U.S. Needs To Cooperate with U.N. Human Rights Experts

The U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has what it calls Special Procedures, which are “”independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of Special Procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. As of 1 August 2017, there are 44 thematic and 12 country mandates.”[1]

Recent U.S. Non-Cooperation with U.N. Human Rights Council

On January 4, 2019, the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article asserting that the Trump Administration “has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”[2]

More specifically, the Guardian said the U.S. State Department “has ceased to respond to official complaints from UN special rapporteurs, the network of independent experts who act as global watchdogs on fundamental issues such as poverty, migration, freedom of expression and justice. There has been no response to any such formal query since 7 May 2018, with at least 13 requests going unanswered..

In addition, the Trump Administration has not “extended any invitation to a UN monitor to visit the US to investigate human rights inside the country since the start of Donald Trump’s term two years ago in January 2017. (Two UN experts have made official fact-finding visits . . .[since then] – but both had been invited by President Obama].”[3]

The U.S. thereby has now joined the ranks of countries like North Korea, Iran and Eritrea that simply ignore the requests of UN human rights monitors.

 U.S. Senator Menendez Asks for State Department Explanation

Therefore, on April 25, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ), the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this situation. The Senator started his letter by stating, “the work Special Rapporteurs conduct remains one of the international community’s most important tools for promoting and protecting human rights.”[4]

The letter continued,“Under previous Democratic and Republican administrations the United States welcomed visits by UN Special Rapporteurs and regularly responded to official queries, regardless of U.S. participation in the Human Rights Council at the time. Engaging with UN Special Rapporteurs is an essential part of U.S. global leadership and demonstrates our commitment to addressing complex human rights issues and the rule of law both at home and around the globe. The credibility of the work of UN Special Rapporteurs depends heavily on their ability to apply the same international standards to all countries, including democracies.”

“By shutting out UN Special Rapporteurs, the United States risks undermining a foundational value of the United Nations as well as human rights progress globally and will be seen as empowering repressive regimes, like China and Russia, who seek to delegitimize internationally accepted human rights norms. Though the United Nations is an imperfect body, UN Special Rapporteurs play an important role in advancing the fundamental human values traditionally championed by every previous U.S. Administration.”

Therefore, the Senator asked the Secretary to respond to the following questions by May 30, 2019:

1)     “Is there a policy, either formal or informal, in place with regards to responding to queries and visit requests from UN Special Rapporteurs? What is that policy?”

2)     “Since May 7, 2018, has the State Department responded either formally or informally to any queries or visit request from UN Special Rapporteurs? If yes, please provide detailed information, including: which UN Special Rapporteur the Department responded to, the date of last correspondence or engagement, the type of engagement (formal vs. informal) and copies of any formal responses.”

Conclusion

U.S. advocates for human rights here and around the world need to thank Senator Menendez for this request and urge Secretary Pompeo to stop this apparent practice or policy of non-cooperation with these human rights monitors.

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[1] U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

[2] Pilkington, US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations, Guardian (Jan. 4, 2019); Goldberg, US ceases cooperation with UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, U.N. Hum. Rts. Council (Jan. 8, 2019).

[3] Apparently after President Trump became President, Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, visited the U.S. by President Obama’s invitation, and Alston’s final report in June 2018 was harshly criticized by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. (See U.N. Official’s Report About U.S. Poverty Is Criticized by U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 28, 2018).)

[4] Press Release, Menendez Questions Sec. Pompeo about State Department’s Apparent Decision to Cut Contact with UN Human Rights Experts (April 25, 2019).

Cameroon Elected As  Member of U.N. Human Rights Council

As has been discussed in many posts, for the last several years the government of Cameroon has been engaged in armed conflict with the minority of Cameroonians whose principal European language is English (the Anglophones). In the course of that conflict, the government allegedly has committed many human rights violations.[1]

This record and the objections against these acts were voiced by many other governments during Cameroon’s recent Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is the body within the U.N. system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. These Council members are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly [purportedly] takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard. (Emphasis added.)

Despite Cameroon’s dismal human rights record, on October 12, 2018, the U.N. General Assembly elected Cameroon to be a member of the Council for a three-year term beginning January 1, 2019.[2]

Amnesty International  Human Rights Watch and other rights groups objected to the election of Cameroon and certain other countries. “Elevating states with records of gross human rights violations and abuses is a tremendous setback,” said Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director, Daniel Balson. “It puts them on the world stage, and moreover, it empowers them to fundamentally undermine notions of human rights that are accepted internationally.[3]

In this context, Human Rights Watch raised “serious concerns about human rights in . . . Cameroon, . . . . [where] government security forces and armed separatists have committed grave abuses against residents of the country’s Anglophone region. The region has been rocked by protests and violent clashes rooted in longstanding political grievances of the Anglophone minority. While the government has taken some positive steps in recent months, including signing the Safe Schools Declaration, violence and abuses in the Anglophone region continue.”

The Council elections of Cameroon and four other African states (Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Somalia and Togo) are partially attributable to the Council’s allocation of 13 of the 47 seats to African states; and to three of the African members having terms ending on December 31, 2018 and being ineligible for re-election after having served two consecutive terms (Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya). The other African members are Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.[4]

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[1] See Cameroonian President Biya Wins Re-Election by a Landslide, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 26, 2018); Continued Violence in Cameroon, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2018). See also posts listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2] U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, US, Rights Groups Say UN Rights Council Vote Lets Abusers In, N.Y. Times (Oct. 12, 2018); Human Rights Watch, UN: Philippines, Eritrea Don’t Belong on Rights Council (Oct. 11, 2018).

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Membership of the Human Rights Council; U.N., General Assembly Elects 18 Member States to Human Rights Council, Allowing Vote by 3 Member States in Article 19 Exemption over Financial Dues (Oct. 12, 2018).

 

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review 

On September 21, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held a meeting in its 39th regular session. An important item on the agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of three more states, including Cuba.[1]

Just before this session, the Council provided an Addendum to Cuba’s national report that listed its responses to the 339 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. Of these 339 recommendations,  Cuba had “supported” (accepted or noted) 309, and rejected 30 in the following categories[2]

Recommendations Rejections
Improve freedoms of assembly & association  13.0
End arbitrary detentions    4.0
Release prisoners of conscience    3.0
Recognize rights of political activists    2.0
Respect independent media    2.0
Allow independent monitoring of detention    1.5
Establish independent judiciary    1.5
Allow complaints to treaty bodies    1.0
Allow multiparty elections (U.S.)    1.0
End coercive labor    0.5
Increase laws against human trafficking    0.5
TOTAL 30.0

Cuba’s Ambassador, Pedro Pedrosa, made  introductory and concluding statements that included the following comments:

  • Cuba had rejected 30 of the recommendations because they were “politically skewed” and some reflected the “hegemonic ambitions of some [the U.S.] to undermine Cuban systems.” He also condemned the U.S. embargo (blockade) as a “massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.”
  • For Cuba, ratification of an international treaty is a “very serious process” and is never made under pressure, again referring to the “hostile policies of the U.S. against the Cuban people.”
  • Cuba is against the death penalty and has not had an execution since 1923. However, it needs to keep the death penalty because of terrorism.
  • Cuba has a “system of independent courts to insure “ respect for human rights.
  • In 2017 Cuba welcomed two international human rights monitors (human trafficking and international solidarity).
  • Cuba calls for democracy and international governance of the Internet and the end of the digital divide and monopolies of these technologies.
  • Cuba is proud of the accomplishments of its Revolution and its contributions to the broadening of human rights.
  • Reforms in Cuba can only happen with true international and impartial cooperation.
  • The UPR process should not be a forum for attacks or proposals by foreign powers [U.S.].
  • Cuba rejects “rash” comments at this session by the World Evangelical Alliance and the Christianity Global Solidarity because they ignore the Cuban reality of religious freedom and right to change religion. Nevertheless, he invited these organizations to visit Cuba.
  • He also criticized the comments from Amnesty International and U.N. Watch.

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current (and other) Cuba UPRs are listed in the “Cuban Human Rights” section of  List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba: Addendum (Sept. 18, 2018) (views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review).

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Council’s Final Consideration of Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review

On September 20, 2018, the U.N. Human Rights Council held its 39th regular session. An important item on the session’s agenda was the final review of the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights records of 11 states, including Cameroon.[1]

Just before this session the Council provided an Addendum to Cameroon’s national report that listed its responses to the 196 recommendations that had been made by other U.N. Members and Stakeholders. At the end of this session, the Council President said that of the 196 recommendations, Cameroon had “supported” 134, “noted” 59 and rejected 3.[2]

A close examination of the record, however, reveals the following rejections:

Recommendation Rejections
Abolish death penalty  14.5
Legalize honmosexuality, etc.  12.0
Diability rights    2.5
ICC membeship    1.5
Women;’s rights    1.0
Children’s rights    1.0
Birth registration    1.0
Abortion    1.0
Human rights defenders    1.0
No military courts for civilians    1.0
Ratify all H.R. treaties    1.0
Migrants rights    0.5
Stateless rights    0.5
No disappearances    0.5
Torture treaty opt. protocol   0.5
Independent investiagtions   0.5
TOTAL 40.0

Thus, the total of acceptances and noteds is 196-40 = 156, not 193.

Cameroon’s Foreign Minister, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, made an introductory statement that included the following comments on the current internal conflict:

  • The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest provinces began in 2016 with protests by advocates for English common law and Anglophone teachers.
  • Then an insurrection arose with atrocities in an effort to partition the country. These acts of revolt included kidnappings; killing of authorities, security forces, teachers and pupils; arson attacks; and recruitment of child soldiers.
  • The country’s security forces responded to restore order, security and peace and to defend the unitary state. These forces have been trained to observe ethics and professionalism despite provocations. There also are investigations of alleges abuses by these forces.
  • The government has adopted an emergency assistance plan for these two provinces with a platform for exchange of intelligence. It has a budgetary goal of 12.7 billion CFA.
  • Journalists are free to operate, but need to be protected.
  • Children’s right to education has been adversely affected by the violence. Cameroon supports the Declaration on Security in Schools proposed by Norway and Sweden.
  • Detainees are jailed (pursuant to criminal procedure) or put on house arrest. They are free to communicate with attorneys and families.
  • Cameroon is now proceeding to its national presidential election with nine candidates, three of whom are from the Northwest and Southwest provinces.

At the end of its session, the Council approved the Outcome of Cameroon’s UPR, which will be confirmed in a subsequent brief statement and a logical matrix of the recommendations that Cameroon “supported” or “noted.”[3]

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[1]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council,  Documentation (39th Regular Session). Previous posts about the current Cameroon UPR are listed in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CAMEROON.

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cameroon: Addendum (Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review)(Advance Unedited Version)(Sept. 12, 2018).

[3] For example, from its prior UPR, here are (1) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Human Rights Council on its twenty-fourth session (Advance unedited version)(Jan. 27, 2014) and (2) U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, UPR of Cameroon: thematic list of recommendations (Matrice of recommendations).

U.N. Criticizes Cameroon for Reprisals Against Citizens Cooperating with U.N. Human Rights Activities       

On September 12, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a report criticizing 38 countries, including Cameroon, for “harsh reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the [U.N.] on human rights.”[1]

With respect to Cameroon, it stated the following: ”On 26 October 2017, special procedures mandate holders expressed concern about the increasingly threatening nature of the physical attacks on and intimidation and harassment of Ms. Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, of Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Ms. Alice Nkom also of the Network and of an association for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, following their participation in the review of Cameroon by the Human Rights Committee in Geneva (CMR 5/2017). On 17 July 2018 the Government responded to the allegations.”[2]

Presumably this criticism will be raised on September 20 or 21 when the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland will hold its open session on consideration and adoption of the final outcome reports on  the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of 14 countries, including Cameroon.[3]

This consideration for Cameroon will be based upon the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cameroon (A/HRC/39/15, dated July 10, 2018), which is merely an unedifying compilation of the comments made by various countries and parties during the UPR process and which was discussed in an early post.[4]

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[1] U.N. High Comm’r Hum. Rts, UN report warns of alarming scope and effect of reprisals on victims, activists and human rights defenders (Sept. 12, 2018).

[2]  U.N. Gen. Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Cooperation with the United Nations, its representative and mechanisms in the field of human rights (para. 31) (Aug. 13, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts Council, Agenda and Annotations (39th session. 10-28 Sept. 2018).

[4] See Update on Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon Human Rights by U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2018) (footnote 1 has citations to earlier posts about this UPR).

U.N. Criticizes Cuba for Reprisals Against Citizens Cooperating with U.N. Human Rights Activities

On September 12, U.N. Secretary-General  António Guterres issued a report criticizing 38 countries, including Cuba, for “harsh reprisals and intimidation for cooperating with the [U.N.] on human rights.”[1]

With respect to Cuba, it stated the following: “On 11 May 2018, the spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that OHCHR had received worrying reports that officials in Cuba had prevented human rights defenders and civil society representatives from boarding flights to travel to meetings abroad, including United Nations meetings, on the pretext of requiring more detailed identity checks. They included 14 direct cases of Cubans informed by officials that the computer system required extra screening. Those measures have resulted in passengers missing their flights and therefore the meetings. Special procedures mandate holders have raised individual cases (CUB 1/2018). On 4 April 2018, the Government responded to the allegations.”[2]

The report also stated, “The Assistant Secretary-General addressed the allegations referred to above in writing on 11 April 2018. On 10 May 2018, the Government responded to the allegations.”

Presumably this criticism will be raised on September 20 or 21 when the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland will hold its open session on consideration and adoption of the final outcome reports on  the latest Universal Periodic Reviews of 14 countries, including Cuba.[3]

This consideration for Cuba will be based upon the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Cuba (A/HRC/39/16, dated July 11, 2018), which is merely an unedifying compilation of the comments made by various countries and parties during the UPR process and which was discussed in an early post.[4]

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[1] U.N. High Comm’r Hum. Rts, UN report warns of alarming scope and effect of reprisals on victims, activists and human rights defenders (Sept. 12, 2018).

[2] U.N. Gen. Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General: Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (paras. 34-35) (Aug. 13, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts Council, Agenda and Annotations (39th session. 10-28 Sept. 2018).

[4] See Update on Universal Periodic Review of Cuban Human Rights by U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 26, 2018) (footnote 1 has citations to earlier posts about this UPR process).

Update on Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon Human Rights by U.N. Human Rights Council  

As discussed in prior posts, this year Cameroon’s human rights record is a subject of Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1]

On July 10 Cameroon’s UPR Working Group–Iraq, South Africa and the United Kingdom–released.its Report, which merely summarizes the prior events in this process and then lists all of the repetitive recommendations from other states in 196  paragraphs.[2]

At the 39th Session, September 10-28, the Council will consider and adopt “final outcome reports” on  the UPR of 14 states, including Cameroon.[3]

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: Background  (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The Pre-hearing Papers (June 12, 2018); Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council:The UPR Hearing (June 16, 2018).

[2]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Report of the Working Group on Universal Periodic Review—Cameroon (July 10, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Agenda: Thirty-Ninth Session, 10-28 September 2018.