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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 25th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

For Immediate Release by Geneva Based Human Rights Watch:

Angola: Resume Negotiations with UN Rights Body – Government Seeks to Avoid Scrutiny Before Elections.

(New York, May 25, 2008) – As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Angola should reconsider its March 2008 order that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Angola cease activities by the end of May 2008, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Angola is going back on its word to support a constructive dialogue and increased cooperation with the UN human rights office,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government made that commitment in writing to the president of the UN General Assembly before joining the Human Rights Council in May 2007. Angola should keep its promises.”

The closure of the OHCHR field office in Angola comes three months ahead of Angola’s parliamentary elections scheduled for September 5-6, 2008 – the first to be held in the country since 1992.

“The Angolan government’s decision to shut down this important human rights office signals growing government intolerance of human rights scrutiny and other criticism in the run-up to September’s elections,” said Gagnon. “It’s worrying that the already limited space for human rights defenders could be restricted further.”

The government issued its order shortly after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Religion or Belief made public their Angola mission reports at the 7th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2008. Angolan officials rejected out of hand many of the working group’s findings, denying there had been any case of torture and claiming excessive pre-trial detention in Angola had stopped by the end of 2007.

The Angolan government has sought to justify its decision to close the OHCHR office on the grounds that the presence of the office in Angola is no longer necessary now that peace and democratization has been consolidated and functioning national human rights institutions established. The government has also stated that the office had no legal status in the country and as such never existed. Moreover, in March 2008, the minister of justice suggested at the Human Rights Council that the UN high commissioner for human rights’s criteria for establishing field offices were not transparent and may have “political motivations.”

As Human Rights Watch has found, peace has still not taken root in the enclave of Cabinda, and national human rights institutions such as the Provincial Human Rights Committees are yet not fully operational. The government continues to restrict the activities of independent media in much of the country.

The government’s argument that the OHCHR had no legal status is not convincing since it had agreed that the office should continue technical cooperation in Angola after the departure of the UN peacekeeping mission in 2003. The OHCHR field office has played an important role, assisting the government in establishing national human rights institutions and alternative justice mechanisms, drafting reports to UN human rights bodies and training the police to be more aware of human rights. It also facilitated access for Angolan nongovernmental organizations to UN human rights mechanisms.

In 2007, the OHCHR tried to persuade the government to permit the office to operate with a full human rights protection mandate. This would have been a major step toward sustaining ongoing reform efforts and ensuring an open environment for human rights defenders in the country.

Human rights defenders told Human Rights Watch how the OHCHR’s presence in Angola guaranteed them some degree of protection from government intimidation. This is particularly important as civil society organizations are increasingly worried about the government’s ongoing revision of the legal framework governing civil society, which could again threaten their existence. In 2007, government officials publicly accused several organizations of illegal activities, without ever substantiating such claims, and threatened to close the organizations.

Human Rights Watch called on the government of Angola to immediately reestablish dialogue with the OHCHR and quickly negotiate a solution that strengthens human rights capacity and allows for effective UN human rights monitoring to be resumed in the country. Human Rights Watch also urged the government to guarantee space for national and international civil society to operate freely in Angola before and after the upcoming elections in September.

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Angola, please visit:
 hrw.org/doc/?t=africa&c=angola

For more information, please contact:
In London, Carolyn Norris (English, French): +44-20-7713-2784; or +44-78-5172-1744 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Jon Elliott (English, French): +1-202-612-4348
In Geneva, Juliette De Rivero (English, French, Spanish): +41-22-738-0481; or +41-79-640- 1649 (mobile)
In New York, Georgette Gagnon (English): +1-917-535-0375 (mobile)

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Hallo Zimbabwe – here we come.

Yours truly,

Angola

Remember – We Have Oil and Oil Industry Will Help Us – We do not relly on God.

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And yes – what is the story about those two UN votes that were invalidated in the contest between the UK and Spain – where the UK won by one vote but the UN is keeping the names of the two countries that their votes were invalidated as a UN top secret. They do not even say why they were invalidated. Was there some nusty thing said on the ballot about Spain or the UK? Some other slur? See the Inner City report. Don’t you think this is even strange by the UN standards of deffining democracy?

 

Amid Mysterious Invalid Ballots, France and UK Squeak By Spain on Human Rights Council.

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis


UNITED NATIONS, May 21 — The UK beat out Spain by a single vote for a seat on the Human Rights Council, with two nations’ votes being declared invalid. Not only will the UN not disclose which two countries had their ballots invalidated — despite repeated requests, the UN will not even state on what basis the two possibly dispositive votes were deemed invalid. Instead, the UN’s response is
that “voting was done through secret ballot, therefore, there is no voting sheet on how individual countries have voted nor is there specific information on why ballots may have been invalid.” The grounds for disregarding a cast vote can and should be made public, even if the identity of the disqualified voter remains secret.

                      Following the vote, UK Permanent Representative John Sawers extended his hand with a smile to Spain’s Ambassador, who bristled, shook and walked away. A single vote…

                     

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