United Nations - UN General Assembly asked to send strong signal to Human Rights Council


    MONTREAL, Nov. 5 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders appealed for
vigilance by United Nations member states as the UN General Assembly was
poised today to endorse a reform package adopted by the Geneva-based UN Human
Rights Council.
    "Among decisions adopted by the Human Rights Council is one, taken in
June, to not renew the mandates of the special rapporteurs on Cuba and
Belarus, two of the world's worst press freedom predators," the organisation
said. "Other countries such as Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo have
since then also requested the termination of the mandates of the special
rapporteurs on the human rights situation in their countries.
    "There is concern that these special rapporteurs - whose work is
essential - are going to be phased out. We call on the General Assembly not to
endorse this development and to send a strong signal to the Human Rights
Council.
    "This council, which was created nearly a year and a half ago, has yet to
prove its effectiveness. The wheeling and dealing between member states that
discredited the former Human Rights Commission has not gone away. And the end
of the mandates of certain special rapporteurs is disturbing. Today, it is the
General Assembly's duty to ask the council for explanations and to adopt all
necessary measures so that the council can finally do what it is supposed to
do - combat human rights violations throughout the world."
    It was only at the very last moment before the expiry of the midnight
18 June deadline set by the UN general assembly that Luis Alfonso de Alba,
Mexico's representative and the council's outgoing president, went before the
council and forced through his draft resolution on working procedures. De Alba
portrayed his proposal as a compromise although most of the delegates were
unaware of its content. Canada's representative challenged this solution and
demanded a debate, but his request was rejected by 46 votes to one (his own).
    Reporters Without Borders is particularly shocked by the Human Rights
Council's decision to terminate the mandates of the Cuba and Belarus
rapporteurs. This setback is the result of a deliberate policy on the part of
these countries' dictatorships to obstruct the rapporteurs.

    Press freedom in Cuba

    Three journalists have been convicted of "pre-criminal social
dangerousness" since Raul Castro took over as acting president in 26 July 2006
after his brother, Fidel, fell ill. One is Oscar Sanchez Madan, the Cubanet
website's correspondent in Matanzas province, who was sentenced to four years
in prison in a secret trial held immediately after his arrest. His family was
unable to attend and he was not represented by a lawyer.
    The other two, who also received prison sentences, are Raymundo Perdigon
Brito, one of the founders of the independent Yayabo Press agency, and Ramon
Velazquez Toranso of the Libertad news agency. Harassment of dissidents
currently takes the form of intimidation by the State Security (the political
police), sudden summonses for questioning at police stations, and political
brutality. Access to Internet cafés is also strictly regulated.
    According to the (illegal but tolerated) Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation, Cuba's prisons are currently holding 246
prisoners of conscience, including 24 dissident journalists. They continue to
be mistreated by their guards and to be held in cells that are unfit for
habitation, and their health has suffered as a result.

    Press freedom in Belarus

    Belarus was placed 151st out of 169 countries in the 2007 world press
freedom index. This was Europe's worst ranking. Belarus is also one of
Europe's last Stalinist-style dictatorships. The police recently arrested
journalists prevently, before an opposition demonstration. The state's
monopoly of newspaper distribution has resulted in the disappearance of
independent publications from almost all news stands. The government's
preferred tool for silencing dissident publications is administrative
harassment - seizure of issues, refusal to register a newspaper's address
(making it illegal to continue publishing), non-renewal of rental contracts
for premises, and so on. The government recently turned its attention to the
Internet where, in its view, "anarchy reigns." A commission of lawyers has
been created to propose regulations that would restore online order. President
Lukashenko has referred to China as a model for managing the Internet.



For further information: Emily Jacquard, secretary general, Reporters
Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org