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International NGO in special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations





Lowering the boom on diplomats as human rights experts - Juan Gasparini


Several NGOs have decided to ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to put a brake on the proliferation of diplomats at the heart of committees charged with verifying how well states respect the treaties and conventions they have signed. They say such experts must be independent, as stipulated by a UN directive and that this autonomy is incompatible with the status of a diplomat.

A letter will go out from Geneva soon, demouncing this abuse, supported by Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Alkarama, a Geneva NGO that advocates for Arab rights.

At the beginning of the current Council Session (September 22-23), the matter was brought up before Council President Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria. Abdel Wahab Hani, speaking for Alkarama and the Arab Commission for Human Rights criticized the nomination on September 4 of the current Egyptian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Ahmed Amin Fathall, as a member of the Human Rights Comittee. The diplomat was charged with overseeing compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the two pillars of the UN. He was named to this post at the time that the unelected Algerian Senator, Lazhari Bouzid was appointed to the same committee, alongside Peru’s ambassador to Spain.

‘These political nominations raise serious problems for the independence of watchdog organizations. We call on all states to refrain from presenting as UN experts those holding political posts since this is in total contradiction with the criteria of independence and impartiality,’ stressed Abdel Wahab Hani on September 19 during a Council debate. He called for their resignation. Sebastien Gillioz of Human Rights Watch is concerned about ‘the consequences that this type of practice could engender. ‘There is a real risk of blurring the line between who is a human rights expert and who is a diplomat. The confusiuon will only increase the dangers to the independence of institutional mechanisms,’ he said.

The practice is frequently criticized by NGOs who fear the lack of autonomy on the part of these diplomat-experts. ‘This represents ‘a violation of the criteria and morality inscribed in article 28 of the Covenant,’ said Abdel Wahab Hani.

According to a communique by Amnesty International on March 7, 2008, the UN ought to ‘abstain from nominating candidates who occupy paid or unpaid government positions that could compromise their independence and impartiality.’ Amnesty went on to say that these experts should be selected on the basis of competence and be highly qualified to vigorously advocate in favor of human rights. Amnesty reminded that a UN document, signed in 1997 by all the organs presiding over treaty verification at the time, recommended that member states ‘abstain from naming or electing persons active in public office or occupying positions that are not immediately reconciliable’ with the role of expert.

Questioned by HRT in the corridors of the Palais des Nations, several ambassadors refused to give their position on the subject. One of them speculated that exceptions might be made for those countries with less diplomatic representation and few available experts.

Other cases cited by NGOs

In the committee that controls the second covenant upon which the judicial base of the UN rests, regarding economic, social and cultural rights, one notes the name of Sergei Martynov, the Foreign Minister of Belarus. On the committee to oversee the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), one finds the name of Naéla Gabr, Egypt’s former ambassador in Geneva, currently assistant to the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister for international organizations. She sits alongside Violeta Neubauer of Slovenia and Dubravka Simonovic of Croatia, who are equal opportunity coordinators in the foreign ministries of their respective countries.

On the committee against racial discrimination (CERD) one finds José Augusto Lindgren Alves, former Brazilian ambassador to Bulgaria, who is still in government and Fatima-Binta Victoria Dah, a career diplomat from Burkina Faso, currently retired with the grade of Minister Plenipotentary. On the committee overseeing the rights of children (CRC), the diplomats represented are from Qatar, Bangladesh and Egypt. Finally, Ecuador’s ambassador to Washington, Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, is on the committee against torture (CAT).

The heavy hand of diplomacy is even more flagrant in the committee to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families (MWC), where seven out of ten members are diplomats.

Translated from French by Pamela Taylor

Human Rights Tribune