Universal Periodic Review, A Lukewarm Success

Updated March 2, 2011

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US report booklets are displayed on a table during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on United States of America of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, November 5, 2010. © PressTV

Late February the 7th meeting session on Universal Periodic came to a close in Geneva. UPR is a mechanism introduced in 2006 — and first started early 2008 — that might allow scrutinizing the overall human rights situation in the 192 UN member countries during four years. 112 countries have been examined so far. This seventh session assessed in detail states as El Salvador, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq – Iran and Egypt especially generated the most reactions. Two years gone after this mechanism kick off, what conclusions can we draw?

The presentation takes about 2 or 3 hours by country. Previously, each country under review presents the measures that have been launched to improve the inland situation of human rights, while other states put forward their questions and offer their recommendations: that is what the UPR is. In fact states examine each other – but when this instrument first started, many NGOs feared that the states concerned do not act condescending each other.

For Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, after two years the balance is ultimately positive:

“For us, this is a useful tool because it allows open debate on the human rights situation in a country, despite being an assessment between states (…) NGOs have the opportunity to enforce the discussion in presenting documents which provide support for the review, and otherwise enable us to make allegations on countries participating in the review (…) Thus, proposals of the NGOs have been accepted in the final recommendations.”

Eric Tistounet, Secretary of the UN Human Rights Council, makes a fairly positive assessment despite the initial reluctance:

“We shared the initial fears with NGOs. As High Commissioner our vision (…) is that peer review has given a more effective result than if it had been carried out by experts. Another positive point was the attendance of all participants. At first we feared an audience of only 60 or 70%, which is usual, ie normally countries cooperate within the system. This time all were there, including micro-states and states without delegation in Geneva. That allowed us to realize our influence over a majority of states, which we have been able to run in a non-controversial or political mood. “

For Julie de Rivero it is also essential that discussions raised during the UPR have to be undertaken at a national level – and here it is where international and domestic NGOs are involved to attempt influencing political decisions. In the case of Egypt and Iran both rejected criticism during the session. Iran has categorically rejected all criticism and has not supported favorably the request for inspection by independent experts on torture and freedom of expression, although the authorities had promised to do so earlier.

“It’s just an opportunity for a state to face up its commitments and promises (…) It is clear that there is no enthusiasm on the part of Iran – more reason to maintain the pressure.”

The downside, as a result of each session, is post monitoring. After examining, each state returns home with lots of recommendations (between 150 and 200, on average), and this is where the mechanism has shown its limits. Eric Tistounet, from the UN Human Rights Council:

“The recommendations can not be in the air (…) It is necessary to implement a proper monitoring system so that the main recommendations come into effect at least. Knowing what kind of action or how it will work is the next project. “

112 states have been examined to date. 80 remain from now till late 2011. At the 8th meeting in May Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Belarus, Turkey and Spain will be examined among many other countries.

Sources: The Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (HRW) / Véronique Gaymard, RFI – Chronique des droits de l’homme, Paris, march 2010 / Universal Periodic Review – Seventh session meeting highlights

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· U.S. faces criticism from HR abusers at Universal Periodic Review

Lament for a woman and frivolity of the chorus of nations

“They’ll kill me for being a woman in a country that can do what it wants with women” (Sakineh Ashtiani)

We knew they were going to kill her. When the government of Iran announced it had halted the stoning, the Nobel Prize Shirin Ebadi said: “I do not trust them. They’ll execute her.” And so it was; the Iranian regime confirmed she wouldn’t be stoned, just  hanged. Given that Sakineh Ashtiani was asking not to be stoned in front of their children, the ruling is a step forward.

Of course the regime has assembled a legal corpus to sustain the conviction, but the chronicle of tragedy gives us a measure of the devious perversity of this tyranny. Sakineh is an Iranian Azeri of Azerbaijan hardly speaking Persian. When sentenced to death, she did not even understand the Arabic word used by the Iranian penal code for stoning: Rajam. Her jailers told her she had been sentenced to die under the rocks. Throughout the process, her lawyer was persecuted, harassed and  prevented from being with Sakineh and finally, after many risks for his family, he was able to flee from Iran. Five hours on foot through the mountains and the rest on horseback, to get Turkey, where Amnesty International helped him to obtain asylum in Norway.

In an interview with Bernard-Henry Levy, Sakineh’s lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei defined her as follows: “she’s just a woman, a simple woman, just a woman.” The court that sentenced her to death found no evidence at all, but three out of the five members were radical clerics that condemned her, through their “intimate conviction”, as an adulteress. As Sakineh said: “they will kill me for being a woman in a country that believes it can do what it wants with women.” After an international campaign to save her life, the system charged her with murder (and forced her to confess). Everything else is well known. Gallows will be her fate.

In the prison in Tabriz, two more women await stoning. Azar Baghri is 24 years old, 10 of which in prison. Married at 14, she was accused of adultery and since then she’s waiting to be stoned. For fun, her jailers have done two stoning shams. Maryam Ghobaranzadeh, 25, dreams only to be hanged instead of stoned. She was 6 months pregnant and forced to abort … In Iran women are considered sexually mature at the age of 9 and can therefore be married and adulterous. Nobody knows how many have been stoned to death without having been made it public. The courageous Iranian dissidence speaks of many.

I know this article will not have any effect, just a shout. But it serves at least as a reminder that not everyone is accomplice to the silence which Iran is covering its crimes. This silence is resounding in Europe, not in vain we are not interested in unprofitable victims: Iran does not fit into the phobias of political correctness. Nor its victims. Many countries, organizations or individuals are accomplices to the barbarism that characterizes the government in that country — a country of ancient culture, now led by a pack of male fanatics. The same government of macho fanatics who criticized the U.S. during the 9th session of the UPR in Geneva on 5 November!

By the way, what about Teresa Lewis, the woman mentally retarded who was put to death last October in Virginia? Isn’t there as well a deafening silence? (See the article by Anna North Is Teresa Lewis’s Execution A Gender Issue?)

The very problem is that there is no real respect for women, neither in our western latitudes, nor in many Arab countries where women have their rights, their freedom, their dignity, violated –just for being women.

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Should we be afraid of China?

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China Town by Bala ©

Inexorably, despite global protests, China goes on with colonization of Tibet. Inexorably China enters the African continent as well by cooperating with countries such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, which West considers beyond the pale. China, which economic dynamism is impressive, helped derail the climate summit in Copenhagen. Because of its energy needs China proved a reliable ally for Iran, despite its aggressive and repressive threat of programmed access to nuclear weapons. Deaf to international pressure, the Chinese government has put to death Amal Shaikh, a British citizen convicted of drug trafficking and suffering from severe mental disorders. Confronted with the former British colonial power, PRC has made it a matter of sovereignty. On Christmas Day, the intellectual dissident Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison for circulating a petition favorable to democracy. We could go on but we better stop the list here and ask the question: is China dangerous?
China is stronger, more powerful and influential and for that reason the peculiarity of its governance is becoming more visible to our eyes. But China has never been so dangerous for the Chinese than during the Great Leap and in the Cultural Revolution – that is when we were not familiar enough with PRC. Paradoxically, and despite the excesses warned above, there is an even worse and extremely painful point which affects the provocative way China treats the issues on human rights: there are no softer and more peaceful dissident than Liu Xiaobo in his efforts to improve human rights status; just as the Gao Xiaosheng’s evaporation last year. Gao Xiaosheng is a pro human rights lawyer who took on defending victims of earthquake in Xishuang: The Chinese Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, interviewed by foreign journalists on the question where was Gao Xiaosheng last year, replied simply: « He is where he should be » – which represents a denial of rights, even by Chinese standards. These types of harm have always existed but today their impact is amplified.

In addition, there was always a militant Chinese presence in Africa, competing with Taiwan and the USSR, but the means and economic issues are now at a completely different scale, even worse. Think of the Chinese diaspora of more than one million people living in Africa – and not only in Zimbabwe or Sudan. The Chinese method of governance calls ours into question because it is awfully efficient and we Westerners are demoralized by the Chinese resourceful success. The effect of democracy devitalization that follows is even more dangerous because it removes from the Chinese scenario the perspective of improvement on freedoms situation in the short term. There is furthermore its projection capability abroad and the fact that China gives a global dimension to its economic interests – interests that affect the West: oil, Iran, tolerance to nuclear North Korea.
To what extent is China potentially aggressive? By reason of its nationalism exacerbation and the non-compliance to international standards? Think about the repeated humiliations to European leaders – the latest was Gordon Brown’s concern for the execution of British citizen, mentally handicapped, Shaikh Amal.

China has become the world’s largest exporter, the main workshop, the major laboratory, the key farm and the World’s Bank. It takes place in the concert of nations without respecting the rules of the game. So, must we be afraid of China? Is it not an unfair and premature conclusion?

The example of its development is totally new: An asymmetric society whose Leninist system of governance coexists with wilderness capitalism. The emergence of an illiberal capitalism – a non-democratic capitalism – disturbs economists as it worries political experts. Some, resigned, wonder if China has not found even the right formula. Hence, here arises the idea of devitalization of our democratic model, a society that has lost faith in itself challenged by the arrogant success of the unpredictable neophyte.

The issue that harass minds is: an unscrupulous country takes advantage of its special economic status without respect for human rights, while it freezes on a nationalist project that weights international system – not yet a rogue state but deaf to international pressure. And beyond that, is its development socially sustainable and to what extent China is potentially aggressive taking into account the mass effect of its demographic power?

In Iran Power and Opposition Turn More Radical

Iranian officials on Sunday faced a difficult dilemma. If, as announced, they strictly repressed the protests, the risk of dead should further aggravate the fissures that post-election crisis has opened in the Iranian society. If they did not act, the opposition would benefit from the cycle of religious ceremonies — as happened in the months prior to the revolution that ousted the Shah thirty years ago. What is clear is that they could not keep people out into the streets the most important day of their calendar, Ashura , which commemorates the founding myth of Shiite Islam: the death of Hussein, grandson of Muhammad.

Police reportedly detained hundreds of opposition supporters

Often transmitted by mobile on the Internet, the images have turned around the world. Sunday December 27, images showed the violent repression and the determination of the demonstrators in Iran who have transformed the traditional religious commemoration in a day of clashes of rare magnitude.

A targeted killing, a sort of warning to the leader of the protest.

In Tehran there were more demonstrators than penitents. Six months after the opposition accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing elections, this pulse tests the upset degree of a good part of the Iranian political system that has led to a political and economic impasse — and in its relations with the world, as well.

And not just in Tehran. Protests in the main cities make clear that the malaise is not limited to urban elites of the capital — the “four rich kids” M Ahmadinejad talked about. The crisis has revealed divisions even among the ruling elites. Former Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami have shown their support for the opposition. Also leading clerics like Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death a week ago, at age 87, has given fresh momentum to protests by adding young urban activists, older people and further religious men to his followers.

Yesterday, we witnessed tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Tehran and most major cities of Iran: Shiraz, Isfahan, Qazvin, Tabriz and even Qom — the holy city. The videos show live bloody clashes between the multitude and the security forces and militiamen Bassij, sometimes assisted by helicopters, motorcycles and cars on fire. All evoke the dead. The first deceased since the massive protests that had followed the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad June 12, which had resulted in sixty victims and 4,000 arrests, according to the opposition. This time, police admitted five “accidental” deaths and hundreds of “hooligans” arrested. Demonstrators carry this record to 15 dead. The victims included Ali Moussavi, the nephew of Mir Hossein Moussavi. The former prime minister — and unsuccessful candidate of the reformers in the presidential election in June — denounced a “massive fraud” and launched protests. Six months after the election, and despite of severe repression, the movement goes on. Reformers’ websites as Jaras related — mentioning among others filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf – that Ali Moussavi was killed deliberately, his body being transported and kept in the morgue whereas the family asked to remain discreet.

In Isfahan, the brother of former reformist Interior Minister, Abdullah Nouri, was allegedly beaten in front of his children by militiamen who had publicly threatened him before.

Other prominent government critics were taken to jail. This is the case of Ibrahim Yazdi, the old leader of the Liberation Movement of Iran (a nationalist party tolerated intermittently), arrested at home bed at 3 AM. Or Mehdi Arabshahi, the secretary of the largest student organization, Tahkim varDate (Consolidation of Unity), arrested in Tehran. Just as three other closest associates of Mr. Moussavi.

Curfew was introduced in Najafabad, the hometown of the great dissident Ayatollah Montazeri, the figurehead of the religious dispute, with burial under surveillance has led protests against the regime last week.

Meanwhile, the castling of the fundamentalists’ bunker who control the power centers is helping to radicalize protesters.

Prevent too great a radicalization.

Faced with what may seem like a further escalation of repression, voices were raised to prevent too great a radicalization of the protest movement. Ezatollah Sahabi, the leader of a nationalist group of religious appeals to “moderate” not to play in the hands of government: “Be careful not to rush into violence. They are ready — he writes in essence — to kill one million people if necessary.”

Supporters of Mousavi protested the disputed election result in Tehran for nearly two months

However, in the opinion of many analysts and witnesses demonstrators turn radical. Their slogans were aimed very hard not this time at Ahmadinejad, but at the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The guide was also compared to the Caliph Yazid , responsible for the death of Imam Hussein at the battle of Karbala, which commemorates the mourning of Ashura. What is more, without really being armed, many demonstrators have erected barricades in some streets of Tehran, throwing stones at police or fire Bassidji motorcycles — forefront outfielders of repression during the riots in the street.

It appears that the hardline Basij militias were afraid this time. The roles were reversed:  turmoil seemed turn them mad with rage. The power has, indeed, made mistakes, in the opinion of Iranian analysts. The first was probably, not having respected the grief at the death of Ayatollah Montazeri. His supporters have been harassed, those who paid tribute prevented sometimes do. In this, the authority has lost its religious and popular credibility.

The second mistake was to prevent former reformist President Mohammad Khatami to deliver a speech on Saturday. Khatami was chosen to speak at Jamaran, northern Tehran, where Ayatollah Khomeini had lived. A highly symbolic place in these troubled times where government and opposition are fighting the legacy of the founder of the Islamic Republic. But the police did not comply. People come to hear the speeches, were forcibly confined in the mosque, others asked to disperse. This symbolic battle has also been lost by the regime. Some protesters shouted “Khomeini, if you lived, you’d be with us! “…”

Should we expect a further strengthening of repression? The event-repression cycle seems to be now engaged. Ahmadinejad’s government is going to play tight in the coming weeks if it does not want to contribute growing the protest.

Government refusal to engage dialogue with the opposition — as been suggested by some moderate conservatives — has destroyed all the bridges for reconciliation. Demonstrators are no longer calling for repeating elections (the celebrated “where’s my vote?), but the end of the Islamic system. Further problems in perspective…

Sources: NY Times/El Pais/Le Monde/AFP

>>Related Posts: The Political Importance of the Power of Images to Reveal Government Abuse

The Political Importance of the Power of Images to Reveal Government Abuse

One of the places where the Iranian uprising against falsified election was given a narrow coverage was China. An attempt was made indeed in PRC to block online images of demonstrations meanwhile official media tried to ignore the clamor.

Chinese rampage against Uighurs

The reason was clear enough: any mass protest and its brutal suppression raises uncomfortable memories of Tian’anmen Square on the 20th anniversary of China’s nasty crackdown of student movement.
Now China faces itself violent troubles in its Xinjiang western region as Muslim Uighurs confront Han Chinese in what seems to be the worst nation’s ethnic conflict in years. As in Iran, the authorities are trying to repress the protest movement through a combination of technology and force: cutting off cell phone service, blocking the Net, shooting people and sending the riot police.
The Chinese unrest poses an interesting dilemma. What is Iran? An Islamic republic, whose leader aspires to lead the Muslim world, to make of Muslims rising up in an authoritarian state? Islamic commitment requires solidarity with the Uighurs, while repressive solidarity requires pledge with Chinese security forces. The answer in the current Iranian climate has been predictable enough: almost no mention in the official media of the Chinese riots –and no mention that one party is Muslim.

These are both authoritarian states that have generally stopped short of totalitarian control, adapting to the 21st century by limiting freedom and deploying repression where it is critical to the maintenance of the system, but allowing some measure of liberty –to travel, trade, speak out– where it is considered harmless. Call them the new “Red Line” states. Live your lives and make money, they say, but never cross the red lines, which include organizing against the system and denouncing the leadership in place.
These methods have seemed effective but became unsuccessful in recent weeks. The Iranian regime, surprised by a last minute wave of support to the opposition leader, Mir Hussein Mussavi, opted in mid June for a brutal crackdown in defense of an electoral lie. The shift from control to savage repression was abrupt and devastating, pushing many young Iranians from reluctant consent to .total opposition.

Despite this, many young Iranians have borne witness –with mobile video images and photos, through twitter and other shapes of social networking–  and have thus amassed a permanent global act of indictment against the usurpers of mid June 2009. the Neda effect –the image of eyes blanking, life abating and blood blotching across the face of young student Neda– will undermine the regime over time.
China makes no electoral simulation in its one-party system, but it too, has been temporarily undone by the power of word and image spreading across the Internet. The current unrest in the Xinjiang western desert region has its origins in an incident thousands of kilometers away in southern Guangdong province, where a Uighur dormitory was attacked in June by Han Chinese and at least two people were killed.
Photographs appeared online. The government tried and failed to delete them. Calls for protest spread through web sites and instant messaging. Again, the government attempted to block online discussion of the incident. But Uighur rage had gone viral.

By the official count 183 people have now been killed in the protests. As in Iran, images of police officers, confronting weeping women burgeon, carrying emotional charge all through the country and across the world.
Both Iran and PRC have tried to blame people outside the country for the turmoil. They have identified foreign agents they assert are orchestrating troubles. They should look closer to home.

Repression, injustice and brutality have encountered a force hard to control: the empowerment of people through technology. Communication feeds a hunger for freedom that may in the end be stronger than any red line.