Thursday, May 08, 2008

BAHRAIN among five nations unfit to serve on UN rights body, FH- says

NGOs say five nations unfit to serve on UN rights body

AFP - Tuesday, May 6 11:53 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Gabon, Bahrain, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia do not deserve a seat on the Human Rights Council, the United Nations' top rights body, two non-governmental organizations said Tuesday.

In a joint report, UN Watch and Freedom House, which champion human rights worldwide, lamented that Gabon and Zambia were guaranteed seats on the council because of a lack of competition from more democratic countries in their African group.

Their report was unveiled here as the UN General Assembly is set to elect 15 new members of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) -- one third of its membership -- on May 21.

"Democratic countries are squandering a golden opportunity to promote human rights through this important UN body," Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, told reporters.

"Instead they lend international credibility to repressive governments that routinely violate the rights of their own citizens."

Paula Schriefer, the advocacy director of Freedom House, noted the HRC already includes three countries -- China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia -- listed on her organization's "Worst of the Worst" 2008 report on the world's most repressive societies.

The other countries on the list are Myanmar, Libya, North Korea, Somalia and Sudan, as well as two territories, Chechnya and Tibet.

"With the exception of Burma (Myanmar), the UN Human Rights Council has so far failed to adequately address any of the egregious human rights situation taking place in the countries in our Worst of the Worst report," Schriefer said.

In the African group, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana and Zambia are vying for the HRC seats currently held by Gabon, Ghana, Mali and Zambia.

Gabon and Zambia were deemed "not qualified", Ghana "qualified" and Burkina Faso "questionable" by the two pro-democracy groups.

In the Asian group, Bahrain, East Timor, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka are in contention for the seats currently held by Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka.

Bahrain, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were deemed "not qualified", Japan and South Korea "qualified" and East Timor "questionable."

In the East European group, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine are battling for the seats held by Romania and Ukraine. All four were thought to be "qualified."

In the Latin American group, Argentina, Brazil and Chile are running for the seats held by Brazil, Guatemala and Peru. Argentina and Chile were deemed "qualified" and Brazil "questionable."

And in the West European group, the contest involves France, Spain and Britain for the seats currently held by Britain and France. All three contenders were judged to be "qualified."

No country can be elected to the HRC unless an absolute majority (at least 97 members) of the UN General Assembly writes in the name of the candidate on a ballot. Members are elected to staggered three-year terms.

The HRC was created two years ago to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission as part of UN reforms.