Friday the 17th of June marked the end of the seventeenth session of the UN Human Rights Council - the last session of Ghana's five-year membership. When the Council reconvenes this September, will anyone notice Ghana's absence? Not likely.
Considered to be a leading African voice in the promotion of human rights, Ghana was elected to the Council with high expectations. Unfortunately, as its tenure at the Council ends, Ghana has neither lived up to its reputation nor the expectations. Ghana's record at the Council in the latter half of its term has been characterised by sporadic participation, occasionally negative voting practices and, most disappointingly to human rights advocates, a complete failure to be a leader at the Council.
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) recently released the third report in its Easier Said Than Done series. The report compared pre-election pledges made by Commonwealth countries at the Human Rights Council, with each country's actual performance at the UN and domestic levels. The report found that, despite written commitments from Ghana in 2008 that, if re-elected, it would participate actively in the work of the Council, from mid-2008 until mid-2010 Ghana was neither an active participant, nor a positive player.
Over the two-year period reviewed in the report, Ghana rarely participated during Council debates. Whereas its regional neighbour, Nigeria, made frequent interventions on a wide variety of subjects - Ghana's representatives only raised their voices occasionally. For example, during the 12th session, which lasted three weeks, Ghana made a few brief statements of little consequence on international solidarity and migrant rights and congratulated two countries, Comoros and Chad, on their human rights performance. Ghana's lack of participation continued in the period following the 12th session, but spiked somewhat in the 16th session when its representatives became slightly more active.
Despite not regularly being involved in the Council's debates and discussions, Ghana did participate in one of the substantive parts of the Council's work - the voting on resolutions. Ghana's voting record was regrettable. Resolutions at the Council are divided into two categories - those that focus on human rights situations in specific countries and those that focus more broadly on a thematic issue. While there is often disagreement between countries at the Council over the value of particular thematic resolutions, country-specific resolutions are certainly the most controversial. Certain countries vote against nearly every critical country-specific resolution while voting in favour of weak resolutions that deflect attention from their own poor human rights situations and those of allies. In effect, these countries work against the Council's mandate, because resolutions that increase international scrutiny upon rights-abusing regimes are one of the Council's most important tools.
Disappointingly, Ghana occasionally joined these countries in voting in favour of uncritical resolutions on the Democratic Republic of Congo in March 2009 and Sri Lanka in May 2009. Ghana also voted to keep the Sri Lanka resolution weak, by opposing amendments which called for investigations into human rights violations perpetrated during the most recent Sri Lankan war. Ghana further chose to abstain from voting in 2009 on an important resolution to extend the mandate of the Council's expert on Sudan. While many African countries are shy to vote in favour of applying international pressure on other African countries, Mauritius and Zambia, both African Commonwealth countries, voted in favour of keeping international scrutiny on Sudan, while Ghana abstained, reversing its previous positive vote in 2007. Ghana likewise abstained from voting on the landmark 16th session resolution which will put more international scrutiny on Iran, while Ghana's regional neighbour, Senegal, and a fellow Commonwealth African country, Zambia, voted in favour.
Zachary Abugov, CHRI Programme Officer, Delhi Office
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