On 12 November, 2012 the General Assembly elected the UAE to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council for a period of three years beginning on 1 January 2013. The UAE secured its position on the Human Rights Council after standing unopposed for one of the five vacant Asia-Pacific seats. The UN Human Right Council (HRC) consists of 47 UN member states which are elected directly based on the majority they secure within the General Assembly. ( Link )
What we learned particularly and the most interesting is that as a member of the Council, the UAE is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. The UN General Assembly should only elect member states to serve on the Human Rights Council that can demonstrate their commitment to human rights, Amnesty International said ahead of Monday’s vote for 18 new Council members.
In accordance with General Assembly resolution A/RES/60/251, when electing members of the Human Rights Council, Member States shall take into account (1) the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and (2) their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto. Additionally, members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights; International contribution, pledges and commitments; National contribution, pledges and commitments including information on national human rights planning, the existence of independent national human rights institutions, guarantees of effective remedies to redress human rights abuses, etc.
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Suggested Elements for Voluntary Pledges and Commitments by Candidates for Election to the Human Rights Council, available here (Link)
Council members are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. “Some of the candidates commit gross human rights violations, have not ratified core human rights treaties and do not cooperate with the UN’s human rights experts,” said Amnesty International’s representative to the UN in New York Jose Luis Dias. This is truly a disgraceful situation, lacking honour and integrity and deliberately violating accepted principles of the Universal Declaration of human rights. (Link)
The organization also encourages the government to announce the steps it will take to fulfill its electoral pledges, whether it is successful in gaining a seat on the Council or not, and to regularly inform the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council of progress in implementing these commitments.
Freedom House does not recommend seven (37%) of the candidates. Based on Freedom House’s evaluation, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela fail to meet the United Nations’ criteria for membership on the Human Rights Council. These countries have not demonstrated sufficient respect for human rights at home or willingness to support UN measures to protect human rights elsewhere. (Link)
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World with a rating of 6 in both Political Rights and Civil Liberties. There are no political parties in the country, and the allocation of government positions is determined largely by tribal loyalties and economic power. The government has historically restricted the freedom of expression with a 1980 law prohibiting all “defamatory material and negative material about presidents, friendly countries, [and] religious issues.” The government bans a variety of publications and Internet websites and prohibits most small businesses and individuals from using secure and encrypted email and Internet settings on their mobile phones, allowing authorities access to most private correspondence.
The government places restrictions on freedom of assembly and association, and public meetings require government permits. NGOs must register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. In March 2011, more than 130 intellectuals and activists signed a petition calling for political reforms. In April 2012, the UAE shut down the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation due to what the government said were licensing issues.
The UAE’s election to the council coincides with a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation domestically, which led to the European Parliament expressing “great concern” in a resolution adopted on October 26. “Now that the UAE has been elected to the Human Rights Council, it’s high time for real improvements in the human rights situation in the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE should mark its election by ending arbitrary detention of 63 political detainees and taking steps to protect the rights of migrant workers.”
A coalition of nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, wrote to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan in advance of the country’s election to the Human Rights Council to urge specific reforms, including an immediate end to arbitrary detentions, the repeal of provisions of the criminal code and media law that restrict free speech, and reform of the system that regulates the recruitment and employment of migrant workers. The letter concludes by reminding the UAE’s rulers that a commitment to human rights entails a commitment to take concrete steps, legislative and otherwise, to uphold the principles and standards of human rights law. (Link)
Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, United Arab Emirates, welcomed the the victory. “The win crowned a series of achievements made by the UAE in its human rights record over the recent years, particularly in areas of legislations to uphold and protect fundamental freedoms and legal rights of individuals, rights of women and children and advanced regulations on rights of foreign workforce,” he said.
“The UAE win of the seat for the next three years will lay on our shoulders additional onus and commitment to stay our course firmly consistent with constitutional principles on which the UAE state is built and which places respect for human rights at the top of national priorities,” he said. The achievement highlighted the values and culture of the UAE which are based on tolerance, openness, justice, equality and human dignity, he added.
Ahmad Abdul Rahman Al Jarman, the UAE’s permanent representative to the United Nations, expressed his delight at the election and at the strong support lent to the UAE by the members of the UN Human Rights Council. He said the win further consolidates the UAE’s stature on the international scene and recognises its honourable human rights record. Al Jarman said the UAE government had always updated its laws and systems to support human rights and keep abreast of the latest regional and international best practices. (Link)
The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States (GCC), Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, has lauded the election of UAE to become a member of Human Rights Council in a meeting held by the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Al Zayani said the UAE’s winning of the membership reflects the keenness of its leadership on rights of citizens and expatriates alike, noting that it also reflects international recognition to its efforts in this respect as the country does not spare any efforts to preserve rights of all people. He added that the UAE and GCC people were all upbeat about the achievement. (Link)
In accordance with UN General Assembly resolution, members of the Human Rights Council should uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. In the joint letter to the UAE on its candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Watch, the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network urged the UAE to make reforms in the following key areas and ratify without delay the core human rights treaties to which the UAE is not yet a party.
• Cease arbitrary detentions and respect the right to fair trial
• Respect the right to freedom of expression and opinion
• End the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in detention
• Implement key recommendations of treaty bodies
• Respect the fundamental rights of migrant workers and stateless bidun
• Ratify the core human rights treaties
• Cooperation with UN Special Procedures
Selecting the UAE as a member in the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) with the responsibility of strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them is truly a disgraceful situation, lacking honour and integrity and deliberately violating accepted principles of the Universal Declaration of human rights. Indeed it is good that the NGOs remind the UAE’s rulers that a commitment to human rights entails a commitment to take concrete steps, legislative and otherwise, to uphold the principles and standards of human rights law. (Link)
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Suggested Elements for Voluntary Pledges and Commitments by Candidates for Election to the Human Rights Council, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/pledges.pdf
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. More about the Human Rights Council..(Link)
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