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World News

Third World NGOs attack U.N. rights review "farce"

GENEVA (Reuters) - Campaign bodies from developing countries on Wednesday attacked the United Nations new-fledged universal human rights review process, with some saying it was quickly descending into farce.

But envoys of Morocco, one of the countries reviewed since the procedure kicked off on Monday, rejected the complaint, arguing that they had been open to criticism based on real facts and were ready to use it to advance human rights at home.

“The Arab and African countries are lining up to praise each other...It is an insult to the intelligence of the peoples they are supposed to represent,” said Saida Drissi Amrany, President of the Association of Moroccan Women.

And Rafendi Djamin of the Indonesian NGO (non-governmental organisation) Coalition for the Advancement of Human Rights, said a block mentality was dominating the hearings, “pushing it towards something like farce.”

The process, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), was set up within the two-year-old Human Rights Council -- which replaced a discredited earlier body -- and is supposed to scrutinise the rights records of all U.N. members over the next four years.

In the UPR, the 47 member countries of the Council -- itself viewed by critics as having fallen under control of a bloc of Islamic and African countries supported by Cuba, China and Russia -- are supposed to discuss reports from each country.

In the three hours allotted to each, they are also meant to probe complaints that have come to other U.N. rights bodies and suggest how governments can improve their performance.

PROTECTING EACH OTHER

But since Monday NGOs from Africa, the Middle East and Asia -- and Western-based human rights groups -- say the countries that have lined up together in the council are doing the same in the UPR, effectively protecting each other from serious review.

El Hassan Aharrath of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights told a news conference that friendly states were “working together to ensure real questions are not raised.”

U.N. summaries of the sessions so far -- in which Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Indonesia have been reviewed -- show that long passages of the remarks from other Islamic and African countries have consisted of praise for the state under review.

NGOs say this is a tactic to reduce the time available for serious review and for more probing questions from European and some Latin American and Asian countries -- who on Tuesday did press Tunisia on torture and press freedom.

Omar Hilale, Secretary General of Morocco’s Foreign Ministry, denied any bloc approach at the UPR.

“We have not come here to listen to praise. We have come to learn from criticism and suggestions that will help us improve our own human rights performance,” he said. “We did not avoid questions and answered all that were put to us.”

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