April 28, 2005

Zimbabwe re-elected to UN human rights commission

Zimbabwe was re-elected to the United Nations human rights commission, a controversial body that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wants to abolish. Four vacancies on the 53-nation commission were allotted for Africa, and there was African consensus to award one of the slots to Zimbabwe. "The United States is perplexed and dismayed by the decision," said US diplomat William Brencick. The United States also won a commission seat. "Zimbabwe maintains repressive controls on political assembly and the media, harasses civil society groups and continues to encourage a climate where the opposition fears for its safety," Brencick said. In Washington, US Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist called the decision "deeply troubling". He said membership of countries like Zimbabwe "renders the commission illegitimate and irrelevant". The Geneva-based commission has been a regular target of criticism over the rights records of some of the nations that have been allowed to serve on it. "Zimbabwe's re-election to the commission reflects badly on the current functioning of the world's pre-eminent human rights body and its credibility," said Peter Tesch, Australia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations. Canada also spoke out but former colonial power Britain did not. "Our position on Zimbabwe is well known," said a British diplomat who asked not to be named. Zimbabwe rejected the criticism. "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones," said Zimbabwe's UN ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku.
The other nations elected were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Germany, Japan, Morocco, the United States and Venezuela. All won by consensus except Azerbaijan, which won a secret ballot held because there were more candidates than slots available for Eastern Europe. The selected nations won three-year terms beginning in 2006, but according to UN-general secretary Kofi Annan, most of his UN reform package, including the abolition of the commission, should have already been pushed through by then. (The Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg)

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