THE WASHINGTON TIMES NEW YORK — Canada, filling a vacuum created by the U.S. boycott of the controversial U.N. Human Rights Council, has stepped forward as a defender of democracy, blasting the Geneva-based council for its a decision last week to end ongoing scrutiny of Cuba and Belarus while renewing it for Israel.
In another blow to the United Nations' credibility on human rights, Libya was elected to chair the panel preparing for the 2009 World Racism Conference, a development that has been in the works for weeks.
As the council's first year closed with a compromise resolution, human rights groups, U.S. lawmakers and even council member Canada criticized the council for protecting or conspiring with repressive governments.
"Canada is very disappointed that the Human Rights Council, in the important decisions that affect its future work, did not fully respect the principles upon which it is founded," chided Foreign Minister Peter MacKay in a statement.
"In our view, the council has failed to meet the test of its principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity," he said in language that is unusually blunt for diplomatic circles. That view was shared by U.S. lawmakers.
Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, yesterday amended the Foreign Operations Appropriations legislation to withhold the roughly $3.3 million U.S. contribution to the Human Rights Council, which she called "a poisonous charade." Monday's "embarrassing decision confirms the worst fears about the council's direction since its inception a year ago, and further hobbles U.N. efforts to credibly investigate human rights abuses," she said. "The structure and work of the council, whose membership includes some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers, is hopelessly flawed and thoroughly compromised by gross political manipulation."
The Human Rights Council was created by the General Assembly last year to replace its deeply politicized and compromised predecessor. But despite high hopes for a clean slate, many repressive regimes were voted onto the council, offering others cover and watering down resolutions.
Member Algeria, for example, tried to persuade moderate African nations to vote against a resolution to censure Sudan. When they refused, Algiers and Khartoum co-scripted a resolution that narrowly passed calling for more study but no outright condemnation.
Among it's 47 members are Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, as well as other countries of concern.
But many observers were plainly surprised that the council would refuse to renew the mandates for Belarus and Cuba.
Even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delicately chided the council, noting on Wednesday that both nations are required to honor their obligations under international humanitarian law.
He also added, somewhat optimistically, that the "universal periodic review" of national human rights situations will start with the council members themselves.
"No country — big or small — will be immune from scrutiny," Mr. Ban said.
But Canada was not mollified.
"We are ... distressed that the human rights situations in a number of countries whose human rights records are of concern, including Belarus and Cuba, will not get the attention that we believe they warrant, as the council failed to renew these two country-specific mandates. Lack of cooperation with the full range of U.N. human rights mechanisms should not be rewarded," Mr. MacKay said.
According to diplomats and observers, Canada was the lone holdout Sunday evening and Monday, as the council tried to reach a compromise on the renewal of mandates for its human rights rapporteurs.
Ottawa finally agreed to the deal, in which country mandates were renewed for North Korea, Haiti, Liberia and Burma, among others, after it was agreed that Belarus and Cuba would be subject to periodic review of their records, much the same as every other nation.
The special rapporteur for Palestinian territories, however, is in effect "until the end of the Israeli occupation," according to a U.N. mandate.