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China and Russia lobbying to defund UN’s rights agenda

The UN Human Rights Up Front initiative was established in 2014, after a series of UN failures in preventing or sounding the alarm over atrocities. (Photo courtesy: The Guardian)
The UN Human Rights Up Front initiative was established in 2014, after a series of UN failures in preventing or sounding the alarm over atrocities. (Photo courtesy: The Guardian)

(TibetanReview.net, Mar29, 2018) – Diplomats and activists have said China and Russia have been leading a stealthy and increasingly successful effort at the United Nations to weaken the world body’s efforts to protect human rights around the world. Most recently, the two countries have used the UN budget panel, known as the Fifth Committee, to cut funding for human rights monitors and for a senior post in the secretary general’s office which is supposed to ensure that human rights – one of three pillars of the UN’s function – are not forgotten in its day-to-day work, reported The Guardian Mar 27.

The report said the UN Human Rights Up Front initiative was established in 2014 after a series of UN failures in preventing or sounding the alarm over atrocities, culminating in mass killings in Sri Lanka in 2009. Under this initiative, a senior official in the Secretary General’s office was appointed to ensure that progress was made on the issue throughout the organization.

But funding for that post was cut this year by the Fifth Committee as a result of lobbying by China and Russia. Besides, the funding of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has also been cut, the report noted.

As a result, the current high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has announced that he will be stepping down this year and not seeking another term in the post, explaining to his staff that the lack of global support for protecting human rights made his job untenable.

The report also noted that last week, when Zeid was due to address the UN Security Council on the plight of civilians in Syria, Russia called a procedural vote even before he began to stop him from speaking on the grounds that the council was not the proper forum for discussing human rights.

“The Fifth Committee has become a battleground for human rights,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying. “Russia and China and others have launched a war on things that have human rights in their name.”

“You can get a mandate for human rights work in the Security Council, but then Russia and China go behind the scenes to defund it,” Charbonneau has said. “And the countries that pay lip service to human rights are not pushing back.”

China is now the second biggest contributor to the UN budget, although far below the top contributor the USA, and is increasingly confident in its efforts to roll back UN human rights activities.

It is also pushing its own agenda – with an emphasis on ‘harmony’ rather than individual rights in UN forums. And a lot of countries like what they hear,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, was quoted as saying.

The report cited an unnamed western diplomat at the UN as saying human rights were losing ground at the UN, in part because China had become a more assertive voice, prepared to lead lobbying campaigns, and because Beijing was increasingly leveraging its vast and growing investments in the developing world to win votes for its agenda at the UN.

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