December 12, 2008 / 7:30 PM / 9 years ago

U.N. chief tells rights body drop rhetoric, blocs

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the organization’s widely-criticized Human Rights Council to drop rhetoric and bloc voting and get on with actually defending ordinary people from abuse.

Ban, whose remarks were echoed by several European countries, made his appeal at celebrations for the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights -- which countries like Cuba say they want changed.

“This Council can have a tremendous impact,” Ban told the 47-nation forum. “But you, its members, must rise above partisan posturing and regional divides. The Council must address human rights abuses wherever they occur.”

Independent human rights groups say the council has fallen under the control of a bloc of Islamic and African states, usually back by China, Cuba and Russia, who protect each other from criticism.

Of the eight special sessions on serious rights situations that the Council has held, four have focused on Israeli behavior in occupied Palestinian lands and Lebanon and one the generalized topic of the global food crisis.

One on Sudan’s Darfur region, and another earlier this month on the violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, produced resolutions largely avoiding strictures against the governments of the two African countries.

Only one of the sessions, on Myanmar and its military rulers’ suppression of pro-democracy protesters in 2007, has ended with serious criticism of the behavior of a developing country government.

DEFENDING WOMEN

Also speaking to the gathering on Friday, French human rights minister Rama Yade said the Council must not fail when massive rights violations, and especially the rights of women and children, were occurring round the world.

But, she said, the body persisted in passing “unbalanced resolutions” on the Middle East -- a reference to those on Israel -- and was undermining the system of independent investigators into the rights records of individual countries.

Yade, from a Muslim family in Senegal, also took clear aim at Islamic states who resist Council discussion of the treatment of women and offenders against sexual norms that they enforce in the name of religion, tradition, history and culture.

“Let me say loud and clear: stoning and genital mutilation must be fought wherever they are practiced,” she said, referring to topics that Arab envoys have acted to stop being raised in the rights body.

Homosexuality should be decriminalized, she said.

The Council has not taken up the long-running violence in Zimbabwe, a point raised on Friday by the Netherlands which said that country was the scene of “gross human rights violations.”

In such situations, the Dutch delegation said, the international community must intervene and could not shirk its responsibilities because the government disagreed.

The Council has also held no discussion of Chinese policies on rights or on its role in Tibet. A Beijing delegate told the body on Friday that China “fully adhered” to all the principles of the Universal Declaration.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Ban appealed to the U.S. President-elect Democrat Barrack Obama to abandon its Republican predecessor’s effective boycott of the Council and to take full part in its activities.

Activists complain that, despite the U.S. absence, what they call Bush administration rights violations in its “war on terror” and its holding of hundreds of people without trial at Guantanamo have also not been fully discussed in the Council.

Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Angus MacSwan

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