Cablegate: Human Rights Council Session Highlights Troubling


DE RUEHGV #2626/01 3511651
R 171651Z DEC 07

2007-12-17 16:51:00 07GENEVA2626 US Mission Geneva UNCLASSIFIED VZCZCXYZ0000\
DE RUEHGV #2626/01 3511651\
R 171651Z DEC 07\
E.O. 12958: N/A \
SUBJECT: Human Rights Council Session Highlights Troubling \
Negotiating Dynamic \
Ref A: Geneva 2373; Ref B: Geneva 2355 \
1. Summary: The Human Rights Council's resumed Sixth Session of \
December 10-14 highlighted the pernicious dynamic of previous \
sessions in which important resolutions were held hostage to \
negotiations between the European Union and Organization of the \
Islamic Conference (OIC). That dynamic was evident in negotiations \
on country resolutions, resulting in the elimination of the Group of \
Experts on Sudan and a weak resolution extending the mandate of the \
Special Rapporteur on Sudan, as well as a weakened text on Burma. \
The dynamic also shaped work on the mandate of the Special \
Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, on which the EU \
negotiated directly with the OIC, watered down important elements of \
the text to try to garner OIC support, and froze out the U.S. and \
other would-be cosponsors who wanted to help shape the text, \
resulting in adoption of a resolution with language that OIC \
countries can use to justify criminalization of freedom of \
expression. This underlying political dynamic must be broken if the \
year-and-a-half old Council, which is still taking shape, is to \
address human rights problems in a serious and substantive way. End \
Summary. \
2. The resumed Sixth Session of the Human Rights Council \
demonstrated the drift evident in the treatment of serious human \
rights situations in a Council dominated by the Organization of the \
Islamic Conference (OIC) with the connivance of the African Group. \
(Ref A reported on developments in the Sixth Session's initial three \
weeks, from September 10-28.) This dynamic has been exacerbated by \
the premium the EU places on its own internal coordination, \
frequently at the expense of contributions from non-EU allies, and \
achievement of consensus overall. This unfortunate confluence of \
events has made it difficult for the U.S. and other like-minded \
countries to contribute significantly to the process, as our \
potential contributions to substantive texts have been discounted by \
an EU intent on compromising with Council blocs whose interests are \
often inimical to the promotion and protection of human rights. \
Sudan \
3. In the current resumed session, the Council's negotiations on the \
two Sudan texts were one casualty of this underlying dynamic. At \
the first Sudan informal, the EU presented two draft resolutions, \
one extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and the second \
following up on the Report of the Group of Experts and extending the \
Group's mandate. Before holding this informal, the EU had \
negotiated with the African Group in an effort to produce a \
consensus text that they could table covering both issues. When \
this effort failed, the EU decided to hold open informals in an \
effort to be more transparent. GRULAC, non-EU Western Group \
members, and even some African countries like Uganda expressed \
appreciation for the EU's transparent approach. Many of these \
countries, including the United States, provided substantial \
comments on these texts in the open informals. By the next day, \
however, the EU and the African Group had again started negotiating \
privately and, the afternoon before the vote, presented two texts \
addressing the Group of Experts and the Special Rapporteur, \
neither of which included any of the changes suggested by the U.S. \
or others. The two groups even refused to make technical fixes to \
a paragraph in one of the Sudan resolutions whose counterpart in the \
EU's Liberia resolution had already been fixed in a manner \
acceptable to all. EU and African Group representatives told the \
U.S. delegation that they did not see the change at issue as \
problematic, but nonetheless could not correct the language because \
"the Portuguese and Egyptian Ambassadors had already shaken hands on \
the agreed texts." \
4. The final result failed to extend the mandate of the Group of \
Experts and failed to hold Sudan accountable for its weak \
implementation of that Group's recommendations, not to mention its \
poor cooperation with the Group and the Special Rapporteur and \
terrible recent human rights record overall. As a result of the \
opaque process and weak texts, the U.S., Canada, and Norway chose \
not to sponsor either of the Sudan resolutions. Australia and New \
Zealand, while disappointed with the results, decided to co-sponsor \
the resolution renewing the Special Rapporteur's mandate but not the \
resolution following up on the work of the Group of Experts. \
Burma \
5. The EU also proved unforthcoming with the U.S. and other \
like-minded countries on its follow-up to the relatively tough \
resolution it had produced at its October 2 Special Session on Burma \
(Ref B). After producing a good first draft calling on the Burmese \
government specifically to implement all the resolutions laid out in \
Special Rapporteur Paulo Pinheiro's report to the Council, the EU \
backed off in the face of resistance from Russia, China, India and \
others. Without informing like-minded countries, it negotiated away \
the specific references to Pinheiro's recommendations, and accepted \
language that welcomed Burma's release of detainees (although it \
ultimately moderated the latter reference). \
6. This watered-down version was the only revised version the EU \
showed to co-sponsors, doing so on the session's last day, just \
hours before the resolution would be considered. The process \
elicited complaints from us, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and \
Switzerland about the lack of EU transparency. Although the \
resolution overall is still useful and was passed by consensus, EU \
coordination with like-minded delegations could have produced a \
stronger text. \
Freedom of Religion or Belief \
7. Negotiations on the renewal of the mandate for the Special \
Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief were equally \
frustrating. In addition to renewing the mandate, the text also \
contains a lengthy preambular section on religious freedoms and \
religious intolerance. Although the OIC avoided explicit \
"defamation of religions" language, the bloc instead pressed for \
language criminalizing freedom of expression by individuals, the \
media and political parties, in effect "defamation" in disguise. \
8. The EU refused to entertain repeated U.S. requests to eliminate \
problematic language criminalizing freedom of expression, arguing \
that its hands were tied because the language came verbatim from the \
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a result, \
the final text contains a sentence obliging states "To ensure that \
any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to \
discrimination, hostility or violence is prohibited by law." Yet \
had non-EU countries been allowed to see the text before this \
language was presented as a fait accompli, there would have been \
more room to address the problem. By giving away so much so soon to \
the OIC, the Portuguese delegation managing the negotiations limited \
its room to maneuver, only emboldening the OIC, which on the \
penultimate day of the session tabled amendments expressing alarm at \
the negative stereotyping of religions and their adherents and \
prophets, adding a reference to "protecting religions" under \
international and national law, and deleting the reference to the \
right to change one's religion. The tabling of amendments triggered \
intense lobbying by OIC and EU countries, as well as by the U.S. \
(with the welcome support of U.S. Commission on International \
Religious Freedom Commissioner Leonard Leo). In the end, it was \
apparent the OIC did not have the votes to pass the most problematic \
of its amendments, and they were withdrawn at the last moment. \
9. During the explanations of vote, Pakistan for the OIC complained \
that because its concerns had not been met in negotiations, its \
members would abstain en bloc. OIC countries also disassociated \
themselves from the reference to the right to change one's religion \
and said the OIC does not consider it legally binding. The \
resolution passed by a vote of 29-0-18, representing the first time \
that this mandate was adopted without consensus. Rumors are rife \
that the OIC hopes to oust Asma Jahangir from her position as \
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the March \
session of the Council and replace her with Doudou Diene, currently \
the Senegalese Special Rapporteur on Racism, who is known to \
sympathize with OIC views on what constitutes religious intolerance. \
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights staffers inform \
us, however, that Diene has no interest in taking up that mandate. \
Successor to Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) \
10. The U.S. delegation participated actively in negotiations for \
the successor body to the WGIP. Although we were isolated in our \
view that the WGIP needed no Geneva-based successor at all, we did \
manage, in conjunction with the UK, Canada, Australia and New \
Zealand, to limit the mandate of the new expert mechanism. The body \
will undertake research and studies, but the development and \
implementation of norms are outside its mandate, and the new \
mechanism must work on instruction from the Council. Interestingly, \
Bolivia, which originally introduced the text and conducted the \
marathon parallel informals during the week of the Council meeting, \
in the end introduced the text but then disassociated from consensus \
on the grounds that the text did not go far enough towards meeting \
the concerns of the indigenous caucus. \
Comment \
11. The prevailing political and negotiating dynamics at the Human \
Rights Council must be broken if that body, which is still taking \
shape, is to address human rights problems in a serious and \
substantive way. Instead of seeking the support of the U.S. and \
other sympathetic delegations in its efforts to hold violators to \
their international human rights obligations, the instinct of the EU \
appears to be to bend over backwards to accommodate the concerns of \
the violators and their supporters. The result is not pretty. \
South Africa, which serves as the driving force behind the Durban \
process and has a tunnel-vision interest on issues of racial \
equality, appears to have made common cause with the OIC and its \
parallel tunnel-vision interest in ensuring the alleged rights of \
the collective in Muslim societies. This vision is fundamentally \
incompatible with the interests of Western democracies. Until the \
EU can be made to see that its paramount goal of ensuring its \
internal unity, with its predictable lowest-common-denominator \
results, will rarely hold anyone accountable for anything, our \
efforts to see the HRC evolve into an effective and respectable \
human rights mechanism are likely to go unrewarded. The U.S. made a \
greater effort in this short session to influence events, but this \
level and manner of engagement simply were not enough to have a \
significant impact. \

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