By Katie VloetOct. 2, 2014
The UN Human Rights Council has been too welcoming to countries that abuse human rights, yet the inter-governmental body still “has the power to shame abusers of human rights,” Hillel C. Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said in a talk at the University of Michigan Law School.
“I've witnessed some of the most vicious tyrannies using every arrow in their quiver, every tool in their toolbox, to prevent their countries from being named in a resolution, from being targeted in an investigation, even to be so much as named on a watchlist—these countries will pull out all the stops, using all their political, economic, military influence, to ensure that they’re never named at all,” Neuer said in the talk on Oct. 1, presented by Jewish Law Students Association.
“Countries do not want to be shamed on the international stage—even powerful countries like China. … It harms their international prestige, it erodes their international standing, it can have economic and political consequences.”
Neuer is an outspoken critic of the UN in his position with UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights NGO. He appears regularly before the 47-nation Council and has intervened on behalf of the victims of Darfur, the rights of women, political prisoners in China, Russia, and Zimbabwe, and the cause of Middle East peace.
In his talk, Neuer discussed the history of the UN Human Rights Commission, which began in 1946 with Eleanor Roosevelt as its first chairperson. The organization drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which, Neuer said, continues to be a “beacon of hope.”
But the legacy of the Commission (which later evolved into the Council) has been tarnished in recent decades, Neuer said. A particular low point: Jean Ziegler, who previously helped create a human rights prize in the name of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, was named to a UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee in 2008 and reelected last year, Neuer said. (Ziegler also has been named a winner of the prize, along with Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, and others).
On a larger scale, countries Neuer referred to as “tyrannies”—specifically China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—have sought and won membership on the Council. Still, he is optimistic that some improvements can occur.
“We need our countries to step up to the plate. … I couldn’t get any democracies to join me when we did a campaign to fight against China’s selection” to join the Council, Neuer said. “We need democracies to find their backbone, to risk at time trade ties with China because it’s the right thing to do.”
The talk was sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association.
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