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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wikileaks: How the Muslims took over the UNHRC

A series of memos released by WikiLeaks exposes how the Organization of the Islamic Conference took over the then-new UN Human Rights Council in 2008. For those who are fans of the arcane world of negotiations, here is how the OIC managed to outmaneuver Western states on one resolution:

AN OIC TRIUMPH
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OIC efforts to amend -- and in effect subvert -- the Freedom of Expression resolution had been a dominant subtext throughout the Council's seventh regular session. With support from the U.S., the EU and others, Canada, as chief sponsor, had sought to fend off an OIC amendment that would instruct the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to report on "instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination." The OIC, taking advantage of its internal discipline, had held firm throughout. China, apparently angered by criticism during the Council's March 25 meeting of its behavior in Tibet, floated its own killer amendments two days before the vote. Canada rejected these as having been raised too late in the game.

The decisive action on the freedom of expression resolution and its amendments came on the session's last day. We had joined Canada and others in efforts to sway moderate OIC members, but these had fallen short. Meanwhile, Canada had sought to find compromise language that would avoid the OIC amendment. When those efforts failed, and with the session having been extended beyond its scheduled 6pm closing time, the OIC called for a vote on its amendment, which passed (27-17-3). The U.S., Canada, the EU and others dropped their co-sponsorship. With the momentum clearly favoring the OIC and its allies, Cuba then pulled an unexpected move, proposing an oral amendment underscoring "the importance for all forms of media to report and to deliver information in a fair and impartial manner." That amendment passed (29-15-3). Canada and the EU failed in last minute procedural efforts to head off the fully amended resolution, which then passed (32-0-15).

The Ambassador's April 2 meeting with like-minded ambassadors to take stock of the session provided additional insights into the dynamics behind the last-minute maneuvering. Canada's ambassador expressed frustration at the African Group's solidarity with the OIC. Madagascar and Angola, for instance, had expressed discomfort with the amendment in conversations with the Canadians but had eventually been pressured into voting for it. The OIC had also exerted immense pressure on others during the end game, he reported; Bosnia and Herzegovina, for instance, had been pressed hard, although it had ended up voting against the amendment. Both the Canadian and Danish ambassadors expressed particular resentment toward China: though the Chinese had ostensibly kept their promise, made on the session's last day, not to put forth an oral amendment, they had clearly struck a deal for Cuba to do so.

In an April 1 extension of the seventh session to allow for closing statements, several OIC members defended the newly amended resolution. Pakistan argued that the OIC amendment had done nothing beyond providing an "add-on" that made the resolution more "comprehensive and holistic," in order to protect the stability of multicultural societies. Sri Lanka echoed that theme and expressed hope that the decisions on the freedom of expression mandate would not leave the Council as a "house divided." The U.S. was among several delegations that sharply criticized the amendments.

The OIC had scored an earlier victory with adoption of a resolution on defamation of religions (21-10-14). It also succeeded in rescheduling the Item 7 discussion of the Occupied Palestinian Territories to early in the Council session in order more quickly to condemn Israel's response to rocket attacks from Gaza. In addition to the resolution passed on that occasion, the Council also passed three other anti-Israel resolutions. One of these, on Israeli settlements, passed 46-1-0, with only Canada voting against it.
Another memo ends off with the observation that the EU has given up and decided to support the OIC:
The prevailing political and negotiating dynamics at the Human Rights Council must be broken if that body, which is still taking shape, is to address human rights problems in a serious and substantive way. Instead of seeking the support of the U.S. and other sympathetic delegations in its efforts to hold violators to their international human rights obligations, the instinct of the EU appears to be to bend over backwards to accommodate the concerns of the violators and their supporters. The result is not pretty. South Africa, which serves as the driving force behind the Durban process and has a tunnel-vision interest on issues of racial equality, appears to have made common cause with the OIC and its parallel tunnel-vision interest in ensuring the alleged rights of the collective in Muslim societies. This vision is fundamentally incompatible with the interests of Western democracies. Until the EU can be made to see that its paramount goal of ensuring its internal unity, with its predictable lowest-common-denominator results, will rarely hold anyone accountable for anything, our efforts to see the HRC evolve into an effective and respectable human rights mechanism are likely to go unrewarded. The U.S. made a greater effort in this short session to influence events, but this level and manner of engagement simply were not enough to have a significant impact.