‘Theatre of the absurd’? World powers trade insults over rights abuses in Iran, North Korea
UNITED NATIONS — A key UN Committee has condemned Iran’s widespread use of the death penalty and has urged the Islamic Republic to eliminate “all discrimination and rights violations against women and girls.”
In a separate resolution, the Third Committee roundly chastised North Korea’s grave human rights situation and the communist country’s consistent use of torture and prison camps to control its population.
The resolutions capped a day of political high drama and heated debate as countries such as Venezuela representing the non Aligned Movement decreed the use of “country specific” resolutions which “created barriers” to resolving problems.
Canada introduced a draft resolution, “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Given the “scope and gravity of human rights violations in Iran remained high, with a number of executions being particularly concerning,” the text outlined a path of Teheran’s negligence in human rights compliance.
Both the representatives of Venezuela and Russia shot back calling “country specific resolutions counterproductive.”
An Iranian diplomat went so far as to lambast Canada’s “Hypocrisy and double standards” as “mind-boggling.” Syria went on to say the resolution “sought to ruin Iran’s reputation.” (sic)
A vote was taken with 83 in favor, 30 against and 68 abstentions. The resolution was adopted with support from Canada, the U.S., the European Union countries, Japan, Saudi Arabia among many others. Opposition predictably came from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus and China. Abstentions included Brazil and Mexico among others.
Another landmark draft resolution sponsored by Canada, Argentina, all members of the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. among others addressed the pressing and urgent, “Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” aka North Korea.
A tough ten-page document “condemns the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” such as “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.”
The resolution specifies, “The existence of an extensive system of political prison camps, where a vast number of persons are deprived of their liberty, and subjected to deplorable conditions, including forced labor.” It decries, “violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities.”
Estonia’s representative conceded the human rights issues in North Korea are overlooked given the “headline-grabbling nuclear issue.”
The resolution also outlined severe restrictions on the “freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief,” as well as lack of media freedoms.
The resolution “strongly urges the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to respect fully all human rights, and fundamental freedoms…to immediately close the political prison camps and to release all political prisoners unconditionally and without delay.”
Japan’s delegate stated that in North Korea “more than half the population lacked food and medical care, while many others had been deprived water and sanitation….[R]ather than meeting the needs of its people, the Government continued to divert resources to nuclear weapons and ballistic equipment.”
The Committee approved the draft resolution without a vote. There were two other contentious issues debated; human rights in Syria and the “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine.” While both resolutions passed, it was not without a withering rhetorical counterattack by Russia and its allies.
Moscow’s delegate slammed the proceedings as the “theatre of the absurd” while Syria took offense at the process being “politicized” and “debating propaganda.”
Interestingly, the Crimea vote saw the resolution pass with 71 Yes votes to 25 No and 77 abstentions. The USA, European Union, Israel, Costa Rica, and Turkey were among the Yes. But this gets really interesting; among the No votes beyond Russia, China, Cuba included Eritrea, India, Iran, Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Abstentions included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.
There’s a growing political pushback from Moscow and friends to counter “country specific” human rights resolutions. Why? Consider the countries and the issues. Iran, North Korea, Syria.
This seems all the more reason to keep the beacon of human rights transparency on those very places that urgently need the human rights attention for a population that can’t say so. Not to cover these issues would indeed create the theatre of the absurd.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]