Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Considering Russia for any Human Rights Post is Absurd
Without delving into its historic crimes of the previous century, Russia’s crimes against humanity in the past 16 years should be enough to ban it from being included on a human rights body.
In the 21st century alone, Russia has waged wars in the Caucasus, and at home violated the human rights of fledgling democracy groups, persecuted members of the LGBT community, denied religious rights of non-Orthodox believers, victimized and arrested Ukrainian community activists, and killed opposition leaders.
Mocking humanity by legalizing oppression, the Russian parliament rubber stamped Putin’s demand that it adopt a law that would eliminate troublesome NGOs by declaring them to be foreign agents, which in Russian means traitor. So far Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated 145 such groups as “foreign agents,” and more than 20 chose to shut down rather than accept this label. In November 2015, it branded Memorial’s sister organization, Memorial Human Rights Center, a “foreign agent,” accusing it of using overseas funding to harm Russia. Also in 2015, the authorities filed suit to have Memorial dissolved over a bureaucratic technicality, and only after high-level intervention, including by the Council of Europe, did they back off.
In February 2014, Russia invaded three regions of Ukraine turning them into Russian fiefdoms and launching a 28-month-long war that has claimed the lives of some 10,000 Ukrainians, shot down a Malaysian passenger jetliner, and began horrific bombardments of the Syrian city of Aleppo that will surely bomb the town into the Stone Age.
Russia’s brutal assault on Aleppo has earned the Kremlin the outrage of many free world leaders. Many governments, including the UK, France and the US, have accused Russia of war crimes for targeting built-up areas and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, a water-treatment plant, bakeries and emergency response centers, as well as for bombing a UN aid convoy outside Aleppo during a ceasefire on September 19.
Residents and international monitors report that Russian-manufactured cluster munitions – banned under international law because of the indiscriminate damage they cause – as well as napalm, white phosphorous and ground-penetrating “bunker-buster” bombs have been dropped on besieged east Aleppo’s 250,000 residents in the past four weeks.
Pundits have written that there is no reason to believe that Russia’s UNHCR interest will slow the assault. After ignoring the US, Europe and Syria’s neighbors in his single-minded support for Assad, they said, there is no reason to expect that Russian President Vladimir Putin would pause for the council. If the recent past teaches us anything, it is that Putin can remain secure that his aggressive activities will draw many complaints, but little action.
As for the latest wave of crimes in Ukraine, Iryna Gerashchenko, first deputy chairperson of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada and Ukrainian envoy for humanitarian issues at Minsk peace talks, speaking at a UN Security Council on October 25, offered shocking testimony that 495 Ukrainian women and 68 children have been among the killed since Russia invaded Ukraine.
“Women and children are the most vulnerable groups in war. According to the latest data, there are 1,700,000 internally displaced persons in Ukraine, of which approximately 900,000 are women and 236,000 are children,” Gerashchenko said in her impassioned address.
But most unforgivable of other violence, Gerashchenko related this Russian war crime: “This is the symbol of the war in Donbas – Russian men fight against Ukrainian women and children, kill and mutilate them, take them captives.”
This should be highlighted for the world to read ahead of the UN vote on Russia’s bid to join the vaunted Human Rights Council.
Gerashchenko noted that “violence against women and girls has always been the part of conflicts and sexual violence is used as war weapon. The information is available about human trafficking in the occupied territories, sexual violence and exploitation, cases of involvement of young people in military actions that are incompatible with human rights standards and unacceptable in the modern world.”
“Every fourth person who has been in captivity of the pro-Russian militants became a victim or a witness of gender-based violence. Human rights advocates underline that sexual violence is used as a part of tortures to spread panic and fear,” she said.
In Crimea, Russian occupiers have outlawed the Tatar language and religion, and arrested, imprisoned and killed Crimean Tatar leaders.
Does Russia with its blood-soaked hands deserve global consideration for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council? Surely not.
The UN General Assembly will select new members of the Human Rights Council on Friday, October 28, and Russia, which is ranked “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, will be competing with two “free” countries – Hungary and Croatia – for the two Eastern European seats on the 47-member body.
While Russia in principle could be outvoted, sadly, given the history and pattern of voting at the UN the chances of that happening are very slim.
Voting for a place on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council takes place in the full UN General Assembly, in a secret ballot vote, which protects countries from being challenged about – or embarrassed by – their vote choices. Membership is granted by a simple majority vote, 97 of the General Assembly’s 193 members, so it is possible for a candidate, even in a closed slate, to fail to pass that threshold, although it has hardly ever happened.
Human Rights Watch said Russia’s membership bid risks undermining the credibility of the UN and its Human Rights Council and its ability to hold rights abusers accountable for their crimes. How can a perpetrator hold court against other perpetrators?
“The UN Human Rights Council’s ability to successfully expose and hold violators to account is under threat because a number of countries use it to thwart attempts to expose their own crimes and abuses,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.
A number of human rights and aid organizations have urged the United Nations this week to deprive Russia of a seat on the council. More than 80 global organizations have signed the appeal, with such groups as Human Rights Watch, CARE International and Refugees International among them.
The signatories asked the UN member-states to “question seriously whether Russia’s role in Syria which includes supporting and undertaking military actions which have routinely targeted civilians and civilian objects renders it fit to serve on the UN’s premier inter-governmental human rights institution.”
The appeal has been submitted ahead of elections to the UN’s human rights.
Why should the man and woman on the street care about human rights and Russia’s criminal track record?
Firstly, allowing Russia a seat at the council would desecrate human rights principles, the Human Rights Council, the UN and all crimes committed in local neighborhoods. It would be akin to reserving a place at the table for Adolf Hitler. It would contribute to civilization’s submersion into a vile existence on our watch.
Codifying respect for human rights, the UN has noted that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status. In other words, we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible and they are also incorporated into the principles of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – Agenda 2030.
The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous international human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of states – national governments – to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems. The government of Russia has chosen to perennially violate human rights on all levels.
The UN also noted that human rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfil human rights. The obligation to respect means that states must refrain from interfering with or curtailing the enjoyment of human rights. The obligation to protect requires states to protect individuals and groups against human rights abuses. The obligation to fulfil means that states must take positive action to facilitate the enjoyment of basic human rights. At the individual level, while we are entitled our human rights, we should also respect the human rights of others.
The following are some of the most important characteristics of human rights: Human rights are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each person; Human rights are universal, meaning that they are applied equally and without discrimination to all people; Human rights are inalienable, in that no one can have his or her human rights taken away; and others.
Finally, by guaranteeing life, liberty, equality, and security, human rights protect people against abuse by those who are more powerful. According to the United Nations, human rights “ensure that a human being will be able to fully develop and use human qualities such as intelligence, talent, and conscience and satisfy his or her spiritual needs.” More categories of violations by Russia.
Michelle Maiese, addressing human rights violations and wars or conflicts, noted on the website BeyondIntractability.org: “Many conflicts are sparked by a failure to protect human rights, and the trauma that results from severe human rights violations often leads to new human rights violations. As conflict intensifies, hatred accumulates and makes restoration of peace more difficult. In order to stop this cycle of violence, states must institute policies aimed at human rights protection. Many believe that the protection of human rights ‘is essential to the sustainable achievement of the three agreed global priorities of peace, development and democracy.’
“Respect for human rights has therefore become an integral part of international law and foreign policy. The specific goal of expanding such rights is to "increase safeguards for the dignity of the person. To protect human rights is to ensure that people receive some degree of decent, humane treatment. Because political systems that protect human rights are thought to reduce the threat of world conflict, all nations have a stake in promoting worldwide respect for human rights.”
The UN operates on a different level than national governments but humanity’s indignation with the possible election of a criminal state, Russia, to the respected UN Human Rights Council must be vocally expressed. Contact your elected officials and say this possibility is a great moral blasphemy that must be quashed by the free world. Ban Russia from the UN Human Rights Council and other global events.