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Records of Some New UN Rights Council Members Criticized
By Margaret Besheer
UNITED NATIONS — Human rights groups have criticized the election by the United Nations General Assembly of several countries with spotty rights' records to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Of the 18 countries elected Monday to the Geneva-based body, human rights advocates say only about a third are qualified.
The 47-member Human Rights Council is often the target of criticism for its focus on Israel and its election of some members who are accused of having spotty human rights records.
Seats on the council are allocated according to regional groupings. This year, the only group putting forward a competitive slate was the Western and Others Group, which saw Ireland, Germany and the United States beat Greece and Sweden for three open seats.
The United States won a second consecutive term to the rights council, after in the past choosing not to be a part. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington is better positioned and more likely to strengthen the body by continuing to be a part of it.
“We made the decision in 2009 to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council because the United States believes that we must be at the forefront of speaking out against human rights abuses and speaking up in favor of those who are suffering and living under the grip of the world’s cruelest regimes," said Rice.
The winners of the council’s other vacant seats were predetermined within their regional groups, which put forward only enough candidates to fill their empty seats.
Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone will fill the five vacant African seats. Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates will fill the five open Asia-Pacific seats. Estonia and Montenegro will hold the two Eastern European seats while Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela take the three seats of the group of Latin American and Caribbean states.
Rights groups have expressed doubts about whether at least seven of these countries - Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela - have adequate human rights records of their own.
Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion criticized the lack of competition and the questionable records of some of the council’s new members.
“It is certainly the case of Pakistan, which, for example, needs to do much more to end abuses, including to protect religious minorities or repeal the blasphemy law. It’s also certainly the case of Venezuela which falls short of member standards and needs to, for example, restore judicial independence or release Judge [Maria Lourdes] Afiuni. And it is also the case of the UAE, which needs to end rights abuses in the country. including the arbitrary detention of 63 prisoners," said Bolopion.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan said rights groups are welcome to criticize his country’s bid, saying that is their right. He added that Pakistan attaches importance to all human rights.
“All human rights - whether they are civil or political or economic, cultural or social. There is no hierarchy, all these rights are part of an integral whole; they can’t be fragmented," said Khan.
The five African countries selected to sit on the Human Rights Council have all come under some form of criticism as well. HRW's Bolopion singled out Ethiopia’s poor rights record.
“The Ethiopian government should take this opportunity to take meaningful steps, for example, to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly or to start holding its security forces to account, as well as maybe start really cooperating with the Human Rights Council it is now set to join," he said.
The new members will serve three year terms beginning in January.
QUESTION: Thank you Mr. President. Senator John McCain, and Senator Lindsey Graham both said today that they want to have Watergate-style hearings on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and said that if you nominate Susan Rice to be secretary of State, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination. Senator Graham said, he simply doesn’t trust Ambassador Rice after what she said about Benghazi. I’d like your reaction to that? And -- and would those threats deter you from making a nomination like that?
OBAMA: Well first of all I’m not going to comment on various nominations that I’ll put forward to fill out my cabinet for the second term. Those are things that are still being discussed. But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill, and professionalism, and toughness, and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.
OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody? They should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. And, you know, we’re after an election now.
I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi and I’m happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have and we will continue to provide information. And we’ve got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.
And I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem. And we’ve got to get to the bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We’ve got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won’t get any debate from me on that.
But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.
QUESTION: I want to take Chuck’s lead and just ask a very small follow-up, which is whether you feel you have a mandate not just on taxes, but on a range of issues because of your decisive victory? But I want to stay on Benghazi, based on what John asked, because you said, “If they want to come after me, come after me.”
I wanted to ask about the families of these four Americans who were killed. Sean Smith’s father, Ray, said he believes his won basically called 9-1-1 for help and they didn’t get it. And I know you’ve said you grieve for these four Americans; that it’s being investigated. But the families have been waiting for more than two months.
QUESTION: So, I would like to -- for you to address the families, if you can. On 9/11, as commander in chief, did you issue any orders to try to protect their lives?
OBAMA: Ed, you know, I’ll address the families not through the press. I’ll address the families directly, as I already have. And we will provide all the information that is available about what happened on that day. That’s what the investigation is for.
But as I said repeatedly, if people don’t think that we did everything we can to make sure that we saved the lives of the folks who I sent there and who were carrying out missions on behalf of the United States, then you don’t know how our Defense Department thinks or our State Department thinks or our CIA thinks. Their number one priority is obviously to protect American lives. That’s what our job is.
OBAMA: ... Ed, we’re -- I’ll put forward -- I will put forward every bit of information that we have.
I can can tell you that immediately upon finding out that our folks were in danger that my orders to my national security team were do whatever we need to do to make sure they’re safe. And that’s the same order that I would give anytime that I see Americans are in danger, whether they’re civilian or military, because that’s our number one priority.
With respect to the issue of mandate, I’ve got one mandate: I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that have been working hard to try to get into the middle class. That’s my mandate. That’s what the American people said. They said, ‘Work really hard to help us. Don’t worry about the politics of it. Don’t worry about the party interests. Don’t worry about the special interests. Just work really hard to see if you can help us get ahead, because we’re working really hard out here and we’re still struggling, a lot of us. That’s my mandate.
I don’t presume that because I won an election that everybody suddenly agrees with me on everything. I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn’t get re-elected just to bask in re- election. I got elected to do work on behalf of American families, and small businesses all across the country who are still recovering from a really bad recession, but are hopeful about the future. And I am too.
How Obama vs. McCain/Graham poisons the bipartisan well
by Aaron Blake on November 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm
The most striking moment of President Obama’s press conference Wednesday was when he went after Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in no uncertain terms.
Graham and McCain have made clear in recent days that they wouldn’t vote to confirm U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State due to a lingering controversy about what Rice said in the days after the attack on Benghazi, Libya. Rice suggested at the time that the deaths were due to a spontaneous demonstration sparked by an anti-Islam video, but it soon came out that it was a planned attack.
Graham has suggested Rice is “incompetent” and said he doesn’t trust her, while McCain said she is “not qualified” to serve as secretary of state.
Obama took umbrage at both men Wednesday.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said, adding: “When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
The moment was a stark reminder of the contentious political environment in which we remain even after last week’s election — something nobody should forget when it comes to the so-called “fiscal cliff” and immigration reform.
In recent days, many big-name conservatives and Republicans have suggested they are willing to give a little more when it comes to revenue increases, taxes and illegal immigration.
And Obama started the press conference by striking a note of bipartisanship as well, even praising McCain for his past support of comprehensive immigration reform and paths to citizenship.
Just minutes later, though, McCain was in the crosshairs, with Obama visibly angry over the attacks on a woman who is seen as the frontrunner to become his next secretary of state. Obama argued that she was merely reciting the (faulty) intelligence that was available at the time and bears little or no responsibility for anything related to Benghazi.
“To besmirch her reputation is outrageous,” Obama said.
Graham’s office quickly responded to Obama’s remarks, hitting back just as hard.
“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi,” Graham said. “I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.
“Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”
McCain was a little more measured in his response, but no less firm: “We owe the American people and the families of the murdered Americans a full and complete explanation, which for two months the president has failed to deliver.”
The ramping up of rhetoric over Benghazi should remind us all that both sides have closely guarded prerogatives and political bases that will bristle at the idea of middle ground when it comes to important issues — whether it’s Benghazi or taxes or immigration (the latter on which Graham and McCain just happened to be some of Obama’s most likely GOP partners).
Talking about compromise is much easier than effecting it, and the duality of Obama’s press conference — one minute talking about bipartisanship and the next minute engaging in a heated partisan spat — serves as a reality check.
No matter which side you think is in the right here, the fact is that both sides are dug in and have a huge amount of political capital at stake. What was already a contentious issue in Libya will only become more so after Wednesday’s press conference.
And as the two sides settle in for a high-profile negotiations about the future of the American economy, the well of bipartisanship has certainly been poisoned — at least a little, and maybe a lot.
She appears to be a favorite for the position now. Among her "accomplishments" are going on the cover up tour on National television regarding Benghazi, refusing to intervene in Rwanda due to concerns regarding the election, and refusing to take Osama Bin Laden. Sterling! On top of it all, she refuses to listen to opinions that differ from her own. A great attribute for a diplomat.
Susan Rice was viewed by many officials and diplomats as very bright, but also as inexperienced and inflexible. Rice was considered[by whom?] "young, brilliant, and ambitious." Though she worked to "integrate Africa in the global economy while at the same time aiming to increase U.S. national security," she was criticized by detractors who considered her "authoritarian, brash, and unwilling to consider opinions that differ[ed] from her own". Reportedly, the young Rice engaged in various disputes involving career diplomats within the State Department's African bureau.
At the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, Rice reportedly said, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?" Rice subsequently acknowledged the mistakes made at the time and felt that a debt needed repaying. The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would inform her later views on possible military interventions. She would later say of the experience: "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required."
In a 2002 op-ed piece in the Washington Post, former Ambassador to Sudan Timothy M. Carney and news contributor Mansoor Ijaz implicated Rice and counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke in missing an opportunity to neutralize Osama bin Laden while he was still in Sudan in 1996. They write that Sudan and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were ready to cooperate on intelligence potentially leading to Bin Laden, but that Rice and Clarke persuaded National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to overrule Albright. Similar allegations have been made by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose and Richard Miniter, author of Losing Bin Laden, in a November 2003 interview with World.
While the writings of Carney, Ijaz, Rose and Miniter each claim that Sudan offered to turn Bin Laden over to the US and that Rice was central in the decision not to accept the offer.
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