(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – Iran has declared itself a candidate for the United Nations’ new human rights body, joining several dozen other states that have put forward their names ahead of next month’s election.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) was created to replace the 60-year-old U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), which in recent years was increasingly discredited by the presence of countries with poor human rights records, politically motivated action or inaction, and a disproportionate targeting of Israel.

Washington last month voted against the U.N. resolution establishing the body, arguing that it did not go far enough to ensure that rights violators would be excluded.

Western human rights campaigners give Iran bad marks, with Freedom House, the veteran independent human rights watchdog, designating the country “not free.” On both political rights and civil liberties, Iran scores 6 on a Freedom House scale of 1-7. A score of one indicates most free, and seven least free.

The State Department’s latest report on global human rights, released last month, said that during 2005, “the [Iranian] government’s poor human rights record worsened, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses.”

The report cited problems including torture, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, lack of fair trials, discrimination against women and “severe restrictions on freedom of religion.”

Last December, in a 71-54 vote (with 55 abstentions), the U.N. General Assembly passed a strongly worded resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations.

The regime in Tehran is controversial for other reasons, including a history of support for terrorists, a nuclear program that has raised suspicions and is now before the Security Council, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls for the destruction of Israel, a fellow U.N. member state.

According to the U.N., Iran is among 32 nations that have put forward their names as of late Tuesday. The names are posted on a U.N. website.

Attempts to get confirmation from the foreign ministry in Tehran overnight and early Wednesday were unsuccessful. An Iranian diplomat based in a Western capital tried to seek confirmation, but was unable to do so.

Iran is not the only troubling candidate among the 32.

Others rated “not free” under Freedom House criteria are Pakistan, Russia, Algeria and Azerbaijan, while candidates rated “partly free” are Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Georgia and Nicaragua.

Those designated “free” are Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Portugal, Greece, South Korea, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project and Touro Law School professor, noted late Tuesday that only four countries — the U.S., Israel and two small Pacific island nations — voted against the resolution setting up the HRC.

Over their objections, “the U.N. abolished its central human rights body and put in its place an entity without a single substantive criterion for membership. The only qualification was geography,” Bayefsky said. “Why shouldn’t Iran take that as a nod?”

She also predicted that China, Russia and Cuba would all run — and be elected.

The United States has not yet announced whether it will run for election in the 47-member HRC.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has introduced a resolution urging the U.S. not to participate in the HRC, arguing there were “only superficial changes” to its now-defunct predecessor.

Seeking membership would undermine U.S. credibility and give the HRC “unwarranted legitimacy,” his non-binding resolution reads.

Frist also wants the administration to withdraw funding from the HRC “until meaningful reforms are undertaken.” He says the U.S. should, together with like-minded democracies, establish an effective human rights oversight body outside of the U.N. system.

The proposal echoes those made by a number of U.S. political analysts and critics of the U.N. in recent months.

Heritage Foundation President Dr. Edwin Feulner wrote last week that such an extra-U.N. institution could be funded by contributions that the U.S. would otherwise make to the HRC and could “serve as a watchdog over the new council.”

“It is time for ‘plan B’ — Senator Frist’s recent call for the creation of a multilateral human rights body with the abusers on the outside where they belong,” Bayefsky said Tuesday.

Frist’s move drew applause from Concerned Women for America whose president, Wendy Wright, said “American tax dollars should not be wasted on a fraud.”

On the other hand Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said last week the U.S. should stand for election on the HRC despite its shortcomings.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep, Tom Lantos, also wants the U.S. to participate in the process.

Who will get on?

While the now-defunct UNCHR’s 53 members were put forward by regional groupings, the 47 members of the new body will be elected directly and individually by the General Assembly on May 9, ahead of the council’s first meeting in Geneva on June 19.

One of the touted improvements of the HRC process is that U.N. member states will be asked, when voting, to take into account candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Candidates will need 96 votes — two-thirds of the total membership of 191 states — to be successful. The U.S. had pressed for a two-thirds threshold, or 128 countries, but without success.

Although members will be voted on individually, in order to ensure “equitable geographic distribution,” the new council also reserves 13 seats each for Africa and Asia, eight for Latin American and the Caribbean, six for Eastern Europe, and seven for WEOG — the Western European and Others Group, which includes non-European democracies such as the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Of the 32 nations currently named by the U.N. as candidates, so far only five have come forward for the 13 Asia seats, and only one for the 13 seats designated for Africa.

The Eastern European race looks set to offer the greatest competition, judging by the current candidates — 13 nations, all formerly communist, have put forward their names for six seats.

And eight nations have so far declared their candidacies for WEOG’s seven seats.

Under the new rules, countries will not be able to serve more than two consecutive, three-year terms: After a six-year stint, a particular nation will have to sit out for at least one year.

Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.


NOTE TO STUDENTS:  This article is very long, and might not seem that interesting to you.  But don’t get discouraged – you will start voting soon and it is important for you to understand various national/global issues so that you can be an informed voter.  The issues in the U.N. are very important to every American citizen, as the U.S. dues to the U.N. are approximately 22% of the entire general budget (in 2005 the U.S. dues were approximately $440 million, and total U.S. contributions to the UN in 2005 were: $1,959,053,000).  That money comes from your taxes.   191 countries are members of the U.N. and the U.S. pays almost 1/4 of the dues.

1.  For what reasons was the UNCHR discredited in recent years?

2.  Why did the U.S. oppose the establishment of the new HRC?

3.  What is Freedom House?  How did Freedom House rate Iran on its human rights record?

4.  What did the U.S. State Department report say about Iran’s human rights record?  List the specific types of human rights abuses committed by Iran that were documented by the State Department.

5.  The United Nations’ UNCHR and HRC were both established with the purpose of upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights found on the U.N.’s website here.  Scroll down and read the first few articles of the declaration.
Do you think that Iran abides by all of the articles of the Declaration on Human Rights?

6.  Why might 54 countries vote against condemning Iran’s human rights violations?

7.  For what other reasons is Iran’s government controversial?

8.  Why might countries that commit human rights abuses want to be on the Human Rights Council (HRC)?

Questions 1-8 are taken from the first 11 paragraphs of the article.  If time permits, answer the following:

9.  Sen. Bill Frist recommends that the U.S. not participate in the HRC.  What alternate plan does he suggest?  How does Dr. Feulner suggest funding Sen. Frist’s plan?  What do you think of their ideas?  Explain your answer.

10.  Re-read para. #28.  What recommendation will be made to U.N. member states when voting for HRC members?  Will this be an effective way to ensure that countries that violate human rights will not become members of the HRC?  Explain your answer.

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