The world’s current roundtable for human rights is a tool to ... direct attention away from the behaviour of its worst member governments.
The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its March 26 meeting by adopting 28 resolutions. Convening in Geneva, the Council is the UN’s foremost human rights authority.
It was created after the UN’s 53-member Human Rights Commission did such an abysmal job that in December of 2004 then-secretary general Kofi Annan called for the creation of a new human rights body.
The council currently has 47 members elected on the basis of “geographical distribution” by simple majority vote of the UN’s general assembly.
Members have to commit to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
Annan hailed the new body as a step forward: “I don’t think anyone can claim this is old wine in a new bottle,” he said after its creation.
The council’s recent work speaks volumes. Eight of the 28 resolutions passed were criticisms directed at specific governments – one for North Korea, one for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one for Burma, one for Guinea and four for Israel.
Cambodia a grave threat
Human rights violations committed by Israel and North Korea were deemed especially “grave”.
If considering human rights violations, the council must not simply focus on the governments of North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Guinea and Israel.
Cambodia should also be included. How could the council not include one resolution on rights violations by Cambodia’s government of the 28 passed?
The council views actions by the Israeli government as its most urgent human rights concern – more dire than, for example, the assassination of human rights defenders in Russia; the continuing genocide in Sudan; the 8 million forced labourers in China’s Laogai prisons; the 200 political prisoners in Cuba; the assault on independent media in Venezuela; the persecution of gays in Uganda.
Missing from the council’s resolutions are the cruel dictatorships in Vietnam, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Eritrea, and the brutality of Iran’s government against its own people.
But the council has forgotten the atrocities committed by the past and current Cambodian governments, backed by the Vietnamese, between April 17, 1975, and October 23, 1991, as well as following the elections of 1993 and extending into the present time.
The atrocities that have occurred in Cambodia – about 1 million before the rise of the Khmer Rouge, some 2.5 million during their reign and another half million after the Khmer Rouge were driven out by the Vietnamese – were completely ignored by the council.
Why did the UN not find it important to speak out on behalf of the Tibetans, Uighurs, Cambodians, Chechens, Cubans, Darfuris, Dalits or dozens of other oppressed groups?
Because the UN Human Rights Council includes a dozen dictatorships, including China, Cuba, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as a catalogue of governments with dreadful human rights records such as Angola, Bahrain, Bolivia, Cameroon, Djibouti, Nicaragua and Pakistan.
The world’s current roundtable for human rights is a tool to whitewash, cover up and direct attention away from the behaviour of its worst member governments.
The only working governmental alternative is a body – in the UN or outside it – composed solely of democratic, open societies applying consistent standards and willing to work transparently to expose and condemn governments that abuse human rights.
That is why we, the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity, are promoting political rights to ensure that victims of political crimes, such as those killed by the Khmer Rouge, get justice at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
It is time that human rights and political rights in Cambodia become issues that we can all take seriously and that can be put at the forefront of the global political agenda.
Sourn Serey Ratha
Chief of Mission Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity