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Belarus, Egypt Urged to Release Prisoners Before UN Rights Council Elections

Geneva, May 15, 2007 — Belarus and Egypt must release jailed opposition leaders, journalists and bloggers before Thursday's elections for the UN's top human rights body, said UN Watch, a human rights organization in Geneva, Switzerland.  In a statement issued today also concerning Angola and Qatar, UN Watch urged the four repressive regimes seeking seats on the UN Human Rights Council to take immediate, concrete steps to show that they merit consideration for Council membership.  The General Assembly in New York will choose new Council members in elections to be held this Thursday, May 17.

Election to the Council is supposed to be based on the candidate's "contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and [its] voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto," according to the Council's founding document, General Assembly Resolution 60/251.  Once it is a Council member, a country is supposed to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" and "fully cooperate with the Council."

"In light of the deeply entrenched repression in these four countries—Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar—UN Watch considers them not qualified for Council membership," said Hillel Neuer, the group's executive director.  (See assessment of Council candidates here.)  "If, however, these regimes nevertheless wish to try to prove that they should be considered as potential Council members, they must—at a minimum—take concrete actions immediately."  According to UN Watch, these include:

Angola—which in its Council campaign pledge said that it "fights for a wide implementation of the human rights consecrated in the international instruments to which the country is a part" and promised, among other things, to "mainstream[] human rights throughout [Angolan] society" and "promote[] the rule of law"—must

   •  Fully cooperate with the three Council Special Rapporteurs, which it has agreed in principle to allow to visit (the special rapporteurs on adequate housing, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion or belief).

   •  Dismiss the espionage charges against Dr. Sarah Wykes of the British NGO Global Witness for researching corruption in the oil sector, or at the very least permit Dr. Wykes to be defended against the charges by legal counsel of her choice.

   •  Allow private radio outlets to broadcast nationwide.

Belarus—which in its Council campaign pledge promised to "do its utmost to ensure that all international human rights instruments to which it is a party are fully observed"—must

   •  Release from prison Alexander Kozulin, the 2006 opposition Presidential candidate, who is currently serving a 5 ½ year term for peacefully protesting against the unfree and unfair election.

   •  Announce that it will allow a visit by, and fully cooperate with, the Council's Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, whom Belarus has stonewalled since his appointment in 2004, as well as the other UN human rights investigators with outstanding visit requests.

   •  Remove the prohibition on funding and cease other efforts to limit the activities of the only permitted human rights organization, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and also allow other independent non-governmental organizations to operate freely.

Egypt—which in its Council campaign pledge promised to "upgrade the level of its implementation of all human rights instruments which it has ratified," including by "preserv[ing] the freedom of the press," "strengthening the independence of the judiciary," and "deepening its democracy"—must

   •  Release journalist Huwaida Taha Mitwalli, who is currently imprisoned for attempting to report on the government's use of torture, as well as bloggers including Abd al-Monim Mahmud and Abd al-Karim Nabil Sulaiman (a.k.a. Karim Amer),who have been imprisoned for exercising their internationally protected right to freedom of expression.

   •  Announce that it will permit visits by, and fully cooperate with, the five Council Special Rapporteurs that have outstanding visit requests dating back as far as 1996 (the Special Rapporteurs on torture, human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, and the independence of judges and lawyers).

   •  Rescind its order to close the offices of the workers' rights organization Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services.

Qatar—which in its Council campaign pledge said that "the goal of promoting and protecting human rights" is the "cornerstone" of its policies—must

   •  Announce that it will sign and ratify the fundamental human rights treaties the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which it is not a party.

   •  Commit to end censoring peaceful expression on the Internet, for example by unblocking the Arab-American online newspaper The Arab Times.

   •  Permit independent human rights organizations to operate freely in the country.

"We urge all General Assembly members not to vote for these four candidates for the Council unless they show some bona fides," said Neuer.  "Resolution 60/251 sets standards for election, which these countries do not currently meet.  To be sure, taking the actions we recommend would still not make any of these regimes ideal candidates for the Council, but it at least would show movement in the right direction. Those of us who want the new Council to work must ensure that it is composed of members who, as Kofi Annan envisioned, are serious about human rights."


UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter. It is accredited as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and as an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information.