Hillel Neuer
International human rights lawyer, writer & activist

Iran wins coveted UN human rights posts

The United Nations yesterday voted by acclamation to elect the Islamic Republic of Iran and more than a dozen other repressive regimes to top committees charged with protecting women’s rights and overseeing the work of human rights organizations, according to an exclusive report by UN Watch, a non-governmental Geneva-based human rights group.

Today is a black day for human rights. By empowering the perpetrators over the victims, the UN harms the cause of human rights, betrays its founding principles, and undermines its own credibility.

“Civil society loses as repressive states win election,” said the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

Despite the sharp condemnation of Iran’s human rights record by UN chief Ban Ki-moon — who recently reported how women in Iran are “subject to discrimination, entrenched both in law and in practice” and how “women’s rights activists continue to face arrest and persecution” —  the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York today elected Iran to a four-year term on its 45-nation Commission on the Status of Women, the principal intergovernmental body dedicated to protecting women’s rights. Equitorial Guinea was another dictatorship named to the global gender equality panel.

Worst Regimes to Regulate Human Rights NGOs

Meanwhile, in a separate vote, the UN additionally rewarded Iran by making the regime a member of its powerful 19-nation Committee on NGOs, a coveted position because it allows governments to silence criticism by acting as the gatekeeper and overseer of all human rights groups that seek to work inside the world body.

Other egregious human rights abusers elected to the influential panel include Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, slave-holding Mauritania, Russia, and Sudan, whose leader, President Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the ICC for genocide. All were deemed “not free” in the 2014 annual survey by Freedom House.

Burundi, Guinea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, flagged as problematic and only “partly free” by Freedom House, were also elected.

Impact of the Election: What This Means for NGOs

ISHR had warned earlier this month that the failure of democracies to throw their hat in the ring would mean that “the Committee’s membership will worsen considerably during the next term” and severely harm the freedom of NGOs.

However, ISHR praised the election of Greece, Israel, South Africa, Uruguay, and the U.S., countries  it ranked as “strong, pro civil society candidates,” but who will now constitute a tiny opposition.

NGOs within the UN that take on dictatorships are increasingly under threat. Last month, as reported in a series of New York Times articles, UN security officers protected a UN Watch delegate, daughter of jailed Chinese dissident Wang Bingzhang, from a spying attempt by a Beijing-backed organization bearing NGO credentials.

So now the very UN committee that is meant to judge our complaint against this dangerous front group is stacked more than ever before by Communist China, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and their non-democratic allies, who control some 70 percent of the seats.

When the criminals are made the judges, it’s a travesty of justice. The crucial role of civil society within the world body is being eroded, its voice at risk of being silenced.

Tragically, the UN’s election yesterday of regimes such as Iran, Sudan, and Mauritania — governments that rape and torture political prisoners, subjugate women, and commit crimes against humanity from slavery to genocide — sends the message that politics trumps human rights.

By allowing arsonists to become the chief fire-fighters, the UN is letting down millions of victims around the globe who look to the world body for vital protection.

About the Author
Hillel Neuer is executive director of UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization in Geneva, Switzerland. An international lawyer, Neuer has been described by the Tribune de Genève as a human rights activist who is “feared and dreaded” by the world’s dictatorships. Israel's Ma’ariv newspaper ranked Neuer as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Jewish People in the World.” Hillel Neuer is a renowned speaker who has published widely, testified before the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, and appeared on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. On September 14, 2016, the City of Chicago adopted a resolution declaring “Hillel Neuer Day” in recognition of his work as “one of the world’s foremost human rights advocates.” In June 2018, McGill University awarded Neuer with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, citing his work as “an innovator” in “creating global platforms for courageous dissidents and champions of human rights from around the world,” and for being “a passionate advocate for human rights, fighting tirelessly against discrimination, torture, and injustice."