Monday, May 11, 2009


A Table for Tyrants
IMAGINE an election where the results are largely preordained and a number of candidates are widely recognized as unqualified. Any supposedly democratic ballot conducted in this way would be considered a farce. Yet tomorrow the United Nations General Assembly will engage in just such an “election” when it votes to fill the vacancies on the 47-member Human Rights Council.
Only 20 countries are running for 18 open seats. The seats are divided among the world’s five geographic regions and three of the five regions have presented the same number of candidates as there are seats, thus ensuring there is no opportunity to choose the best proponents of human rights each region has to offer.
Governments seem to have forgotten the commitment made only three short years ago to create an organization able to protect victims and confront human rights abuses wherever they occur.
An essential precondition was better membership. The council’s precursor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was folded in 2006 mainly because it had, for too long, allowed gross violators of human rights like Sudan and Zimbabwe to block action on their own abuses.
The council was supposed to be different. For the first time, countries agreed to take human rights records into account when voting for the council’s members, and those member-states that failed to, in the words of the founding resolution, “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would find themselves up for review and their seats endangered. For victims of human rights abuses and advocates for human rights worldwide, the reforms offered the hope of a credible and effective body.
Now, it seems, principle has given way to expediency. Governments have resumed trading votes for membership in various other United Nations bodies, putting political considerations ahead of human rights. The absence of competition suggests that states that care about human rights simply don’t care enough. Latin America, a region of flourishing democracies, has allowed Cuba to bid to renew its membership. Asian countries have unconditionally endorsed the five candidates running for their region’s five seats — among them, China and Saudi Arabia.
In past years, Western countries encouraged rights-respecting states from other regions to compete for election. This year, they have ceded the high ground by presenting a non-competitive slate for the council elections. New Zealand withdrew when the United States declared its candidacy, leaving just three countries — Belgium, Norway and the United States — running for three seats.
Even where competition is guaranteed, it is minimal. In the Eastern Europe region — which under the United Nations’ rules includes all countries behind the former Iron Curtain, including my own, the Czech Republic — the countries running for re-election are Azerbaijan and Russia, whose human rights records oscillate from questionable to despicable. Only Hungary has stepped forward to compete for the region’s two seats. The reluctance of Eastern European states to reclaim leadership from human rights abusers does not inspire confidence.
Like the citizens of Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, I know what it is like to live in a country where the state controls public discourse, suppresses opposition and severely curtails freedom of expression. It is thus doubly dismaying for me to see the willingness of democracies in Latin America and Asia to sit by and watch the council further lose its credibility and respect.
Activists and journalists in Azerbaijan and Cuba have already appealed to the international community not to elect their nations to the Human Rights Council. States committed to human rights and the integrity of the council cannot remain indifferent. Countries must express solidarity with the victims of human rights abuses and reclaim the council by simply refusing to vote for human rights abusers in this shamefully uncontested election.
Vaclav Havel was the president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shuttle launch today
The video from the scene:Shuttle launch-today