By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
As the Security Council’s newly-minted member in January 2017, my country Ethiopia – through Ambassador Tekeda Alemu – was found last Wednesday lining up with the few opponents of the Council’s consideration of Human Rights and the Prevention of Armed Conflict.
Certainly, the world cannot miss why the murderous TPLF regime in Ethiopia is fallaciously opposed to such timely and important thematic undertaking by the Security Council, i.e., to integrate human rights into its work on international peace and security. Striking, however, is the intriguing coincidence, if at all, of the discussions on the inter-related issues taking place on the same day in both Addis Abeba and New York.
The very day the UN Security Council was discussing how to handle human rights issues in its future work, in Ethiopia the country’s unrepresentative parliament received a report from the TPLF Human Rights Commissioner on the killings by security forces of 669 Ethiopians (figure suspect) since August 2016. These are TPLF regime’s victims, massacred for demanding their fundamental human rights, freedom and the equality of citizens.
Of interest to the Council is that this lawless action by the regime has ever since left Ethiopia tittering on the margins of instability, despite the recently-extended martial law that since October 2016 has enveloped the nation.
The regime has realized that its horrendous crimes can no longer be pushed under the rug, although it has as yet not accepted full responsibility. Most important, however, is the limited admission of culpability, which by itself is an outcome of the beneficial value of international pressure insisting on international investigations into the security forces’ cruel and needless shootings of unarmed people.
Accordingly, it is understood that the TPLF regime has been pressured into allowing its handpicked members of parliament, as per journalist Tigest Zerihun, who reports about a bill being adopted, requiring the culprits (TPLF security forces) responsible for the killings of citizens to be held accountable.
Reasonably effective especially in this is the strong public position the UN Human Rights High Commissioner has taken. The tragedy is that the Human Rights Council, hamstrung as it is by dictators, has not to date acted in support of his efforts.
Why this piece now?
Against the backdrop of the need to ensuring the rights of affected populations and relying on history and the procedures and practices of the United Nations Security Council, this article will attempt to expose how irresponsible the opposition to the Council’s efforts to improve its efficacy is, seen against Article 24, which details its functions and powers.
At the core of the problem in the April 18, 2017 discussion is whether the Council has the mandate, or if all it is the right forum to discuss the linkages between peace and security on one hand and problems of the crimes of human rights violations on the other as cause for conflicts, which by now has been considered sort of the real political déjà vu.
Fortunately, countering or overriding it has also been made easier for the Security Council. All that it needs to do is show its actions are, as expressly stated in the Charter in Article 24 (2), “in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations. [These relate to] The specific powers granted to the Security Council for the discharge of these duties are laid down in Chapters VI, VII, VIII, and XII.”
Personally, I hold the strong view that respect for the human rights of all peoples requires, among others, ensuring and preserving national and regional peace – the building blocks of international peace and security.
Further, UN history informs that the Security Council is the only United Nations organ that from the get go has been handed by the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations the least detailed recommendations about its operations. The Commission left that since the Council meets continuously, it could develop its own organization and program of work.
In addition, the repertoires of United Nations practices show accumulated experiences by the Security Council operating in that manner. Who could have thought, for instance, the Council would hold a session on the impact of AIDS on January 10, 2000? It was no shock for anyone either, when again the Security Council met on September 15, 2014 in an emergency session on the Ebola crisis.
In both instances, not a single soul itched to propose the World Health Organization (WHO) was the appropriate body for the discussion on the global health crisis!
At the time, to my liking is the statement by US vice president Al Gore, who in a forward looking message during the Council’s deliberations on AIDS stated:
“…[T]here were new forces that now or soon would challenge the international order, raising issues of peace and war. It was time to change the nature of the way we live together on this planet…From that vantage point, we must forge and follow a new agenda for world security. That agenda included the challenges of: the environment; drugs and corruption; terror; and new pandemics.”
The Council’s latest deliberation
Taking part in Wednesday’s deliberation in the Security Council were its members: Bolivia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.
No sooner than the discussion began, it became evident the members of the Council were divided on the matter, the majority supporting the UN Security Council’s involvement in human rights issues.
On the other hand, states like Egypt and Ethiopia, two notorious human rights violators, were on the frontline of opposition to human rights becoming a concern for the Council. In league with these were also: Bolivia, China, Senegal and the Russian Federation.
While some of them especially China and Russia tried to put a strong face to their argument, others simply slammed the door shut, lurking behind sovereignty and the pretext of the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) existence for the task. This was the only basis on which they registered their denial of support for the Security Council expanding its role to countering threats to international peace and security, via its examination of the human rights dimension.
On his part, Secretary-General António Guterres, in emphasizing the strong linkage between peace and security and citing Article 24 of the Charter, reminded the Council that it must take human rights into account in all its deliberations “so as to prevent armed conflict.”
He elaborated that, as follows:
“Article 24 of the UN Charter is clear: the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security rests with this Council ‘in order to ensure prompt and effective action…
While peace, security and sustainable development were mutually dependent, the United Nations sometimes dealt with those three pillars separately, [resulting in ] the consequent fragmentation as a major weakness. It was, therefore, critical to ensure better and less politicized action on human rights, which in turn would complement progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If we are truly to address today’s challenges, we must make prevention our priority, tackle the root causes of conflict, help build and strengthen institutions, and react earlier and more effectively to address human rights concerns,” he stressed.”
I am not surprised that some of those opposed to the Security Council highlighting the linkages between human rights and peace are also the HRC members! The international community must be clear-eyed to understand that those authoritarian nations are now recommending treatment of human rights issues to be left to the Human Rights Council (HRC) alone.
Their rationales are clearly self-interested. HRC is a body over which they have strong control. Many HRC member states are themselves under the control of dictators, burrowing the Council from within and on a daily basis! We should all be aware that this has led to the dissipation of the HRC’s reforms introduced in 2006. For all intents and purposes, the reforms have been fossilized to make the Council irrelevant, as also its eight-year old Universal Periodic Review (UPR), by which supposedly the human rights profile of each member state is to be reviewed by the HRC.
For this, see my March 1/2017 article; it discusses how dictators have taken charge of such an important international body dealing with human rights!
For instance, recall that the massacre in Burundi had dictated the UN Security Council to send its members to that country in January 2016 in its unsuccessful efforts to stave off the turmoil and ethnic conflict, initiated by Pierre Nkurunziza’s violation of the country’s constitution via power grab!
Why in the first place the African Union’s Candidature Committee and states members of the region allowed Burundi to become a member is the question to be asked! This, the AU and states members of the region did in October 2015, as media reports were showing that Nkurunziza was seizing power by force, vowing to eliminate the opposition and civil society.
Readers are aware Burundi in turmoil at this very moment is one of the judges on the Human Rights Council’s 47-member body. Since it joined the HRC in 2016, its three-year term expires only at the end of 2018. The same is true with Ethiopia that has been HRC member since 2013, while the TPLF regime has been mowing down citizens at will with bullets.
For the record, on Wednesday UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused Burundi of “grotesque rape chants” that expose the prevailing “campaign of terror”, in a state member of the UN Human Rights Council!
Is there more terrible joke than this within the international system, or when those in the Security Council say human rights should be handled by the Human Rights Council alone?
Profile of the Security Council’s deliberations and the deceits
In defending such a criminal regime in Ethiopia, the TPLF-run Ethiopian state at the moment has found itself under pressure for its killings in Oromia, Amhara and SNNPR in November 2015 and since August 2016 the UN still is demanding to undertake its investigations of Ethiopian protesters. That in mind, Tekeda Alemu maliciously argues:
Just like Ethiopia, Egypt also expressed unfounded concern over attempts to expand the Security Council’s mandate to include issues that fell under the auspices of other organs. In that context, Egypt noted about some governments using human rights as a “backdoor” to interfere in the affairs of sovereign states.
While China seemingly seemed to showing support for the idea the Council plans, it concluded by making a remark with veiled opposition, as follows:
“Disputes between countries should be settled through dialogue based on Charter principles, he said, adding that the root causes of conflict — including extreme poverty, imbalanced development and tribal tensions — must also be addressed. Countries involved in conflict must take the lead in seeking solutions, with dialogue turning differences into the force driving progress.
With some experiences in diplomacy and as a former International Civil Servant with the United Nations, who constantly looks the world through the rear mirror, I hold the strong view that respect for the human rights of all peoples is key element in ensuring and to preserving national and regional peace – the building blocks of international peace and security.”
In what sounded reasonable, Russia’s coated opposition stated:
“[I]t would be impossible to guarantee respect for human rights without first guaranteeing peace and security, stressing that preventing and settling armed conflicts were the main prerequisites for correcting human rights violations, and not vice versa. The main responsibility for preventing armed conflict and protecting and promoting human rights fell on States, with the United Nations extending cooperation in that regard, he said, underlining that the Council’s best contribution would be to work effectively in accordance with its mandate to guarantee stability, peace and security.”
Self-interest dictates these countries to close their and claim that UNSC has no role in human rights, or it is not within its realm? Past experiences show that the Council has been empowered to take up any issues it deems essential and important to carry out its responsibilities under Article 24 of the Charter.
Uruguay was upfront in its support for discussing human rights in whatever form the Council agrees on. While making it emphasizing that it is up to governments to ensure the human rights of their citizens, it argued that there should be no forum where human rights cannot be discussed.
Also Uruguay underlined, it would not accept sovereignty as a pretext for refusing to discuss human rights. In that it supported the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’s statement in which he noted “sovereignty is threatened when leaders responsible for committing crimes against humanity are not duly punished and impunity prevails.”
Recalling that the Security Council has failed Rwanda in 1994 in the hour of its need during the genocide, Ukraine sought the Council to take prompt action in response to human rights violations.
The United States representative Nikki Haley, current month Security Council President, according to The New York Times, presented the supposedly Trump Administration position, stating: “In case after case, human rights violations and abuses are not merely the incidental byproduct of conflict. They are the trigger for conflict.”
For France, the link between human rights and the maintenance of peace and security was obvious, as seen in Syria, where the conflict begun six years ago. It accused Bashar al-Assad of violating the human rights of young people in Dera’a city, as he continued to commit grave crimes.
The United Kingdom added its voice to this, stating that the Security Council cannot discharge its Charter responsibilities fully without addressing human rights.
Sweden called for the integration of human rights into Council discussions, as the body’s approach to those issues had evolved.
UNSC’s deliberations beneficial to preventing conflicts
From the beginning in the early 1940s, a world viewing its problems through the League of Nations’ experiences was also persuaded by this very same idea in setting up the United Nations. Accordingly, that notion is seen interspersed in the 1942 ‘Declaration of the United Nations‘, to the common programs of which Ethiopia had the privilege of subscribing to on July 28, 1942, as one of its 21 adherent nations.
Thus states formulation of the 1942 declaration, which gave birth to the United Nations, as follows:
“…[C]omplete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world”.
Of course, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reacted the first time on August 10, 2016 condemning the killings of unarmed civil protestors by the security forces to Reuters and demanding unfettered access to United Nations investigators, to which the TPLF regime to this day has resisted.
His language was literally accusing the regime of crimes against humanity, or impunity, in legal terms which should have landed the TPLF regime at the dock of the International Criminal Court (ICC), were it not for its protection by the powers to be for now. Even the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) in Article 4, clearly urges “respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political
assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has in the Rome Statute made clear its intolerance of impunity, which in its Preamble says is determined to work toward its end.
The High Commissioner thus told Reuters: “The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromiya and Amhara, the towns there of course would be a very serious concern for us”. This he again presented to the Human Rights Council (HRC), which is a dead body nowadays dominated by dictators such as Ethiopia itself.
Most unfortunate is, when a poor developing nation with superpower pretensions displays tendencies of ‘big power’ subregional or regional interests. This comes out, without it noticing it, because of which it finds itself naked before the world community, suffering self-inflicted embarrassment, which is happening now to Ethiopia.
A serious nation never forgets the lessons of history that the brilliant Napoleon Bonaparte suffered the delusion of grandeur, that only to become grit to the French leader’s downfall.