of the Council.
- An investigation (by the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the right to health, the rights of internally displaced persons, and the right to housing) into Lebanon and Israel criticised both Israel and Hizbollah for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations during the war, and recommended that the Council "having addressed the conduct of Israel. . . should also ensure that Hizbollah's attacks are thoroughly investigated." This was rejected - instead it is proposed to place Israel alone under permanent investigation.
- The HRC responded to the genocide in Darfur with a mildly worded mission to "assess the human rights situation in Darfur and the needs of the Sudan in this regard". Nevertheless, the report is damning - and languishing without any effective action.
It seems the new HRC is living up to the standards of the old HRC.
In other UN news, Zimbabwe, which has transformed itself from the breadbasket of Africa to the continent's basket case, was appointed to chair the UN Commission on Sustainable Development!
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.