Posts Tagged ‘rules of procedure’

South Africa disappoints terribly in the Human Rights Council: support for China’s silencing the silence

March 27, 2014

A column in the South African City Press under the title “A chilling point of order for SA” written by Juliette De Rivero on 26 March 2014 makes a punchy statement about the disappointment felt all though the human rights movement when South Africa opted to support China’s point of order in the UN Council of Human Rights. In my post about this ‘court drama’ (reference below) I did not list all the countries coming out against allowing a moment of silence for the deceased Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli and indeed the position of South Africa was in many way the most surprising, in de Rivero’s words: “…The South African delegate took the floor and warned that allowing the activists to proceed with the moment of silence would “create a dangerous precedent” that the council would not be able to sustain in the future.He noted that the action was “irregular and incompatible with the rules of procedure of this council”.South Africa’s choice to stand with the government that prevented Cao Shunli from participating in the UN came as a blow to the activist community – a community that was willing to stand up for Cao just as it had been willing to denounce the injustice of apartheid.South Africa’s concern that the moment of silence – not the death of the activist – was setting a bad precedent in the UN body sent such a chilling message to the human rights community that it should not be ignored…”

Let me add: That silence is a way of speaking should be clear to all, including South Africa, e.g. when on 6 December 2013 the General Assembly held a moment of silence to honour the memory of Nelson Mandela (“Madiba”).

full piece in:  A chilling point of order for SA – City Press.

background in:

China in the UN Human Rights Council manages to silence Cao Shunli as well as NGOs

March 20, 2014

Cao Shunli, the Chinese activist who died in custody.
(Cao Shunli, the Chinese activist who died in custody (c) Photograph: Reuters)

For those with an interest in how the UN Council deals with criticism – in this case of China – should follow the debate on the UN webcast (or see the video on demand later)  []. What happened in short is that during the debate on the adoption of China’s UPR report on 20 March, the International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) called for a few moments of silence to remember Cao Shunli, the human rights defender who recently died in detention (see references below). China then invoked a point of order saying that speakers should make general statements and that did not include asking for silence. During a long procedural debate many views were expressed – mostly supportive of China – but some others clearly stating that freedom of speech included the right not to speak. The interpretation of the rules of procedure then seemed to lead to the conclusion that the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) should not be ‘politicized”….and that from the eminently political entities called Governments! Sensing that a majority would support it, China insisted on a ruling by the Chairman that this kind of intervention needs to be ruled out for the future. The big majority of States, fearing a ‘precedent-setting’, rejected even the compromise proposal by the Chair to discuss the issue further in the Bureau (at a later time) with a vote of 20 against 13 (and 12 abstentions). The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the second NGO to get the floor, then continued the request for a minute of silence for Cao Shunli. This was of course again interrupted. So, the Council ended up supporting China’s tough stance, in spite of several other NGOs and a few countries coming out with strong support for the moment of silence.

When the FIDH then let one its member organisations (including the Campaign Against Tibet) speak on its behalf, the Chinese delegation (perhaps emboldened by its earlier success) decided to interrupt again asking that the FIDH only identifies itself and not its members. This led to another procedural debate on whether NGOs with consultative status are allowed to mention other NGOs that have no such status (a standing practice I should add, which was established far back in the 80s when Argentina tried – in vain – to stop the ICJ from letting an Argentinian lawyer, Emilio Mignone, to speak about the disappearance of his own daughter).

Perhaps there will be further debate on these procedural aspects, but it is unlikely that the UPR comes out of this as a serious innovation in dealing with human rights violations.

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