|Op-Ed by US Ambassador Nicole Avant: Bahamas changes historic support for human rights|
|Friday, 18 December 2009 11:33|
On November 19 and 20, three country-specific resolutions on the human rights situations in Iran, Burma and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) came up for action in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Third Committee. The Third Committee is the only UN body with the universal membership responsible for addressing international human rights issues.
All three resolutions passed. What was different about this year’s vote was that The Bahamas historic support for these important resolutions changed. While The Bahamas was consistently one of the brave souls in the Caribbean region that stood up for human rights, it chose to abstain during the November vote.
The resolution on Iran, sponsored by Canada and 41 other co-sponsors, was particularly important this year as the world watched in stunned horror at the brutal repression that occurred in the wake of the June 12 elections. The Government in Iran shut down scores of news outlets, arrested journalists and carried out summary executions, torture, and arbitrary detention.
The resolution called on the Government of Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice. The Government of Iran has consistently refused to acknowledge that it faces human rights issues, as all countries do.
In explaining this significant change in position to the Committee Chairman, The Bahamas said it was “reassessing” its vote because they were not convinced that country specific resolutions would improve the human rights situations in those countries. The Bahamas went so far as to suggest that these resolutions could actually impede meaningful dialogue and cooperation. The Bahamas stated that human rights issues should be addressed during the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which each country submits to every four years.
The problem with this argument is that Iran has not facilitated the visit of a single rapporteur or independent expert of the Human Rights Council to its country in over four years. Iran’s and The Bahamas contention that cooperation is better than resolutions would be more credible if Iran had itself cooperated in the most basic manner with these established human rights mechanisms.
When confronted with situations of grave and widespread violations in countries which refuse to cooperate in any meaningful manner with the international human rights system, the UN bodies must act. Action in one forum does not preclude action in other fora.
We attach great importance to the establishment of the HRC system of Universal Periodic Review, which is an excellent opportunity to share best practices and to work to improve the global human rights situation. But it does not replace the HRC’s and Third Committee’s mandates to act in the face of urgent situations. It was not designed to do so, nor to act in cases of non-cooperation. In part this is because every country is only reviewed once every four years.
Iran’s review is February 2010, Burma in 2011, and DPRK at the end of 2009. If we were to do what The Bahamas suggests and wait for the UPR, this would mean the international community would say nothing about these situations in the meantime; leaving millions of people without a voice and the impression that the international community does not care about what is happening to them. When we remain silent in such situations, we let down the very people we are trying to protect, those suffering human rights abuses.
It is our fervent hope that The Bahamas and others in the Caribbean region who abstained or voted against these resolutions will reconsider their positions. We cannot stand by and wait when people’s lives are at stake and the principles that we all purport to share: respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights; are in jeopardy.
We hope one day that the citizens of Iran, Burma and the DPRK will be able to discuss and address human rights issues openly, without fear of persecution. The people of those nations must know that all the freedom loving people in the world stand with them and are committed to addressing the promotion and protection of human rights with the sense of urgency that the situations in those countries deserve.
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