Tag Archives: UPR

Israel boycotts UN human rights session despite warnings from friends and foe

Israel has become the first ever country to not turn up to its own session under the UN ‘Universal Periodic Review’ (UPR) setting a worrying precedent. By boycotting this human rights mechanism, they have moved further away from their friends and foe in the international community.

In July 2010 I wrote:

We cannot allow their regime to dictate when it will cooperate; equally we cannot risk casting them off into the diplomatic wilderness where human rights abuses can occur unchecked

I was writing about Iran and their unhelpful approach to the UN UPR.

On that occasion, the papers were quiet. It wasn’t considered news that Iran had essentially failed to cooperate, in any genuine way, with the new UN human rights process.

Today, in contrast, the papers are filled with Israel’s non-cooperation with the UPR. Israel didn’t attend their own review as part of their ongoing boycott of the UN Human Rights Council. They are boycotting the council after the council launched a fact-finding mission in March 2012 on the (illegal under IHL) Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Israel has long argued that there is bias against it within the UN. Since 2006 more than half the resolutions passed by the Human Rights Council since it started work in 2006 have focused on Israel, specifically over the treatment of Palestinians. For some within the Israel the fact-finding mission was the last straw.

For others it was an essential investigation into Israel’s ongoing violations of IHL.

Regardless, this boycott by Israel has set a dangerous precedent of non-compliance.

Peter Splinter, Amnesty International’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva argues:

Israel’s deliberate absence would sabotage the principle of universality. Consequently the Universal Periodic Review stands to lose the compelling legitimacy it derives from being applied even-handedly to all state”.

He continued, “Why should states that would prefer to escape scrutiny of their human rights record, or are severely resource constrained, submit to this process if Israel’s non-compliance demonstrates that it is no longer universal?”

Iran, at least gave lip service to the process. Even Turkmenistan turned up!

There are very good reason why we should be worried about Israel’s no show. Again, in the words of Peter Splinter:

“There is evidence that for many countries throughout the world the Universal Periodic Review has contributed to narrowing the gap between human rights standards and their implementation. It would be a great loss to the global human rights project if the Universal Periodic Review were jeopardized”.

Israel’s closest allies, the United States, urged them to take part in the review.  The United States ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said,

 “We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation…The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed”.

It is not just those who care about Israelis and Palestinians who should be worried about this development. This has the potential to set a precedent for worst human rights violators around the world to follow.

Israel has recklessly disregarded another staple of international human rights mechanisms and have moved further away from their friends and foe in the international community.

Now, more than ever, we need Israel to be a functional part of this international consensus – not a rogue state on fringes.

We have to wait and see if they turn up to the rescheduled session later this year.

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Iran makes a mockery of the UPR

The International Community in a diplomatic deadend with Iran! Ambassador John W.Limert. Photo thanks to US Mission Geneva

I have blogged before about the shrinking diplomatic options open to the international community when dealing with Iran.  I concluded then, that the only path left open was the UN UPR process.  It appears Iran has put the final nail in their diplomatic coffin by refusing to take up some of the most basic recommendations that the UPR made.

Iran refused to accept the recommendation that it end the practice of executing juveniles, upholding fair trial guarantees and investigating torture allegations.  Perhaps the biggest blow was their refusal to allow the Council’s Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country.  If they will not even play lip service to such basic demands then what hope is there of any effective change within the country?

There is however, one last hope – Iran’s diplomatic schizophrenia seems to have come out once again during this process.  They accepted some recommendations while rejecting other similar recommendations.  There is potential for random positive acts to occur, but this is far from sustainable.   We cannot allow their regime to dictate when it will coöperate; equally we cannot risk casting them off into the diplomatic wilderness where human rights abuses can occur unchecked.

If we want real progress for human rights in Iran, we need the authorities there to start living up to their responsibilities; such as their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child not to execute juveniles.  It is up to the International community to keep banging the same drum asking the Iranian authorities to act.  It may feel like it does nothing, but what other options are available?

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Turkmenistan and the Nabucco pipeline

Turkmenistan is one of those countries you may just about have heard of in the UK.  It’s in Central Asia, it borders the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan.  It was ruled until a few years ago by President for life Niyazov (aka Türkmenbaşy).  He has been replaced by former health minister,  Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

Human Rights Watch has described Turkmenistan as “one of the most repressive and authoritarian” countries in the world.  Freedom House has included Turkmenistan in their 2009 “Worst of the Worst” list for social and political freedoms alongside Saudi Arabia and North Korea.  There are regular disappearances, reports of torture and harassment of journalist, environmentalist and human rights defenders.  You get the idea; it is a pretty dark place.

Despite this, the EU is going to extraordinary lengths to court Turkmenistan into trading with them. Why…? Gas!

The EU’s flagship energy security project (after deciding they couldn’t trust the Russians anymore) was the Nabucco pipeline.  The pipeline is planned to traverse four countries (Turkey, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria before terminating in Austria).  It will be over 3,000 km long and is expected to cost around 8 billion Euros (wait and watch as this figure will inevitably rise).  After sorting out some legality this summer, the only issue stopping the project going full-steam ahead is the issue of supply.  Who has gas, and is willing to sell it to the EU.  Iran is an obvious answer, but the US soon put their foot down there.  Iraq looks possible, but the internal fighting between the north and Baghdad may prove to be an issue).  Azerbaijan will almost certainly be providing some but does not have the capacity for much more than a third of the pipelines capacity.  This leaves the EU without many options other than Turkmenistan.

So this is the issue, does the EU provide wealth and fortune to a leader (who keeps his power through natural resource revenues) and secure the EU with another gas supply – this would fulfil their aim of diversifying (partially) their gas supply.  Or do they stand up for the Human Rights, development and democracy issues that they are committed to uphold? Is it possible to do both?

I feel as though it is important to approach this from a pragmatic position, what action by the EU might improve life for the average Joe in Turkmenistan?  We can see that previous attempts to isolate Turkmenistan have not bought about the sort of changes we would like to see.  Indeed, no real improvements (other than on paper) have been observed in Turkmenistan in the last two decades (despite what they would have us believe in their hearing at the UPR).  It would be very easy for the EU to sit on its high horse and criticise the Turkmens human rights record.  This however, would lose our strategic aim of securing their gas supply and secondly would probably make no difference for those who are currently suffering human rights abuses.

I am personally not sure what the answer to this is, but my former colleague Neil Endicott has just published a report (http://www.quaker.org/qcea/energysecurity/The_Nabucco_Gas_Pipeline.pdf) arguing that the EU should engage with Turkmenistan. It should do this he argues, by “seeking to engage the Turkmen government in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a scheme which addresses resource revenue management issues and provides protected space for independent civil society groups to operate”.

This scheme is still relatively young.  I feel as though it’s a long shot at best.  It is however, by far the most appealing prospect when the other options are to engage and sell out, or to isolate and tacitly accept the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.  I cannot see any other option which is more likely to improve life for the population of Turkmenistan. I think it could be worth a shot.

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Iran executes 2 opposition leaders – how many more will follow?

A supporter of the Iranian opposition. Photo thanks to SIR (Flickr)

Today, the Iranian authorities have executed the first two people connected with the post-election violence.  Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour are being executed for “trying to topple the Islamic Regime” and “for membership of armed opposition groups”. 

I have blogged before about the human rights situation in Iran after the elections of June 2009 (see https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/fac-and-iran-the-time-for-ashton-to-prove-herself/).  Worryingly there are hundreds more detained after the elections that are facing torture and arbitrary detention.  There are reports of torture, including sexual abuse and rape being used against detainees.  According to recent reports at least 5 of these prisoners are now facing the death penalty. 

I wonder, am I just tired, or is there no chance of things improving any time soon in Iran? They are happy to ignore the EU (and all its Member States) and the US is in a diplomatic no-mans land.  What’s the answer…an Iranian revolution – take 2? It seems unlikely (and quite undesirable).  Before I really give up, I will wait and see what happens in the lead up to, during, and after the UPR process (http://www.upr-info.org/-Iran-.html).  It looks like the UPR is the only international mechanism that Iran has not openly ignored. 

To keep up-dated about the disappearances, detentions and executions have a look at the Guardian’s regularly up-dated spread sheet: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/28/iran-dead-detained-protests-elections-spreadsheet

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“FAC” and Iran – The time for Ashton to prove herself.

Recent Violence in Iran, Photograph thanks to Doug20022 (Flickr)

On the 25th Jan 2010, Cathy Ashton (High Representative of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy) chairs her first Foreign Affairs Council (‘FAC’ formally known as ‘GAERC’s).  This is her, and “Post-Lisbon-EU’s” chance to stand up and show that they can act coherently in this interim period and perform as a global player. Just because everything in the Lisbon treaty is not operational does not mean the EU cannot and should not act as a global player.

On the council there are some agenda points that should be easy for the EU to draw up some strong council conclusions on.  Iran and Somalia are both examples of situations with deteriorating human rights situations where a strong external voice could bring about real change. I will briefly look at the situation of Iran to illustrate this.

There has been a human rights crisis in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Iranian authorities have responded to the ensuing demonstrations with the arbitrary detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition figures. Torture and other ill-treatment are widely reported, non-violent demonstrations have been met with excessive use of force leading to unlawful killings.  There are now signs that the Iranian authorities may soon start executing people in connection with the post election events.

Iran, however is in an internationally sensitive position (more so than usual) with the up-coming UN Universal Periodic Review process and the up-coming UN Human Rights Council (1-26th March).  Iran has recently sent the defiant message of refusing to accept a European Parliament delegation.  Iran knows however, that they can afford to do this for as long as they are respectful of the main power base of the EU for Common Foreign and Security Policy in the EU (The Council and now Baroness Ashton).  If, Ashton pushes for really strong conclusions in this up-coming FAC then it will leave Iran in a really tricky situation.  Do they ignore Ashton, and the EU’s new structures (possibly damaging future relations) or do they implement the (what will probably be ‘modest’) human rights proposals put forward by the FAC.

The FAC and Ashton must include some human rights language in their conclusions.  As a minimum this must call for the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to be allowed access to Iran.  If they really wanted to be brave they could mention; the excessive use of the death penalty, the routine use of torture, the blanket oppression of the freedom of expression, assembly and association or even the on-going violence used by security forces. 

This is the first real big test for Ashton (as opposed to announcing relief aid to Haiti – which according to some commentators she managed to screw up).  We need a strong performance by Ashton to bring on board all the member states to push for some sort of human rights language in the council conclusions.  We will wait and see if this materialises.

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