According to PBHI (Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation – Perhimpunan Bantuan Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia Indonesia) state-sponsored violence and cycle of impunity are still persistent in Indonesia. Following are the coverage on these issues, Amnesty International analysis on Indonesia human rights, letter to current Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and a statement issued last month by Human Rights Watch, criticizing the “sorry state” of the UNCHR.
Source: The Jakarta Post
Date: 26 Jan 2005
Human Rights Still Poor in 2004: PBHI
By M. Taufiqurrahman, Jakarta
The country’s human rights record remained poor in 2004, with state-sponsored violence and the cycle of impunity still persisting, a rights group says.
The Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (PBHI) said in its annual report released on Tuesday that in most human rights abuse cases, the state could be blamed for abetting if not actually committing the crimes, and for failing to take enough action to prevent them.
In the report, the PBHI found that human rights abuses committed against civilians by state institutions were widespread in conflict zones.
“In 2004, we found 111 cases of human rights abuses in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD), ranging from arbitrary arrest and seizure to torture and kidnapping,” the report said.
It registered four incidences of rights abuses in Papua, where the Free Papua Organization (OPM) had been seeking independence from Indonesia since the late 1960s.
The rights group based its figures on cases of human rights violations in which the PBHI was involved in providing advocacy and legal aid on behalf of the victims.
The report also highlighted the fact that despite the establishment of a high-profile human rights tribunal, almost all of the defendants walked free.
“The state has not done enough to seek legal redress against the perpetrators of human rights violations and this has resulted in impunity. It is very strange that there are so many victims of rights abuses but no one is held accountable for them,” the report said.
The report highlighted the fact that most of the military personnel who were implicated in human rights abuses during the mayhem that followed a United Nations-sponsored ballot in East Timor in 1999 were acquitted by an the rights tribunal.
The PBHI said that these acquittals were the result of political intervention involving high-profile state officials.
Besides being responsible for human rights abuses, the PBHI also found that the state was guilty of violating the basic economic rights of its citizens.
It said that the use of eviction by administrations as a tool to achieve quick and arbitrary solutions to land disputes was widespread in 2004.
“The eviction of the students of SMP 56 in South Jakarta is one among many immediate examples of the widespread use of eviction. This case shows us that the government backed business interests at the expense of the public interest,” the report said.
PBHI executive director Johnson Panjaitan also criticized the country’s current leadership.
“Respect for human rights was the main campaign theme of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, but after almost three months in office we can see that nothing has been done,” Johnson said, adding that both figures were partly responsible for human rights in the previous administration. Susilo was coordinating minister for security and political affairs while Kalla was involved in handling communal conflicts around the country.
He said that neither Susilo nor Kalla had achieved anything of note in their previous posts, and that nothing much in the way of improvement could be expected from them.
Source: Paul Barber (TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign)
Date: 26 Jan 2005
Ref.: TG ASA 21/03.2005
HE Dr. Makarim Wibisono
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN
16 Rue de Saint-Jean
17 January 2005
I am writing to congratulate you on your nomination to serve as the Chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (the Commission), and to urge your government to seize this opportunity to demonstrate leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights, including by strengthening its engagement with the United Nations’ human rights system.
Amnesty International is encouraged by Indonesia’s willingness to assume the responsibilities that will come with your election to the Chair of theCommission. We regard this as an indication of your government’s commitment to the international promotion and protection of human rights, and as asign of support for the role of the UN in pursuing those goals. Amnesty International hopes that your term as Chair of the Commission will alsoprovide the opportunity and impetus for Indonesia to lead by example by taking concrete steps to promote human rights both internationally and within Indonesia.
In that regard, our organization urges your government to extend its cooperation with the UN, including by ratifying its main human rights treaties; by submitting reports to treaty monitoring bodies on the implementation of treaties already ratified; by extending a standing invitation to the Commission’s Special Procedures; by providing full and timely responses to the Special Procedures’ communications; and by giving practical effect to previous resolutions of the Commission, to the recommendations of the Special Procedures and to the concluding observations of the treaty monitoring bodies.
The enclosed memorandum outlines recommendations that I hope you will find useful in helping to shape your government’s policy with regards to human rights promotion and protection. Copies of this letter and the memorandum have been sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister forJustice and Human Rights, the Attorney General and the Chair and Secretary General of the National Commission for Human Rights for their information.
Finally, in the wake of the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra letters of condolence have been sent on behalf of Amnesty International to the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian Embassy in London. However, I would like to take this opportunity to personally express my deepest sympathy to the many Indonesians who have been affected by the disaster and to convey my condolences to all those who have suffered the loss of loved ones.
For Irene Khan,
24 January 2005 – Public
Indonesia: Recommendations to the Government of Indonesia on the occasion of the election of Ambassador Makarim Wibisono as Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
The election of Ambassador Wibisono as Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) provides a unique and important opportunity to promote human rights reforms in Indonesia. Amnesty International is encouraged by Indonesia’s willingness to assume the responsibilities that come with Ambassador Wibisono’s role, which the organization regards as an indication of the Government of Indonesia’s commitment to the international promotion and protection of human rights and as a sign of support for the role of the UN in pursuing those goals. This memorandum contains specific recommendations that Amnesty International believes, if implemented, would strengthen Indonesia’s engagement with the UN human rights system and thereby advance the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia.
Ratification of international human rights treaties
Amnesty International has noted that Indonesia reported to the Third Committee of the 59th UN General Assembly, on 26 October 2004, that it had ratified the primary international human rights instruments. Indeed, Indonesia has ratified, with reservations, four of the seven core UN humanrights treaties and in September 2004, signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Significantly, however, Indonesia has yet to sign either the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR).
The Covenants, which together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) make up the International Bill of Human Rights, are central to the international promotion and protection of human rights. Since they were unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966, the ICESR and ICCPR have been ratified by 151 and 154 member states respectively. Indonesia’s ratification of the Covenants would bring UN membership a significant step closer to universal subscription to the Covenants.
In Indonesia’s most recent National Action Plan on Human Rights (NAPHR) of May 2004, the government has once again committed itself to signing and ratifying both Covenants. Amnesty International welcomes this renewed commitment and encourages the Government of Indonesia to fulfil it without delay. The ratification of the ICCPR and ICESCR, early during Ambassador Wibisono’s tenure as the Chairman of the Commission, would represent a timely and significant demonstration of Indonesia’s commitment to human rights.
Amnesty International has noted that in addition to the commitment to ratify the ICCPR and ICESCR, the most recent NAPHR includes a comprehensive programme for the ratification of other human rights instruments. These include: the convention for the suppression of trafficking in persons (scheduled for ratification in 2004); the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution (scheduled for ratification in 2005); the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (scheduled for ratification in 2005); the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (scheduled for ratification in 2005); the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (scheduled for ratification in2006); the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (scheduled for ratification in 2007); the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatmentor Punishment (scheduled for ratification in 2008); the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (scheduled for ratification in 2008); the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (scheduled for ratificationin 2009); and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (scheduledfor ratification in 2009).
Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to:
Ratify without reservations:
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
- All other international instruments listed above, in accordance with Indonesia’s National Action Plan on Human Rights;
- The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming to abolish the death penalty.
Withdraw its reservations to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Treaty reporting obligations and implementation
In ratifying the core UN human rights treaties, state parties assume obligations to provide periodic reports on their implementation of those treaties. Amnesty International is aware that Indonesia has fallen behind in its reporting obligations with respect to many human rights treaties.
In its recent statement to the Third Committee referred to above, Indonesia reported that it is “doing its utmost to make sure that the reports of the implementation of ratified conventions are submitted”. Amnesty International welcomes this commitment, which is supported by provision inthe NAPHR for a national mechanism to facilitate more timely and comprehensive reporting in the future, and urges the government to submit all overdue reports as a matter of priority.
Reports that are currently outstanding include Indonesia’s fourth and fifth periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which were due in 1997 and 2001 respectively; its second periodic report to the Committee against Torture which was due in 2003; and its initial, second and third periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which were due in 2000, 2002 and July 2004 respectively.
In addition, Amnesty International is concerned that the reports that have been submitted by Indonesia in the past have failed to provide the full information required to satisfy the treaty bodies’ reporting guidelines. For example, Indonesia’s first periodic report under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was examined by the Committee against Torture in November 2001, made almost no reference to the many cases of torture, including cases of rape, that had been reported by NGOs and others in Indonesia. Nor did it address pertinent matters such as the obstacles impeding the implementation of the Convention, plans for legal and institutional reform, the need for more effective training or oversight of law enforcement and judicial officers, and the need for redress, including compensation, for victims.
The treaty reports that states are obliged to submit represent an opportunity for states to monitor and review their legislation and practices. They offer a tool for the treaty bodies to discuss with the state party its compliance with its treaty obligations and measures that could be taken to improve its compliance. They offer an opportunity for public dialogue about the government’s fulfilment of its human rights undertakings. In essence, the reporting process, which culminates in the treaty bodies issuing their recommendations, provides the opportunity for both constructive evaluation and planning for the future in relation to the fulfilment of the states human rights obligations.
Amnesty International believes that it is not only the obligation of state parties to submit reports to the treaty bodies, but it is also in their interest to do so. By submitting its overdue reports, the Government of Indonesia would demonstrate its intention to fully implement the treaties to which it is a party. Moreover, Indonesia would demonstrate to other member states its support for the important role of the UN treaty monitoring bodies in encouraging states’ fulfilment of their treaty obligations.
Amnesty International welcomes the implementation programme outlined in the NAPHR, which provides for steps such as the harmonization of national laws with ratified treaties and the production of guidelines for implementation, including through human rights education and training for government agencies such as the police.
As part of this implementation programme, Amnesty International particularly urges the Indonesian government to give effect to recommendations previously made by treaty bodies. For example, in November2001, the Committee against Torture expressed its concern about the large number of allegations of torture and recommended the prohibition of torture in law; the establishment of an effective, reliable and independent complaints mechanism; and the prosecution of all persons suspected of involvement in torture. To date, these recommendations have not been implemented.
Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to:
Ensure that it submits timely and full reports to the treaty bodies in accordance with its treaty obligations. Overdue reports should be submitted as a matter of priority.
Ensure full implementation of the treaties to which Indonesia is a party by complying with the implementation programme set out in the NAPHR and by giving effect to the recommendations of the treaty monitoring bodies.
Cooperation with Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Amnesty International believes that the Special Procedures play a central part in fulfilling the mandate of the Commission to promote and protect human rights. Their expertise and experience can be particularly useful in assisting UN member states to address human rights concerns under their jurisdiction.
Indonesia’s record of cooperation with the Special Procedures offers substantial room for improvement. Although some Special Procedures have visited Indonesia in past years, the government has declined to issue invitations to others that have specifically requested them. For example, despite repeated requests, Indonesia has declined to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture, who has sought an invitation since 1993 and whose request has been supported by the Committee against Torture. Likewise, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders has not received an invitation from Indonesia despite expressing interest in visiting the country. To date, no thematic mechanismhas been permitted to visit either Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam or Papua despite requests by the Special Rapporteurs on torture (1991) and on violence against women, its causes and consequences (1998). In view of the specific human rights problems experienced in these provinces, Amnesty International believes that visits to these areas are crucial to any comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Indonesia.
Amnesty International believes that it is incumbent upon the member state that provides the Chair of the Commission to demonstrate its support for the role and valuable work of the Special Procedures, which are created by Commission resolutions and which report to the Commission. This support should be offered both in the context of deliberations of the Commission and in the member state’s relations with the Special Procedures. Amnesty International therefore urges Indonesia to cooperate fully with the UN Special Procedures by issuing a standing invitation, responding positively to requests to conduct visits covering any part of Indonesia, and enabling such visits to take place.
Further, Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to fully implement the recommendations made by Special Procedures that have previously visited, including those made by Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (2002), the Special Rapporteur on the right to education (2002), the Representative of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons (2001), the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1999), the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (1998), the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (1994), and the Special Rapporteur on torture (1991). As the Special Procedures have been requested by the Commission to follow-up with states on their progress in the implementation of recommendations, Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to provide this information to the relevant mandate-holders. Amnesty International welcomes the Government of Indonesia’s cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in this regard.
Indonesia’s co-operation with the Special Procedures could also be strengthened further by providing full and timely responses to urgent appeals and letters of allegation. In the reports presented to the 60th session of the Commission, a number of the Special Procedures regretted that the Indonesian government had not responded to all of their communications. These included the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on torture, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion. The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances also recorded that there remain 145 cases of “disappearance” that have yet to be clarified by the government.
Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to:
Defend the integrity of the Special Procedures in the deliberations of the Commission on Human Rights.
Extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the Commissionand co-operate with their requests to undertake visits to all parts of the country.
Provide comprehensive and timely responses to communications from the Special Procedures.
Fully implement the recommendations made by Special Procedures who have previously visited Indonesia.
Cooperation with the UN Commission on Human Rights
In recognition of Ambassador Wibisono’s position as the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International also urges the Government of Indonesia to demonstrate its support for the Commission and respect for its authority, by complying with resolutions passed in previous years, in particular those relating to justice for the victims of the human rights violations committed in Timor-Leste in 1999.
In September 1999, the Commission convened a Special Session in response to the violence in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the 1999 popular consultation on special autonomy in the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor). At that session, the Commission adopted a resolution affirming that the international community would exert every effort to ensure those responsible for gross human rights violations in Timor-Leste were brought to justice. This demand for justice has been reiterated in statements by the Commission Chairperson in subsequent years.
In Indonesia, an ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor was established in 2001 to hear some of the most egregious cases of human rights violations committed in Timor-Leste. These trials have concluded, but have not succeeded in delivering justice to the victims and their families. Throughout the process Amnesty International repeatedly drew attention to the shortcomings in these trials, including: the limited territorial and temporal jurisdiction of the court; the decision of the Attorney General’s Office to investigate only five out of the many hundreds of cases of reported human rights violations; the decision to prosecute only 18 out of potentially hundreds of suspects; and the weakness of the cases presented by the prosecution, including their failure to present before the court well-attested evidence.
Amnesty International urges the Government of Indonesia to:
Cooperate fully with judicial proceedings being conducted in Timor-Leste, including by entering into extradition and mutual legal assistance agreements. Such cooperation should include extraditing indicted suspects to Timor-Leste or to other states able or willing to prosecute and punish crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes in fair trials without the death penalty.
Cooperate fully with any review which may be undertaken by the UN of the trials that have taken place in the ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor and with any mechanisms established as a result of such a review.
Cooperation with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights
From August 1998 to August 2000, the Government of Indonesia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) worked together in the implementation of a program of technical cooperation established under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for technical cooperation in human rights. Pursuant to the MoU, the OHCHR established a permanent presence in Indonesia with a mandate to provide assistance in the implementation ofelements aspects of the previous NAPHR. In particular the Government of Indonesia and the OHCHR agreed to cooperate in national capacity-strengthening in human rights reporting to treaty advisory bodies, elaboration of national educational programmes on human rights, raising human rights awareness through the dissemination of UN human rights information and documentation, and capacity-strengthening of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights. Although the political climate in 2000 was not conducive to the renewal of the MoU and the program of cooperation, the situation has evolved considerably since 2000.
Amnesty International hopes that cooperation with the OHCHR can be renewed in order to draw upon the knowledge and expertise of the Office in the implementation of the current NAPHR and in giving effect to many of the recommendations referred to above.
Amnesty International encourages the Government of Indonesia to:
Explore with the OHCHR the possibilities for developing a renewed program of technical cooperation and re-establishing a UN human rights presence in Jakarta.
Date: 26 Jan 2005
Indonesia Urged to Boost Human Rights Record
Laksamana.Net – Amnesty International has expressed hope the appointment of veteran Indonesian diplomat Makarim Wibisono as chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights will encourage Jakarta to improve its record on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Indonesia has long been criticized for its poor human rights record, especially in the rebellious provinces of Aceh and Papua, as well as in the former province of East Timor prior to its 1999 secession.
Authorities in Jakarta have always played down the criticism, claiming that state security forces are obliged to take harsh action against alleged separatists to protect national unity and integrity.
In a memorandum issued Monday (24/1/05), Amnesty pointed out that Indonesia is yet to ratify certain UN human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The London-based human rights organization acknowledged that Indonesia had already ratified many other human rights covenants, but said the country had “fallen behind” in its reporting obligations under the treaties. “The reports that have been submitted by Indonesia in the past have failed to provide the full information required to satisfy the treaty bodies’ reporting guidelines,” said the memorandum.
Citing an example, it said Indonesia’s first periodic report under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, made almost no reference to many cases of torture and rape that had been reported by NGOs and other groups.
It said the report also failed to address obstacles to the implementation of the convention, plans for legal and institutional reform, the need for more effective training of law enforcement and judicial officers, and the need for compensation for victims.
Amnesty also criticized Indonesia’s special human rights court, which was formed in 2001 to deflect international criticism after the Indonesian military and its militia proxies unleashed carnage in East Timor in the period surrounding the territory’s 1999 vote to secede from Indonesia. The campaign of terror killed more than 1,400 people, displaced three-quarters of the population and destroyed more than 75% of East Timor’s infrastructure.
Indonesia’s human rights court convicted six of only 18 people tried, but higher courts later overturned five of the convictions. Former militia leader Eurico Guterres, the only person still convicted, remains free pending a lengthy appeal process.
Amnesty said the trials “have not succeeded in delivering justice to the victims and their families”. It said the trials were marred by several shortcomings, including: the limited territorial and temporal jurisdiction of the court; the decision of the Attorney General’s Office to investigate only five out of the many hundreds of cases of reported human rights violations; the decision to prosecute only 18 out of potentially hundreds of suspects; and the weakness of the cases presented by the prosecution, including their failure to present before the court well-attested evidence.
The memorandum urged Indonesia to comply with UN resolutions calling for those responsible for gross human rights violations in East Timor to be brought to justice. It also urged the government to cooperate fully with judicial proceedings being conducted in East Timor, including by entering into extradition and mutual legal assistance agreements.
Indonesia has flatly refused to extradite any of its citizens wanted in East Timor for war crimes.
Wibisono is expected to be able to exercise considerable influence in the scheduling of sensitive issues and debates when the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) holds its 61st annual six-week session from March 14 to April 22 in Geneva.
The UNCHR chairman in the past has often had to work as a mediator among the commission’s 53 member nations, which often clash over the controversial issues.
Loubna Freih, spokeswoman for New York-based Human Rights Watch earlier this week told the Associated Press she hoped Wibisono would “be as fair a chairman as possible”, but added that Indonesia’s own record deserves scrutiny.
Wibisono had been proposed for the position by the Asian group of UN members and was appointed by consensus among the commission’s member nations. He succeeds Australian Mike Smith in the job that generally lasts for one year.
Over 3,000 delegates from member and observer states and from NGOs participate in the UNCHR’s regular annual session. The commission can also hold special sessions, if there is a majority consensus, to deal with urgent and acute human rights situations.
During the regular annual session, the UNCHR adopts about 100 resolutions, decisions and chairperson’s statements on various matters in all regions. This year’s session is expected to focus primarily on human rights issues in China, Cuba, Nepal and Sudan.
Wibisono was born on May 8, 1947, in Mataram, the capital city of Lombok island, East Nusa Tenggara province. He is married with three children.
He began his professional career as a journalist and editor at the Express News Magazine in Jakarta in 1970. He joined the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1972 and has since held several senior positions within the ministry and in international diplomatic organizations.
Wibisono has served on numerous international task forces and working groups in the areas of disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, development, poverty and human rights, where he has consistently championed the cause of non-aligned nations.
He is Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN and has also served as ambassador to the UN Security Council.
His international positions include chairman of the APEC Counter Terrorism Task Force (2003-present); member of the United Nations Information and Communication Technology Task Force (November 2001-present); chairman of the Working Group of the Non-Aligned Countries on Disarmament (1997-February 2001); chairman of the UN World Peace Assembly 2000 on Inter-Religious Dialogue among Civilizations; chairman of Group 77 in 1998; president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 2000-January 2001; and chairman of the ECOSOC AdHoc Advisory Group on Haiti in 1999.
Wibisono was educated in Indonesia, Australia and the US. He received a doctoral degree in International Relations from Yogyakarta’s Gadja Mada University in 1970 and attended the Australian Foreign Service Training Course in Canberra in 1975. He received an M.A. degree from the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in 1984 and a Ph.D. in Political Economy from Ohio State University in 1987.
Source: Human Rights Watch
Date: 2 Dec 2004
Human Rights Watch
Geneva, December 2, 2004
UN: Good Diagnosis, but Poor Prescription
More Needed to Restore Legitimacy of Commission on Human Rights
A report on the future of the United Nations, ordered last year by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and officially released today, accurately diagnoses the sorry state of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights but proposes an inadequate cure, Human Rights Watch said today.
Among its key findings, the report highlights that the Commission suffers a serious problem of credibility that casts doubts on the overall reputation of the United Nations. The report, entitled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” and prepared by an panel of eminent persons, notes that the Commission’s most serious problem is that so many of its 53 member states are themselves responsible for serious human rights violations.
“The report is on target in recognizing that gross human rights violators seek seats on the Commission to protect themselves from criticism,” said Joanna Weschler, U.N. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “But instead of establishing membership criteria linked to a state’s human rights record, the panel members give up the battle and recommend expanding the Commission to include all 191 U.N. members.”
This recommendation is inconsistent with the report’s own analysis. In a section on the General Assembly, the only U.N. body with universal membership so far, the report states that the Assembly has lost its focus and recommends that it establish “smaller, more tightly focused committees.”
The General Assembly has hardly been a reliable defender of human rights. Just days ago, it voted not to take any action on or even discuss several resolutions against highly abusive states: Sudan, whose ethnic cleansing is responsible for ongoing crimes against humanity in its western region of Darfur, as well as Zimbabwe, and Belarus. Even the Commission with its current membership had succeeded in criticizing Belarus earlier this year.
“There’s little that a 191-member body could accomplish during a six-week session. At best, it would be yet another talk shop,” Weschler said.
Human Rights Watch has argued that governments wishing to serve on the Commission should fulfill membership criteria and make specific rights commitments prior to their election. In addition, the Commission on Human Rights should become a standing body, capable of acting upon crises as they occur rather than waiting for the six-week annual session. In its report, the Panel recommends the creation in the unspecified future of a Human Rights Council, which presumably would be permanent.
Among many other issues covered by the report, Human Rights Watch welcomed the prominent place that the report gives to the recommendation that the Security Council should stand ready to use its authority to refer cases to the International Criminal Court.
Also of great value are recommendations made regarding the responsibility of the United Nations to protect civilians from atrocities and mass killings committed by their governments. Human Rights Watch supports the five criteria of legitimacy laid out in the Panel’s report, but criticized the lack of reference to international humanitarian law as the indispensable guiding principle of any military action. Significantly, the report calls on the permanent members of the Security Council to “refrain from the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large scale human rights abuses” – a recommendation that Human Rights Watch strongly supports.
Human Rights Watch endorsed the report’s proposed definition of terrorism. The report found that the right to resist foreign occupation does not imply a right to target civilians and noncombatants.
“Nothing justifies deliberately attacking civilians,” Weschler said.
Human Rights Watch also welcomed the report’s recommendations addressing the due process concerns related to the listing of individuals and entities identified as supporters of al-Qaeda as well as lists created by some other Security Council sanctions regimes.
“We have been concerned for years about the lack of due process behind the listing and delisting of individuals and entities targeted for sanctions,” Weschler said. “The Panel was right to press for this problem finally to be addressed.”