Dark day for human rights – nearly half UNHRC not democracies


The election of egregious human rights abusers China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba, and Vietnam to the UN Human Rights Council has dealt “a severe blow to the credibility and efficacy of a body that was supposed to improve on its discredited predecessor,” says a leading rights monitor.

“This is a black day for human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights group. “Today the UN sent a message that politics trumps human rights, and it let down millions of victims worldwide who look to the world body for protection.”

According to a comprehensive report by UN Watch, the new Council member states perpetrate gross and systematic human rights abuses, including massive violations of the freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly. They were also found to oppose UN resolutions speaking out for victims of human rights abuses in Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

Nearly half of the 2014 UNHRC membership (47%) fail to meet the minimal standards of a free democracy, notes UN Watch.

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Exiled Syrian opposition chooses interim government, wants ‘Western democracy’

The main Syrian opposition group in exile has elected an interim government to administer rebel-held areas in the country’s north in a new effort to unify the fractured movement fighting to topple the regime, Rima Abushakra writes for The Wall Street Journal:

The Western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition, which is based in Istanbul, said the government was formed in coordination with rebels fighting inside Syria. However the armed opposition hasn’t yet commented. …..After months of wrangling over positions, the choice of an interim government marks a serious attempt to assert legitimacy, order and authority over a fraying opposition.

“It could remove one hurdle to peace talks with the regime by making it easier to choose representatives to the talks,” Abushakra suggests. “It may also give the exiled opposition, often criticized for being disconnected from the fighting on the ground, a role within the country.”

Speaking about his hopes for the Geneva talks, Ahmad Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, told the BBC’s Lina Sinjab he wanted Syria to have ”a democracy like the one in the West.”

The Syrian Expert House, a group of 300 opposition representatives, and the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, recently released Syria Transition Roadmap, a detailed vision of the steps that a transitional government will have to take to restore order and rule of law, build democratic institutions, and place Syrian society on a path toward national reconciliation.

Foreign funding for the warring parties has helped sustain the conflict and transformed it into a proxy battle by regional powers, Ben Hubbard writes for The New York Times:

But the flow of private funds to rebel groups has added a wild-card factor to the war, analysts say, exacerbating divisions in the opposition and bolstering its most extreme elements. While the West has been hesitant to arm and finance the more secular forces that initially led the turn to armed rebellion, fighters have flocked to Islamist militias and in some cases rebranded themselves as jihadist because that is where the money is.

“It creates a self-sustaining dynamic that is totally independent of all the strategic and diplomatic games that are happening and being led by states,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst in the Middle East with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Prominent fund-raisers often boast of attacks by their preferred groups, which thank them with videos showing their new weapons, Hubbard adds.

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U.S. foreign aid for corrupt regimes?

A U.S. government-funded foreign aid organization is considering sending hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to countries whose flawed, corrupt or undemocratic governments should almost certainly be ineligible for the money according to the agency’s own internal guidelines, analyst Yochi Dreazen writes for Foreign Policy’s The Cable.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency dedicated to “advancing American values” by reducing poverty, advancing good governance, and weeding out corruption. But people familiar with the matter say that the MCC is seriously contemplating giving money to Sierra Leone and Benin, which fail to meet its “control of corruption” requirements, and Liberia and Morocco, which meet less than half of the organization’s 20 requirements for civil liberties, sound economic policies, and other measures. If approved, each country could receive hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. government funding over the next few years.  

An MCC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the four countries had met all of the requirements in past years but fallen short this time around. The official said the scorecard was the first thing the board would look at, but that the country’s failures to pass the requirements wouldn’t necessarily disqualify them from continuing the negotiations over future aid packages.

“The board has discretion,” the official said. “They scorecard is always the starting point, and it’s very important to the process, but nothing is automatic.” 


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Congressional leaders mark NED 30th anniversary at National Archives

The Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi are among the Congressional leaders who will participate in a 30th anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for Democracy today at 6 p.m. in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

After welcoming remarks by Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos will moderate a discussion titled: “With Liberty and Justice for All: America’s Bipartisan Commitment to Democracy Abroad,”  featuring Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-CA), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Rep. David Price (D-NC). 

“NED is a rare institution that unites Democrats and Republicans, who agree about the importance of advancing the universal values of freedom and human rights around the world,” said NED Chairman Martin Frost.  “NED’s outstanding track record of providing modest but consistent support to ‘small-d’ democrats has earned it a reputation as an effective and innovative organization not only with the U.S. Congress and every Administration since its founding, but also with the courageous activists worldwide who receive NED support.”

Privately incorporated in 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit foundation dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world. Each year, with funding from the US Congress, NED supports more than 1,000 projects of non-governmental groups abroad who are working for democratic goals in more than 90 countries. 

NED has supported every significant democratic movement that has emerged over the past thirty years, including those that helped bring about peaceful transitions to democracy in Chile, Poland, and South Africa.  NED continues to support brave human rights defenders in Russia, Chinese dissidents such as Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and civil society activists in Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other challenging situations. 

This event is open to the media. 

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