The United Nations saw the 27th Regular Meeting of the 24th Session of the Human Rights Council
Lithuania, just beginning their presidency of the European Council, opened discussions with a general statement of the EU position on Human Rights. The delegation from Ireland put forward a draft motion about maintaining pluralist civil society.
The delegations began to grow more adversarial Allegations of forced sterilizations of Tamils were issued against Sri Lanka. Myanmar was criticised for its discrimination and the violence against Rohingya Muslims.
Then a representative of Human Right’s Watch began accusing Egyptian human rights activist, Mona Seif, of not being eligible for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), Egypt raised point of order that it was not relevant to the agenda. America disagreed, Cuba backed up Egypt as did China, UK went with the US then Pakistan supported Egypt. Human Rights Watch went on to call Mona Seif a “terrorist supporter”.
This was not unexpected as the last few months have seen increased controversy over Seif’s nomination following the publicising of Tweets where she celebrating the sabotage of the Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel and the burning of an Israeli flag. Seif defended herself by saying:
“One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.”
Another NGO raised the issue of the Falun Gong in China and their persecution. China objected calling the Falun Gong an “evil cult” which had been outlawed and denying that this was relevant to the agenda. While supporting this point of order from China, Cuba wandered from the point to criticise Israeli violence against Palestinians using the word “genocide” for which the Americans and UK delegations criticised the Cubans.
The internet has allowed greater freedom of the press than ever before in human history but many governments have shown tendencies to try to combat this freedom wherever they can.
Reporters Without Borders is an NGO dedicated to protecting journalists and the rights of the press.
“Every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, 1,000 assaulted or threatened, and over 500 media outlets censored. All of these violations have serious consequences which need to be tracked in order to better counteract them.” – RSF
They also campaign against internet censorship, teach about online security and provide support for online journalists.
“Netizens now play an essential role in the vanguard of news coverage worldwide. However, more and more often, they are becoming victims of threats and censorship by governments who fear this new cyberspace of freedom.”
Organisations like this are becoming increasingly necessary with the climate of censorship and harassment of the press that appears to be growing more prevalent in countries that would have previously supporting a free media.
The US have traditionally taken great pride in their press freedoms but in recent years have found ways to undermine any attempts at investigative journalism.
“Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal…He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous” – Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire.
The proposed resolution would call on member states to regulate and control surveillance, protect whistleblowers on a national level and spark an investigation by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This committee has previously shed light on CIA inference and secret detention centres.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), known frequently as the Tamil Tigers were rebels who fought in nearly 30 years of civil war before being defeated by the government in 2009. Ethnic Tamils claimed they faced, and still face, much discrimination from the Sinhalese ethnic majority. The goal of the Tigers was to create an independent Tamil state. A UN report says that up to 40,000 people were killed in the final days of the conflict.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, just concluded a week long visit to Sri Lanka which followed a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling on Sri Lanka to investigate civil era war crimes committed by its government forces that passed in March.
“I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction…the fighting is over, the suffering is not”.
“This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced…the United Nations takes the issues of reprisals against people because they have talked to UN officials as an extremely serious matter.” – Pillay
But Rajapaksa claims that these ideas are created by ex-LTTE propaganda and the Sri Lankan people must choose whether to trust in their government or not rather than being “caricatured by external entities influenced by vested interests.”
Pillay will brief the UN Human Rights Council on her findings next month and a full report is due to be published in March 2014.