(CNSNews.com) – Seventeen years after it was created as the United Nations’ foremost human rights body, the Human Rights Council begins 2023 with its smallest contingent yet of free democracies, prompting a leading U.N. watchdog to liken the situation to “naming Al Capone and his gang to fight organized crime.”
Of the 47 elected members on the Geneva-based HRC this year, just 14 are countries whose government systems and policies earn them the status of “free” in annual evaluations by Freedom House.
That means 70 percent of the council’s membership in 2023 comprises countries graded “not free” or “partly free.” They range from authoritarian regimes like China, Cuba, and Eritrea to countries that purport to be democracies but have poor human rights records, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“There is a serious credibility gap,” U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said Tuesday. “When 70 percent of the members of the U.N. Human Rights Council are either full-on tyrannies, like China and Cuba, that are police states; authoritarian regimes like Qatar and Pakistan, that mistreat women and migrants, it’s very hard for the world to take it seriously.”
Neuer told Israel’s ILTV News network that a membership including such countries also raised questions about how effectively the council can carry out those mandates that are positive – such as the decision last November to establish a fact-finding mission into the Iranian regime’s abuses against protesting citizens.
“They created an inquiry on Iran,” he said. “Who’s going to be running the inquiry, when you know who the members of the Human Rights Council are? It raises question, it undermines the credibility of the entire operation.”
Neuer, whose NGO was founded in 1993 and has been monitoring the HRC since the council’s creation in 2006, said he believed the world needs a credible Human Rights Council, “to defend millions of victims, in places like Iran, Syria, North Korea, who are suffering arbitrary executions, torture, imprisonment, rape. They need to be defended.”
But when U.N. member states elect regimes like China, Cuba, and Pakistan onto the world body’s highest human rights agency, he said, “that’s like naming Al Capone and his gang to fight organized crime.”
In this year’s HRC, 14 of the 47 members fall into the “not free” column in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World report, which grades countries on political rights and civil liberties and then classifies them as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
Another 19 of the 47 are “partly free,” leaving just 14 that earn Freedom House’s “free” rating.
Freedom House’s assessment largely overlaps that of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index; all 14 current HRC members ranked “not free” by Freedom House are designated as “authoritarian regimes” in the Democracy Index.
The Biden administration joined the HRC in 2021, reversing its predecessor’s decision to withdraw following futile attempts to promote reforms. The George W. Bush and Obama administration had earlier also sought to encourage improvements, but were likewise frustrated.
U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the U.N. operating budget, which partially funds the HRC.
When the Trump administration exited the HRC in 2018, it cited both the poor quality of membership and what it saw as an obsessive focus on Israel, the only U.N. member-state out of 193 that is the focus of a permanent item on the council’s agenda.
Asked about the disproportionate number of resolutions condemning Israel, Neuer attributed it in part to the activist role played by Islamic states.
“These resolutions are introduced by Arab and Islamic states, historically to deflect attention from their own records,” he said.
Neuer said the U.N.’s “obsession” with Israel is not only bad for prospects for peace – in that it polarizes the Israeli and Arab sides – but is also “bad for the world.”
“All this time spent on demonizing Israel is time not spent on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, in Cuba, in Pakistan,” he said. “That’s part of the strategy of these countries.”
Forty percent of this year’s council members – 19 of the 47 – are also members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 57-member bloc of Muslim-majority nations.
With the backing of like-minded non-Muslim regimes, the OIC caucus has had little difficulty over the years in maintaining a critical focus on Israel.
The HRC membership in 2023, broken down according to Freedom House’s categories, is as follows:
FREE (14): Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, South Africa, United States
NOT FREE (14): Algeria, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
PARTLY FREE (19): Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Georgia, Honduras, India, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Senegal, Ukraine
OIC MEMBERS (19): Algeria, Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan
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