March 28, 2008 / 7:29 PM / 11 years ago

U.N. rights body slammed for weakness on Tibet, Darfur

GENEVA (Reuters) - Activists criticized the U.N. Human Rights Council for failing to take a strong stand against violence in Tibet and Darfur during its month-long session which ended on Friday.

They also criticized the 47 member-state forum for ending the work of its expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo despite continuing mass killings and rapes in the country.

“These are three examples where we think the council has fallen down on the job,” Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told a news briefing.

“The council needs to focus more on saving lives and less on allowing governments to save face.”

The Geneva-based Council was set up two years ago to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was widely criticized for failing to overcome political alliances and take a strong stand on issues including China’s rights record.

The new body has come under fire for failing to speak out against flagrant violations and for bowing to many developing countries’ objections to what they see as interference in their internal affairs — criticisms that also plagued the commission.

Chinese diplomats raised procedural motions to disrupt the Council’s debate on Tibet this week, during which Western countries pressured Beijing to let foreigners back into Tibet to assess the consequences of its crackdown on protests and riots.

China says 19 people were killed in the unrest by Tibetan mobs, but the Tibet government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, has estimated there have been 140 deaths in the violence. There have also been reports of mass arrests, mostly ethnic Tibetans.

RESOLUTION

The council also called on Sudan to tackle human rights violations in the Darfur region and prosecute those responsible for abuses. But the African-sponsored resolution adopted by consensus on Thursday fell short of activists’ demands for a strong rebuke of Khartoum.

“The resolution does not take account at all of the fact that in February there was an offensive in West Darfur in which hundreds of civilians lost their lives,” Hicks said.

Peter Splinter, Amnesty International’s representative to the U.N. in Geneva, said that violations in Zimbabwe, Iran, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Colombia were “crying out for attention by the council”.

“It is troubling that this council remains so locked in the past, rather than getting on with the future,” he told Reuters.

But activists welcomed a strong stance on some issues.

The council unanimously condemned Myanmar on Friday for what it termed continuing “systematic violations” of fundamental freedoms six months after the country’s crackdown on protests. It also renewed the mandates of its investigators for human rights in Myanmar and North Korea, each for one year. An independent expert on Somalia was also re-appointed.

The council also passed resolutions censuring Israel for what it said were violations in the Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights.

It reasserted the right to food, in a resolution presented by Cuba, and for the first time addressed climate change as a possible threat to the human rights of people in small island states, coastal areas and other vulnerable parts of the world.

Editing by Laura MacInnis

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