Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The new United Nations Human Rights Council

The world can rest easy. Overnight the United Nations elected a new Human Rights Council which is 'responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe'. It's just as well they all have such personal experience and knowledge:

South Africa

Prisoners suffer abuse by prison guards - employed by outsourcing favourite G4S - including forced injections and electric shocks.


The Algerian government's own human rights authority published a report earlier this year detailing bribery and corruption allegations, as well as failures in children's education and state muzzling of the press.


There is much concern over the Moroccan government's treatment of the Saharawi territories, whose people have campaigned for self-determination. Earlier this year mass graves of Saharawis were found, including children, dating back to 1976, but the persecution continues. And in June, Human Rights Watch called on Moroccan judges to stop jailing people who had confessed, apparently after torture  


Nowhere near the worst offender, but Namibia continues to worry human rights organisations because of continuing discrimination against minorities, violence against women, prison conditions and the rights of peaceful assembly.


Just a couple of weeks ago a campaigner was jailed after calling for his brother to be released on Facebook. Dinh Nhat Uy called for the release of Dinh Nguyen Kha on the social network site; he is currently serving four years for 'propaganda against the state'. Dinh Nhat Uy has promptly been jailed for 15 months for his trouble.


One of the several global human rights abuse specialists to have been elected to this UN committee. Blimey, the list of abuses is endless:

Amnesty International estimates 500,000 are locked up in punitive detention, yet to face any charge and in August, The Guardian reported that Chinese police were to get extra powers to detain people for up to six months without charge and without telling their families where they were.

It is estimated as many as 3,000 people are executed every year in China, more than the rest of the planet combined.

Uighurs and Tibetans are among the many ethnic minorities who have suffered persecution lasting decades.

And of course this is before we get to the totalitarian nature of the Chinese state, the lack of freedom of speech, the lack of voting, etc. etc.

China is the world class expert in human rights abuse.


This honeymoon idyll captured the headlines in February when a court ruled a 15-year-old girl should be flogged for having extra-marital sex. The extra-marital sex in question was being raped by her stepfather. Thankfully, in August, after an international outcry, the sentence was annulled. But the Minivan News reports about the culture of flogging in the Maldives and here you can watch a 17-year-old girl being flogged with a wooden paddle in March this year.

Saudi Arabia

Probably the world's second leading human rights abuser behind China.

There are the obvious crimes, the public executions and crucifixions, with bodies subsequently hanged from lampposts as warnings to all.

Human Rights Watch's world report on Saudi Arabia is very long. The arbitrary arrests of anyone, including children, the routine torture, the horrendous abuses against alleged criminals and the lack of rights for migrant workers are all listed.

And then of course is the lack of rights for women. HRW write:

'Under the discriminatory Saudi guardianship system, girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducing official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians.'

And this Reuters article gives harrowing insight into the sort of abuses women regularly suffer in the country.

So the human rights of women world wide are evidently now in safe hands. 


'Macedonia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour'. 

So says the US Department of State 'Trafficking in Persons Report 2013', published in June this year. To be fair Macedonia has been lauded in its efforts to stamp out this hideous trade but it remains an intractable problem.

Amnesty International highlights homophobic abuse that is still widespread in the country. 


Like China and Saudi Arabia, Russia is excellent at abusing human rights, regardless of international concern.

Greenpeace activists, and an accompanying journalist, are currently locked up awaiting trial, charged with hooliganism and face seven years in jail. 

Their treatment follows the jailing of Pussy Riot, one of whose members just showed up in a Siberian prison camp several thousand miles away from Moscow and her home and family.

Recently, anti-propaganda laws have been introduced against homosexuality, despite the impending Sochi games. Putin says homosexuals are welcome, but presumably as long as they don't tell anyone or, horror, kiss their partners. 

And dare one mention Georgia and Chechnya, on whose soil the most appalling atrocities have been carried out with either Russia's connivance or knowledge.


HRW's world report on Cuba begins

'Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raul Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions and forced exile.'

It may be the darling of some on the left, with Fidel Castro a hero, but its human rights record continues to be woeful.


Few countries in the world have suffered more as a consequence of the misguided and counterproductive 'war on drugs'. As part of the security services' campaign to tackle narcotics, thousands of people have gone missing, been tortured or have been killed.

HRW reports that between January 2007 until mid-November 2012, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission issued reports on '109 cases in which it found that members of the army had committed serious human rights violations, and received complaints of 7,350 military abuses'. Soldiers who commit such abuses 'are virtually never brought to justice'.


Despite its membership of the EU and civilisation, it doesn't escape criticism from bodies including Amnesty International. In its 2013 report, it highlights the problems of deaths in custody, particularly amongst ethnic minorities, it questions its stance against torture in custody and says there is discrimination against ethnic minorities and LGBTI people.

Amnesty also criticises France's eviction of Roma camps:

'Camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma continued to be dismantled in forced evictions throughout the year. According to NGO estimates, 9,040 Roma were forcibly evicted throughout France in the first three quarters of 2012.'

United Kingdom

And before we give ourselves a pat on the back, and with relief exclaim 'well, we're not as bad as that lot', well no, we may not be, but then Britain is not an angel either. Since 2011, at least 61 journalists have been arrested in connection with payments to public officials. At least 12 have been cleared of any wrong doing, 23 remain on bail - some for more than a year, a disgraceful amount of time. None of these arrests are strictly human rights abuses but it remains extraordinary.

Oh, and Britain has a long and proud record of selling arms to China, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In fact, it's quite a surprise Iran has failed to be elected to this august body.


It's not the first time the UN Human Rights Council has been a joke and it won't be the last. To make way for many of these countries places like Angola, Libya and Malaysia have left the council.  These countries join, for a three-year term, and 33 others states like India, the US, Brazil, Congo, Kazakhstan continue on the council.  But is it any wonder human rights abuses continue with such vigour when the body tasked with monitoring and protecting rights is packed full of countries guilty of such atrocities?

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