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UN rights chief hits Russia on murders of activists

China, Egypt, Iran and France also in rights abuse frame.

September 13, 2010 1:27 by



The United Nations’ human rights chief criticised some of the world body’s most powerful states on Monday, rapping Russia for failing to bring to justice the killers of journalists and rights campaigners, and China for cracking down on rights activists.

Addressing the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay also hit at several Muslim countries for harrassing civil rights activists and at France for its expulsion of Roma from the Balkans.

The United States also came under fire from the South African former high court judge over reports that it operated a programme of targeted killings against its own citizens outside the country who are suspected of involvement in terrorism.

U.N. officials said the High Commissioner’s strong remarks, delivered to a body including many of the countries she named, marked a ratcheting up of her determination to point to alleged abuses wherever they occurred.

“In Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation, little progress has been achieved to bring to justice the perpetrators of murders and attacks against (rights) defenders which occurred during the past few years,” she said.

“Peaceful dissidents, human rights advocates, lawyers and press representatives have been targeted and violently attacked in countries including Iran, Iraq and Somalia.”

NGOS RESTRICTED

Civil society groups have been hit by laws and other measures restricting their action in many states including Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Libya, Panama, Syria and Tunisia, she said.

Threats and assaults against journalists, trade unionists and community organisers in other countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe have been compounded by competition over natural resources, according to Pillay.

There was no immediate reaction from any of the countries named, but diplomats said they were likely to respond later. Several have suggested in the past that she is overstepping her mandate with strictures against them.

On France’s action against Romas from Romania and Bulgaria, she said dismantling their settlements and expelling them to their home countries “can only exacerbate the stigmatisation of Roma and the extreme poverty in which they live”.

Paris says it is acting in line with European Union law by removing illegal migrants who have overstayed their three-month entry permit and do not have work.

Pillay delivered her speech at the opening of the three-week autumn session of the 4-year-old body, created to replace a 60-year-old rights commission which had become bogged down in political wrangling and was widely seen as ineffective.

But the Council itself, where a bloc of developing countries allied with Russia, China and Cuba enjoys a built-in majority, has increasingly attracted the same criticism.

That bloc has largely fended off strong criticism of countries like Iran and Sudan — and any real discussion of the rights situation in Russia, China and Cuba — while focusing much of its fire on Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.

Two reports on Israeli actions ordered by the Council are due to be delivered during the current session.

Pillay said Israel had aroused concern with draft laws that could restrict the activities of human rights defenders and noted that “peaceful activists have been injured and arrested for protesting the construction of the wall in occupied Palestinian territories.”

But she also criticised Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, saying what she called “the de facto authorities” there had shut down civil society organisations.

(Editing by Laura MacInnis)



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