Vietnam, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia were elected yesterday to the United Nations Human Rights Council, joining Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia.
“The risk of coalitions hostile to freedom of information is now very real,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Twenty of the Council’s 47 members are in the bottom 100 of the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. We fear that the Council could now be manipulated by countries that are totally opposed to promoting and protecting human rights.”
08.11.2013 - Candidate countries for UN Human Rights Council set a poor example
On 12 November, the United Nations General Assembly will elect 14 new members of the Human Rights Council, which is composed of 47 countries and is responsible for “promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner”.
Four of the 17 countries in contention are among the bottom 20 in the 2012-2013 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders: Saudi Arabia (163), Cuba (171), Vietnam (172) and China (173). Russia (158) is already guaranteed a seat because it is one of the candidates proposed by the Eastern Europe, together with Macedonia, group to fill its two vacant seats.
“The candidacies of countries that persecute journalists, monitor the Internet and generally show little respect for the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations are a significant threat to the work of the Human Rights Council,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Is there any need to point out that paragraph 9 of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 (2006), which established the Human Rights Council, provides that ‘members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’? As far as these candidates are concerned, this is a long way off.
“It is wrong and naïve to believe that taking a seat on the council will force these countries into greater human rights compliance. On the contrary, it is feared that they will join forces with other delegations serving until 2015, such as the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Kazakhstan, to support projects that jeopardise freedom of information. Any measures in support of respect for traditional values, blasphemy, or Internet surveillance and filtering must be opposed. The Human Rights Council must remain a body that defends universal human rights values.”
Saudi Arabia applies harsh censorship of the Internet, which is the only medium where some form of freedom of expression and information has developed in recent years. The conviction of the lawyer Le Quoc Quan and the blogger Dinh Nhat Uy in October showed that Vietnamese Web users, the only sources of independent news and information in Vietnam, are subjected to increasing repression by the ruling Communist Party.
China, for its part, is still the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber dissidents. Censorship and surveillance of dissidents continues to grow. In the Americas, Cuba is the only country that does not allow independent news organizations, with the exception of a few Catholic magazines, and where use of the Internet is strictly controlled, although one or two Internet cafes have opened in Havana.
Finally, in the face of an increasingly vocal civil society, Russia has continued to beef up its repressive laws imposing further curbs on freedom of news and information, such as re-criminalising defamation, official filtering of the Internet, the creation of the offence of blasphemy and banning “homosexual propaganda”. Russia, where impunity for those who murder or attack journalists is the rule, today has three journalists in prison. It plays a leading role within some regional and international organizations in questioning the universality of human rights.
At the instigation of the International Service for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and some 40 non-governmental organizations have signed a joint letter to the Human Rights Council and the candidate countries, asking them to give a commitment to human rights and to co-operate with the United Nations special rapporteurs