The Government of Singapore, for example, with the highest per capita rate of judicial executions in the world, has firmly rejected a request for a visit. Instead the Government has opted to level ad hominem attacks by accusing the Special Rapporteur of pursuing a “personal agenda” that exceeds his mandate. Rather than opting to engage, the Government of Singapore asserts that it is for the Government whose practices are called into question, rather than the Special Rapporteur, to interpret the mandate given by the Council.
Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 21 (IPS) – The United Nations is disappointed that an increasingly large number of member states are either refusing to respond to charges of extra-judicial killings or have turned down requests for visits by U.N. special envoys mandated to monitor arbitrary and summary executions in these countries.
The 27 states that have so far failed to agree to visits range from Security Council members, such as China, Russia and the United States, to countries like El Salvador, Kenya, Thailand, Israel, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
“The fact that 90 percent of countries identified as warranting a country visit have failed to cooperate with the system — and that the (Human Rights) Council has done nothing in response — is a major indictment of the system,” said Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
“No matter how grave the issue and how blatant or compromised the conduct of the relevant government,” the Geneva-based Human Rights Council “remains entirely unmoved,” Alston said in a 21-page report to the 62nd session of the General Assembly, which opened last week and concludes in December.
He also points out that he has “long sought” to draw attention to the violations of the right to life committed by the government of Iran “as a result of its executions of juveniles and of persons accused of crimes which cannot be considered to be among the most serious.”
“Such executions,” he noted, “have recently gathered pace and the silence of the international community can only bring discredit.”
Alston said that Iran had issued a “standing invitation” but has repeatedly failed to respond to requests for specific dates for a visit — “despite several meetings and an extensive correspondence.”
The only countries that have facilitated visits during the past year are Guatemala, Lebanon and the Philippines. Brazil, the Central African Republic and Yemen have issued invitations but visits are still pending.
An agreed visit to Guinea was aborted in March 2007 and the government subsequently failed to agree to a series of requests to re-schedule the mission.
Meanwhile, six members of the Human Rights Council — Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — have failed to issue requested invitations, according to the report. The remaining states with outstanding requests include Laos, Nepal, Singapore, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and Vietnam.
Their responses “have ranged from complete silence, through formal acknowledgement, acceptance in principle but without meaningful follow-up, to outright rejection.”
On the practice of so-called “targeted assassinations”, Alston said he has addressed allegations of such killings to both Israel and the United States, as well as to countries on whose territories such killings have taken place.
“The largest challenge has been the lack of cooperation these countries have shown. Israel has not addressed the substance of allegations, and the United States has insisted that the whole issue falls outside the mandate” of the special rapporteur, he added.
Tania Baldwin-Pask, adviser on International Organisations, International Law, and Organisations Programme at the London-based Amnesty International (AI), says this is a “chronic problem” for all U.N. human rights investigators.
“AI has consistently raised (this issue) because it is so fundamental to the functioning of the system that all member states cooperate with the special procedures. It goes to the heart of universality and non-selectivity, which so many states are keen to stress in other contexts,” she told IPS.
She also pointed out that the issue of non-cooperation, whether framed in terms of mission requests or in terms of responding to correspondence, regularly features in many of the reports of the U.N. special rapporteurs.
Alston, she pointed out, has been the most persistent in seeking to draw the attention of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly to this issue.
Regrettably, Baldwin-Pask said, the unwillingness of states to facilitate visit requests is quite common, although they have different ways in which they approach this.
She said few take the approach of Singapore (and as highlighted in the report) whereby they flatly refuse a mission request. Many take a considerable amount of time to “discuss with their capitals” and put in place the necessary arrangements for the visit to go ahead.
But because the Human Rights Council has no mechanism at this time to check — state by state — the status of mission requests, it is easy for states to simply ignore these requests.
Consequently, she said, you have states such as Turkmenistan which has never received a visit by human rights monitors, despite 11 different mandate-holders over the course of the past few years seeking to go on mission there.
And the Council, she complained, “as yet not taking action in response”.
It’s not only the number of visit requests either — the special rapporteur on torture, for example, has been seeking a mission to India since 1993. So, it can also be a question of time.
Citing another example, she said, it’s not only the thematic mandate-holders who struggle to gain access, even country rapporteurs can find themselves unable to visit as well. The special rapporteur on North Korea has never been able to visit that country.
Some member states like to use the opportunity of the Council or the General Assembly to announce that they have invited a particular U.N. rapporteur to visit, which on the face of it looks as if they are willing to cooperate with the special rapporteurs, or even the Council itself — only to postpone the mission, she added. Of course, states rarely make a public announcement about the postponement.
Zimbabwe, which has never allowed visits by U.N. human rights envoys, announced at a Council meeting that it would be hosting a visit by the special rapporteur on violence against women. But then it has now postponed that visit and there is no indication of when it might take place.
According to Amnesty International, Russia is one example of a state which had originally agreed to a visit by the special rapporteur on torture last October, but postponed it at the last minute apparently because visits to detention facilities would contravene national law, particularly with respect to carrying out unannounced visits and holding private interviews with detainees.
The United States has blocked a visit to its detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because it would not allow the rapporteurs to hold private interviews with detainees, Baldwin-Pask told IPS.
“The other point to note as well is that lack of cooperation in facilitating visits is one facet of a larger problem — states should also implement the recommendations arising from such visits.”
“All too often you see that states are willing to host the visit but then take no action to follow up on the recommendations,” said Baldwin-Pask.