New U.N. watchdog group gets more criticism

/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.N. secretary-general expressed disappointment Wednesday with a decision by the U.N.'s new human rights watchdog to single out Israel for investigation of human rights violations.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva agreed Tuesday to continue their scrutiny of Israel while halting investigations into Cuba and Belarus — a move that immediately drew fire from the United States.

The council was created in March 2006 to replace the widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. One aim was to keep some of the worst human rights offenders out of its membership. But it has been widely criticized in its first year for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was disappointed at the council's decision to "single out only one specific regional item," a reference to keeping Israel under investigation, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

He also emphasized the need for the council " to consider all situations of possible human rights violations equally," she said.

In reaction to the council's decision to remove mandates on Cuba and Belarus, the secretary-general noted that not having a U.N. special investigator "assigned to a particular country does not absolve that country from its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and every other human rights treaty," Montas said.

Ban also commended the members of the council for their hard work reaching consensus on a number of issues during the first year and welcomed their decision to establish a "universal periodic review" mechanism under which all countries will have their rights record examined regularly, Montas said.

"The periodic review holds great promise for opening a new chapter in human rights promotion and underscores the universality of human rights," she said. "No country, big or small, will be immune from scrutiny."