On Dec. 2, 2005, CNN featured Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, in a televised debate with Zimbabwe’s UN Ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, on “Diplomatic License,” the network’s weekly program on UN affairs. Hosted by Richard Roth, CNN’s UN correspondent, the program focused on the question of which states ought to serve as members of the UN’s new Human Right Council, slated to convene later this year.
Following is the transcript:
RICHARD ROTH: Zimbabwe currently is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, something the U.S. points to as a reason the United Nations is in need of reform.
We’re pleased to welcome here in the studio Zimbabwe’s United Nations Ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku. And also with us, Hillel Neuer, the director of a group called U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based NGO that watches the United Nations.
Hillel, what’s the latest on the fight for a new Human Rights Commission? What’s really going on behind closed doors?
HILLEL NEUER, U.N. WATCH: Well, Richard, the world needs a credible U.N. body that will be a voice for victims of human rights violations, that will make a difference for women subjected to inequality and violence, to victims of state repression, censorship, torture, and Kofi Annan has said the Human Rights Commission has failed.
Now is our chance to reshape it into a new council that will be that voice.
ROTH: Zimbabwe is on the current Human Rights Commission. Is that acceptable to your organization?
NEUER: No. It’s abysmal. Composition of the new council is the main critical element and we need to support Kofi Annan, who said that we need members who have a, quote, ” solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards.?
Until now, and he said it, we’ve had politicization, selectivity, countries joining not to promote human rights but to shield their own records of abuse. Zimbabwe is one of those countries.
ROTH: Ambassador Chidyausiku, thank you for coming here not just to talk about your country but the whole Commission, but while we’re talking about Zimbabwe, what’s your response?
BONIFACE CHIDYAUSIKU, ZIMBABWEAN AMB. TO U.N.: Well, Zimbabwe in terms of its human rights record, I don’t think is an exception in terms of observing human rights. You have countries like the United States, who have been on the Human Rights Commission for a long time, they have a sordid record on human rights and no one talks about it and we wonder why Zimbabwe, why not the United States. We don’t have any detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Why is that not an issue in terms of human rights.
ROTH: Zimbabwe and other countries, do they feel that the United States is putting undue pressure on the United Nations to create these reforms so that the organization follows Washington’s commands?
CHIDYAUSIKU: The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization made up of 191 members. And the United States happens to be one of those 191 members. Whatever direction the United Nations will take will have to be determined by the member states, not by one member state.
|“The assertion that Zimbabwe is entitled
to be on the Human Rights Commission
NEUER: The assertion that Zimbabwe is entitled to be on the Human Rights Commission is ridiculous. There are human rights violations everywhere. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Western nations should be scrutinized as well. But Zimbabwe is a place where there has been destruction of homes of 700,000 people, a country that was the breadbasket of Africa, there are now 4 million people who need food aid. Suppression of journalists, closing down of newspapers, prosecuting opposition members. And the notion that that country is equal to every other country is sheer moral irrelativism, and the United Nations was founded on moral clarity.
CHIDYAUSIKU: When one looks at Zimbabwe.
ROTH: And you can look at each other, by the way, while we’re looking at Zimbabwe.
CHIDYAUSIKU: Sure. When one looks at Zimbabwe, just go on the Internet today and see what type of news comes from Zimbabwe. We have independent newspapers that are operating in Zimbabwe. They report freely and are not being prosecuted.
You go on the Internet today, you find the “Independent Standard,” the “Financial Gazette.”
NEUER: That’s not what journalists are saying. Independent human rights experts have confirmed that there has been enormous suppression of journalism, closure of newspapers, these are facts, and this is a place where NGOs are persecuted under law, do not have the right to freely associate. There are no fair elections. I mean, Zimbabwe’s record is abysmal.
And, you know, we just had a report by Human Rights Watch saying that the government is obstructing aid to the victims whose houses and livelihoods were destroyed, 700,000 people. They don’t have shelter, they don’t have food, they don’t have sanitation.
ROTH: Jan Egeland, the chief humanitarian man for the United Nations, is going to go to Zimbabwe soon.
CHIDYAUSIKU: You know, you cannot make an analysis of a country based in Geneva. You’re not on the ground. You get your information from news reports. People who are being paid to say — to paint certain pictures and to make very factual reports that is not correct.
At the present moment, we have Egeland going to Zimbabwe, to go and see for himself, to see the 700,000 that you’re talking about, whether they in reality — they are not there. Even when Tibaijuka entered Zimbabwe, she did not even see those 700,000.
ROTH: Tibaijuka is the U.N. habitat director, whose report was quite critical of your country.
“The 700,000 people that you’re talking about — it’s a fiction…”
CHIDYAUSIKU: Sure. But that 700,000, it’s a fiction.
ROTH: It was Operation Restore Order, right? That’s what it was called.
NEUER: It’s confirmed by every independent human rights organization, by the United Nations, and, you know, this attempt by Robert Mugabe to paint this as an imperial plot, which is a consistent theme, is ridiculous. Anna Tibaijuka, Kofi Annan’s envoy, neither her nor Kofi Annan are part of any Western plot.
Look, you know, the regimes say one thing but the people in Zimbabwe say something else and the NGOs from that region say that we want the governments to be held accountable.
ROTH: What’s wrong with countries being chosen for the new human rights panel based upon their records? And how do you determine that?
CHIDYAUSIKU: OK. Our view — every member of the United Nations has a right to sit on any body of the United Nations. We don’t want a duplicate of a new Security Council or a club, where a few select individuals with the resources can sit on the council and keep out people that are not seen as being friendly. This is our argument. We don’t want a human rights council where other members of the United Nations, who are members of a intergovernmental organization, to be banned from that type of.
ROTH: But you know there is damage being done to the organization by countries that people accuse of human rights violation of sitting in judgment of others. It’s not just Zimbabwe people are talking about.
CHIDYAUSIKU: Can we say, if we want to have certain qualifications for people who should sit on the Human Rights Commission, can we say people who have used the atomic bomb on a country?
ROTH: But that’s a different situation? We’re not facing.
CHIDYAUSIKU: We are saying, can we come up with qualifications? Where would we stop in qualifying members? Who will determine those qualifications?
“So, Hillel, what is the solution? 191 countries, who gets to decide who is a violator, and who gets to judge?”
ROTH: So, Hillel, what is the solution? You’re going to hear this inside the United Nations; 191 countries, who gets to decide who is a violator and who gets to judge?
NEUER: Richard, there is no magic solution, but let’s recognize the facts and let’s support Kofi Annan, who said that we basically have the fox guarding the chickens and it hasn’t worked. We’ve had Cuba, we’ve had Libya as chair, we’ve had a situation where Sudan, which is committing mass rape, killings, displacement, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, is automatically reelected on the commission.
ROTH: Sudan is going to lead the African Union.
NEUER: Where does it end? There is a way to draw the line. There is no automatic criteria. There are proposals. Some propose those countries under measures — under chapter 7 of the charter, be disqualified.
ROTH: What should Zimbabwe do to be worthy of sitting, in your view, on a revamped commission?
NEUER: Well, first of all, Zimbabwe’s got to begin respecting the U.N. charter, the universal declaration of human rights, from A to Z.
But just, you know, Richard.
ROTH: We only have less than a minute.
NEUER: The General Assembly members will have to be accountable for their votes. If they vote for a country, they’re going to have to explain to the United Nations and to their population why they voted for a given country and that country has to give forth a platform of its commitment to human rights and what it’s going to achieve.
ROTH: The final word — Ambassador.
CHIDYAUSIKU: As a member of the United Nations, every member has a right to appear or to serve on the Human Rights Commission. In terms of qualifications, there is no country that has a clean record, which can say that, you know — which can sit in judgment.
For example, how many people are dying in Iraq on a daily basis because of the United States? Why hasn’t anybody queried why the United States is on the Human Rights Commission today?
“Your country should be forced to present what its commitment is to human rights and to defend its record and be accountable…”
NEUER: Every country can be scrutinized, but the notion that every country should sit in judgment on others has failed. Kofi Annan has said it’s failed and it’s casting a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations as a whole.
CHIDYAUSIKU: The British government has just been trying to pass legislation in the United Kingdom, and even their record in Iraq.
NEUER: Every country should be scrutinized equally and your country should be forced to present what its commitment is to human rights and to defend its record and be accountable to somebody.
CHIDYAUSIKU: We agree, everybody should be accountable, not just Zimbabwe. Every country.
ROTH: All right, now you’re seeing why nobody expects an agreement by the end of this year, and we’ll see what happens in the new year.
Hillel Neuer, of U.N. Watch, based in Geneva, thank you. And Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku, of Zimbabwe, a U.N. ambassador, you were formerly posted in Angola, right, and in China, I think?
CHIDYAUSIKU: And in Geneva.
ROTH: And Geneva. You have something in common.
Thanks very much for debating here on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE on human rights.