Freedom House Commends Positive Action at the UN Human Rights Council


Freedom House applauds two significant steps taken today by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC):  the appointment of a special investigator to explore human rights abuses in Iran and the passage of a strong resolution to combat religious intolerance that no longer calls for legal mechanisms to prohibit so-called “defamation of religions.”
The special investigator on Iran, whose creation was spearheaded by the United States, is the first new country-specific mandate created since the Human Rights Council was started in 2006. All other country mandates were in place under the previous human rights body, the U.N. Human Rights Commission. This mandate is tasked with investigating allegations of pervasive human rights abuses by the Iranian regime, including the harassment, torture and detention of political opposition, as well as other repressive actions taken against Iranian citizens in order to stifle dissent.
The resolution to combat religious intolerance, tabled by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and passed by consensus, replaces previous resolutions addressing the same issue, entitled “On Combating Defamation of Religions.” While the preceding resolutions also purported to remedy religious discrimination, they wrongly equated speech critical of religions with “incitement to violence and hatred” and prescribed legal remedies to prevent such speech, thereby infringing on the universal rights of free expression and belief.
“These two hard-fought resolutions are an important triumph for a human rights body that has too often failed to fulfill its mandate to protect and defend universal human rights,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “The Iran resolution, although at least a year overdue, sends the right message to the thousands of arrested, abused or tortured and the hundreds killed or executed by the Iranian regime, as well as to its repressive and illegitimate leadership.   The resolution on combating religious intolerance represents the culmination of a decade-long campaign to defeat the concept of “defamation of religions” and prescribes smart and practical remedies to the world’s many victims of discrimination and violence as a result of their religious beliefs.”
The United States, until last year, had a policy of non-engagement with the UNHRC in protest of the lack of criteria for states to qualify to sit on the Council. A number of chronic human rights abusers, including Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, and—until its recent suspension—Libya, are members of the Council, although the majority of its membership are rated either Free or Partly Free by Freedom House. While Freedom House remains highly critical of the performance of the UNHRC in its annual report card, it supports strong engagement at the human rights body by the United States and other countries that support universal human rights to counter the efforts of repressive governments. Syria, which Freedom House has designated as one of the world’s most repressive societies, has announced its candidacy for the upcoming elections to the Human Rights Council in May.
“The passage of today’s resolutions are a testament to the fact that active engagement on the Council, which has been the recent policy of the United States, can quite positively impact the body’s outcomes,” continued Schriefer. “It also signifies the extent to which membership matters.  We hope members of the UN General Assembly keep this in mind during the upcoming elections to the Council in May and choose to withhold their votes from Syria and other countries with extremely poor human rights records.”
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights. 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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