Apologists for the UN's new Human Rights Council pointed to Iran's failure to gain membership as evidence that the new council is a much improved body, but they glossed over the election of repressive regimes like Communist China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Algeria, Cameroon and Azerbaijan, to name a few.
Secretary General Kofi Annan predicted the Council's members will "show the depth of their commitment to promote human rights at home and abroad," despite the election of 22 countries that are considered "not free" or only "partly free" by Freedom House. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson called the vote a "truly historic occasion."
China, one of those nations that will cast judgment on the liberties of individuals around the world, is led by Hu Jintao, who is ranked number six on Parade magazine's 2006 list of "The World's 10 Worst Dictators." The editors at Parade write that in China, "between 250,000 and 300,000 political dissidents are held in 'reeducation-through-labor' camps without trial." Privacy is a little understood concept in China as communications such as phone calls, e-mail, and Internet are routinely monitored by government agents. An organization known as Human Rights in China said in the last 17 years it "has documented continued and increasing detentions, arrests and other forms of persecutions."
Appearing at number seven on Parade's list of dictators is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whose nation was also rewarded with a seat on the Human Rights Council. The House of Saud, where women are treated like third-class citizens, received more votes in the General Assembly for a Council seat than did Switzerland.
Among the other stalwarts of tolerance that were elected to the Human Rights Council are Bangladesh, whose rights record is listed by the State Department as "poor" and which restricts religious freedom and freedom of the press; Cameroon, where activists are, according to Amnesty International, "routinely harassed, detained and assaulted"; and Cuba, whose totalitarian regime imprisons political opponents and suppresses political, religious and economic freedoms.
This is the new and "improved" United Nations Human Rights Council – and Kofi Annan can keep it.
Thomas P. Kilgannon is the president of Freedom
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