Human rights lows in Geneva – Part II

Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, now a candidate for the post of U.N. high commissioner for human rights in Geneva, is defending his record as president of the U.N. Human Rights Council during 2006-’07.

In a May 19 post, The Telegraph reported that U.N. Watch said de Alba “oversaw the massive erosion of what was already a problematic institution” and “oversaw the singling out of Israel as a permanent agenda item at the Human Rights Council.”

De Alba defended himself in an email to JTA, blaming the council’s record on its members:

While fully respecting the views of all stakeholders with regards to the way in which I conducted the Presidency of the Human Rights Council, I would like to make the following precisions: the decisions adopted by the Council throughout its first year of work (and indeed during its existence) are the result of collective decisions, and therefore the responsibility of all its Members.

He also says:

The Human Rights Council has been able to address urgent situations through the holding of Special Sessions, not only with regards to the situation on the Middle East, but also on Darfur, Myanmar, and, currently the concerns raised by the World food crisis.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, says this is “grossly misleading.” He counts four special sessions on Israel, one on Darfur, one on Myanmar and one on food (for those keeping count). Since the creation of the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2006, Neuer counts 19 condemnatory resolutions on Israel, four on Myanmar and one on North Korea.

That’s none for Sudan, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other places where rape victims are punished with lashes (Saudi Arabia), honor killings are unofficially sanctioned (Jordan) and citizens can be killed by their government simply for being born black (Sudan).

You can read de Alba’s full response to JTA here:

Mr. Heilman,

I thank you for your e-mail of 19 May, which I respond with pleasure since I agree with you on the importance of running both sides of the argument. Such balance is particularly relevant to the issues that you raise, given the scarce and sometimes incomplete information that is disseminated about the Human Rights Council, specially by some quarters.

Regarding your first question, my name has been put forward by the Mexican Government to the Secretary General for his consideration to the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We do not see this as a candidature in the traditional sense, and we fully respect the prerrogative of the Secretary General to designate the High Commissioner, a designation which should be confirmed by the UN General Assembly. Regarding the process of selection, I believe it is not appropriate for anyone other than the Office of the Secretary General to provide any information or comment on its development.

As for your second question, while fully respecting the views of all stakeholders with regards to the way in which I conducted the Presidency of the Human Rights Council, I would like to make the following precisions: the decisions adopted by the Council throughout its first year of work (and indeed during its existence) are the result of collective decisions, and therefore the responsibility of all its Members. With respect to the particular issues that you mention, related to the institution building process of the Council, my responsibility as President was to reach an agreement to reform and improve the entire human rights mechanisms, meeting the consensus of all Members of the Human Rights Council. This necessitated intense dialogue and cooperation among Members and Observers of the Council, as well as NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions, all of which participated actively in order to bridge divergences of views which could have put the human rights system at risk.

Thus, the final result reflects a collective work, and, the fact that it was reached by consensus has been acknowledged as a major achievement in the human rights field. I think there is a misunderstanding with regards to the position of certain countries, as none requested to vote on the package before its adoption. A request to take action on the package, presented a day after its approval, was rejected by the Council with a vote of 46 against and one in favour.

I am aware that the Institution Building package is not a perfect one, but you should be aware that in the process of institution building, the possibility of voting issue by issue would have seriously damaged the already existing mechanisms of human rights protection, and certainly it would have limited the capacity of the Council to implement its mandate of universally protecting and promoting human rights.

I would finally like to point out that the current work of the Council is in fact largely based on the institutional agreements reached on June 18, 2007, and the developments so far have been quite positive. All Members of the Human Rights Council, without exception, have been engaged with a high level of responsibility in implementing those agreements. One of the major reforms has been the creation of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPR), under which all Member States of the UN, including those cited in your e-mail, will be reviewed, on an equal footing, with regards to the fulfillment of their human rights obligations.

Let me also highlight that the Human Rights Council has been able to address urgent situations through the holding of Special Sessions, not only with regards to the situation on the Middle East, but also on Darfur, Myanmar, and, currently the concerns raised by the World food crisis.

I hope you find these elements useful, and I remain available should you have any further questions or comments.

Sincerely,
Luis Alfonso de Alba

NEXT STORY