The UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee late yesterday followed a recommendation by Russia to approve a procedural move known as a "no-action motion." Russia had complained that single-country resolutions are unnecessary and politicize the work of the committee.
The measure to drop the resolution was approved by a vote of 75 to 65, with Belarus getting support from many developing states opposed to such "naming and shaming" actions. There will now be no General Assembly action on Belarus's rights record. Such resolutions are nonbinding but carry enormous symbolic importance.
The envoy of current EU president the Netherlands, Koen van der Wolk, told RFE/RL that the vote set a bad precedent for confronting human rights problems. "This is killing for the debate, and that's exactly what we feel is very important," he said. "The debate should go on, the dialogue should go on, and this is exactly what we are not having with these kinds of motions."
The United States and the European Union had co-sponsored the resolution, which raised concern about the disappearance of political opponents, electoral irregularities, and the beating and detention of demonstrators and journalists after the recent elections.
In the text, the assembly would have urged Minsk to rectify problems with the electoral process, cease politically motivated prosecution and harassment, and suspend from their duties officials implicated in cases of enforced disappearance. The resolution would have carried forward some of the concerns raised in a resolution adopted earlier this year by the UN Human Rights Commission against Belarus.
Belarus had rejected the charges and objected to what it termed the manipulation of human rights issues for political purposes. Russia's representative on the rights committee, Andrei Nikiforov, said Belarus is already engaged in a positive dialogue on rights issues. "This measure as we see it is not appropriate given the demonstration by Belarus of its readiness to engage constructively with the international community on human rights matters," Nikiforov said.
But a U.S. representative, Frank Urbancic, said it was the Human Rights Committee's responsibility to take steps to advance human rights. He said the Russian proposal undermined the committee's work. "This motion is a blatant attempt to silence the General Assembly's consideration of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus," he said. "As such, this motion would effectively prevent this body from fulfilling its mandate."
Earlier this month, Belarus had introduced a draft resolution seeking to scrutinize human rights practices in the United States. It withdrew that resolution last week. Nikiforov said the United States should have responded to that move with a similar gesture.