OHCHR:

Bigger representation urged for developing nations

by Manjula Fernando

A resolution calling for enhanced geographical representation in the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to ensure fair treatment for developing states, was passed at the UN Human Rights Council last week.

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha a member of the Sri Lankan delegation to the 19th session of the UNHCR, commenting on this positive development said, “The resolution about the staff of the OHCHR, which was passed by an overwhelming majority, is of immense importance to all developing countries”.

He said at present OHCHR is dominated by personnel from developed countries, who are not concerned with the Economic and Social and Cultural Rights of developing nations, in particular the Right to Development, which are of crucial importance to countries like Sri Lanka.

The resolution introduced by Cuba last week was adopted by a vote of 33 in favour, 12 against and two abstentions.

The US which spoke against the resolution voted it down saying the UN Human Rights Council was not competent to make recommendations on the composition of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Hungary speaking on behalf of EU expressed similar sentiments and it too voted against the resolution with the US.

Prof. Wijesinha said “for many years now there has been great concern about the imbalance in the OHCHR.”

There has been debate that the composition was not just a question of Western domination in UN bodies, but also a problem that many of the recent recruits came from NGO backgrounds and they may work to the priorities of those NGOs, especially those that lived by advocacy critical of particular countries.

He said there were instances where junior UN staff flouted UN rules, and countermanded the statements of their seniors, by collecting and publicizing information adverse to Sri Lanka, often without checking of evidence and sources.

Sri Lanka raised this issue of composition in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on many previous occasions and blamed this ‘flaw’ for the lack of objectivity it has shown in dealing with Sri Lanka.

He said, “When the UN system is dominated by a particular set of attitudes, sometimes encouraged by countries that want to play power politics through the system, the dice are loaded against poorer countries.”

He said most countries have realised this flaw and the voting on the Resolution made it clear.

“When the problem is compounded by Western domination of the media, and the easy transformation of NGO activists in poorer countries into anti-governmental propagandists, the stage is set for Western agendas to find easy fulfilment. “

He said Sri Lanka needs to work together with like-minded countries to ensure that this Resolution finds fulfilment.

He emphasised that Sri Lanka must work with other SAARC countries to develop better programs in Developmental Administration and in International Relations for government officials, to provide the knowledge and the negotiating skills that will strengthen SAARC members in dealing with a rapidly changing world order.

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