Saturday, March 29, 2008

U.N. rapporteurs no longer so special?

The Human Rights Council this week stoked the controversy that's surrounded it since its founding in 2006.
The Council supplanted the Human Rights Commission -- a six-decades-old body that critics contended had become too political and, more to the point, too beholden to the politics of countries not themselves known for compliance with international human rights norms. Yet on many fronts human rights reform has not accompanied this re-forming of the U.N.'s human rights apparatus.
Not only has the Council concentrated on Israel to the exclusion of other countries, but it, like its predecessor, has included many human rights transgressors. Indeed, transgressors' sway may have increased, given the decision of the United States not to seek a seat on the Council. (Some surmise the the United States refused to run after counting noses and realizing that, on account of its own post-9/11 behavior, it might not win were it in fact to campaign for a seat.)
Add now yesterday's news of what Le Monde calls "a new breach in the system of 'special rapporteurs' inherited from the former Commission." On Thursday, Le Monde wrote,
under the pressure of the African group, and with the support of the Islamic Conference, China, and Russia, the Council proclaimed -- 'by consensus' -- the nonrenewal of the mandate of the 'special rapporteur' on the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly, Zaïre), a country where human rights violates continue to be massive.

Congo thus joined Cuba and Belarus as countries who've been freed of Special Rapporteur investigations in 2 years, and adds fuel to concerns that most such mandates soon will disappear. Julie Gromellon of the Fédération internationale des droits de l'homme (FIDH) decried the notion that notion that a "thematic rapporteur" would do the job of the country-based expert, while Juliette de Rivero of Human Rights Watch issued this warning:
The Human Rights Council put politics before people by deciding not to renew the expert mandate on the Congo. Downgrading the council's work in Congo despite the recent rapes and killings is inexplicable and could have tragic consequences.

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