Three of ‘World’s Worst’ Regimes Sit on U.N. Human Rights Council

Patrick Goodenough | June 3, 2011 | 4:53am EDT
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The Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Monday, March 21, 2011. (UN Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre)

(Update: Corrects percentage in last paragraph.)

( – Three of the world’s 17 most repressive regimes, as identified in a new report released this week,  have been members of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council since its inception and have never been censured by that body.

China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia have never been the subject of a condemnatory resolution or a special session at the Geneva-based HRC, an entity created by the U.N. in 2006 with the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights “around the globe.”

All three won seats in the council’s inaugural election in 2006, and were re-elected in 2009 for further three-year terms.

China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia were named by the veteran U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House Wednesday among the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Others on the list – a mix of Islamic, communist, military-ruled and authoritarian states – are Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as Belarus, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Laos and Syria.

They are joined by three territories: China-occupied Tibet, the Moscow-backed breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, and Western Sahara, a region mostly controlled by Morocco.

The Freedom House “Worst of the Worst 2011” report was released at a press conference in Geneva, where the HRC is holding a three-week regular session.

The organization expressed satisfaction that “a small but increasing number” of countries that regularly feature in its report have been the subject of HRC resolutions or special sessions.

“While we have been pleased by a recent improvement in the response of the council to the ongoing abuses taking place in these countries, Freedom House would like to see more decisive U.N. action on other countries as well,” said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House director of advocacy.

Chinese ambassador He Yafei addresses the Human Rights Council on April 4, 2011. (Photo: Chinese Mission, Geneva)

Voice of America quoted her as singling out China.

“It has never been the target of a successful resolution or a special session at the Human Rights Council or previously at the Commission on Human Rights [the HRC’s predecessor] despite the fact that egregious violations take place in the country,” Schriefer said, citing the repression of Tibetans, Uighurs and Falun Gong adherents.

Of the 17 countries on the Freedom House list, seven have been the focus of HRC resolutions or special sessions -- Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria.

Statistics kept by the Hudson Institute’s “Eye on the U.N.” project show that the HRC has passed nine resolutions on Burma; eight on Sudan; four each on North Korea and Somalia; two on Cote d’Ivoire; and one each on Libya and Syria.

By contrast, Israel has been the focus of 38 HRC resolutions – or 48 percent of the total number of 79 country-specific resolutions passed since 2006.

Freedom House has been grading the world’s countries for nearly 40 years, labeling them either “free,” “partly free” or “not free,” based on scores for political rights and civil liberties.

The countries making the “Worst of the Worst” report are those at the very bottom of the “not free” group.

With the exception of the inaugural HRC election in 2006, “free” countries have never constituted a majority of members of the council (see graph), a situation repeated when U.N. member states met last month to install 15 new members.

Members may only serve two consecutive two-year terms, and must then take a break of at least one year before standing for election again. Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba will therefore be off the council for at least a year after their current term ends in 2012.

A five year-long decline

This year’s “Worst of the Worst” report noted a troubling trend – “an overall decline in global respect for the values of liberal democracy” over the past five years. Freedom House said that was the longest single period of erosion in political rights and civil liberties since the organization began its annual reports almost four decades ago.

At the same time, the report pointed out that the situation globally today is significantly better than in was 30 years ago, with dozens of countries having exchanged dictatorships and authoritarian regimes for democratically elected governments.

In 1980, Freedom House rated 31 percent of the world’s countries as “free,” 31 percent as “partly free” and 37 percent as “not free.”  This year, 45 percent are “free,” 31 percent “partly free” and 24 percent “not free.”

Still, the 24 percent of countries that are “not free” today are together home to a little over four billion people, or around 58 percent of the world’s population.

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