UNITED NATIONS — The UN Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva mid-June, voted unanimously that neither Cuba nor Belarus need “human rights rapporteurs,” special UN investigators who look into alleged human rights abuses.
The Bush administration responded to the vote with outrage, threatening to withhold the U.S. portion of funding from the HRC. The United States is unlikely to do so, however, in that, according to the UN’s rules, a nation that does not meet its financial obligations loses its standing in the General Assembly.
The vote came in the context of compromise efforts to adopt new rules for the recently constituted council.
“The decision to terminate the politicized mandate of the so- called ‘special rapporteur on Belarus,’” said Andrei Popov of Belarus’ ministry of foreign affairs, “is a convincing demonstration by the council of its capacity to be guided in its work by the principle of constructive international dialogue and cooperation in human rights.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters that the council’s action was “an act of justice” that deprives Washington of a platform for manipulating the human rights issue to defame Cuba and its achievements. He said it also undermines the U.S. pretext for its decades-long blockade of the island.
Perez Roque expressed gratification that European nations supported the decision despite their recent tendency to follow the U.S. lead regarding relations with Cuba.
At the same time, a larger and still undecided issue looms over the debate. Controversy has erupted around the issue of singling out certain nations, considered human rights abusers, for special investigation and rapporteurs.
The practice of producing country-specific resolutions is generally supported by the richer, more powerful states on the HRC, such as the European nations, as well as the United States, which is not on the council.
Socialist China has lent its backing to poorer, developing countries who say that country-specific resolutions are a political instrument used to target countries that fall out of favor with the big powers.
Those who oppose country-specific mandates argue that the practice of the new HRC, where each member’s status is reviewed every few years, should be extended to all the members of the General Assembly. Periodically reviewing the behavior of every UN member state, they argue, would ensure greater fairness.
Some commentators have argued that the HRC’s policy of regularly reviewing each of its members is the reason why the U.S. chose not to run for a seat. The U.S. fears, commentators say, criticism for its pervasive practices of racial and gender discrimination. Others say the U.S. decided not to run because it feared it lacked the votes to get elected.
The removal of Cuba and Belarus from the list represents a compromise. The European powers were aware that the majority of the world’s states consider allegations of human rights abuses in these states ridiculous, and agreed to remove them in a bid to make the process seem fairer.
Popov, the spokesperson forBelarus, added that this decision is part of the “natural striving” by the new HRC to “consider human rights issues on the basis of universality, impartiality, fairness and non-selectivity as well as to exclude from its work any possibility of politicization of the human rights agenda and application of double standards.”
The 47-member HRC, which includes representatives from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, replaced the similarly named UN Human Rights Commission in 2006.
W.T. Whitney contributed to this article.