by: Gabriel Salvia, President, Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America
In a secret ballot on November 12, the General Assembly of the United Nations elected fourteen members for its Human Rights Council for three years. This body, which is responsible for the international promotion and protection of human rights, as of January 1, 2014, consisted of countries whose governments hold a sad history of repression of fundamental democratic freedoms.
The Council has 47 member states, regionally elected by a majority of the UN countries. For the election of the members of the UN Human Rights Council, the contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country should be taken into account. Now, regarding some of the countries that have just been elected to serve on this body, like Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, Vietnam, and Russia, it remains clear that the fulfillment of its goal is unfeasible. Can there be a greater contradiction than a Human Rights Council that incorporates dictatorships? As expressed by jurist Ricardo Manuel Rojas, it "is like putting in criminals to draft the criminal code."
In fact, since its inception, the body that replaced the UN Human Rights Commission in 2006 was born with this problem: dictatorships have in this organ a presence and influence that corrupts the body’s goals. And, frankly speaking, among the countries that most respect the rule of law, there is a great complicity with this situation. Otherwise, it cannot be understood that, for example, a dictatorship like China received 176 votes to join the UN Human Rights Council.
According to Freedom House’s "Freedom in the World 2013," there are 44 countries that obtained the highest score in respecting civil liberties and political rights. So if the UN has 193 members, this means that at least 27 "exemplary democracies" voted for China's bid to join the UN Human Rights Council. It means that only 17 countries of the UN - 9% of the total - did not vote for the nomination of the Chinese dictatorship.
The case of Cuba is another prime example: it joined the organization at its inception in 2006, was re-elected in 2009, and then had to wait a three year period to be re-elected again, this time by 148 votes. Thus, one of the longest dictatorships in the world, which shows no advancement of political openness, forms part of the UN Human Rights Council for nine of the first 12 years of its existence and may be re-elected in 2016.
In this last vote, Uruguay was not accepted into the Council, receiving only 93 votes. Thus, a country that is among the most respectful of civil and political liberties in Latin America in the General Assembly received 55 fewer votes than Cuba, where there is a single party regime that expressly prohibits the exercise of fundamental democratic freedoms.
As can be seen, the UN is not the arena in which to promote democracy internationally, as a fifth of its members are human rights violators and many others are states with very low democratic quality. Furthermore, beyond the provisions of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN deals with states and not individuals. Consequently, countries that are serious about the universal nature of human rights and, for this reason, have the obligation of respecting each other in any part of the world, must be organized in an alternative field.
Because of this, there already exists the Community of Democracies (CD), with a Permanent Secretariat located in Warsaw, as an ideal initiative to bring an active foreign policy of international commitment to human rights. One of the common policies of the CD in this area should be to act as a body, coordinating practices of committed diplomacy from the embassies that are in non-free countries and in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council of the UN, strongly neutralizing the dictatorships.
Definitely, what should be recognized is that to keep the international complacency with the dictatorships, the ideal of the globalization of democracy expressed in the Universal Declaration of ‘48 will be increasingly distant.