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As US Moves to Join UN Human Rights Council, Kenyan Activists Threatened, No Witness Protection

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 31 -- The day before the Obama administration announced it will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, a practical flaw in the Council's work was raised at the UN in New York. In Nairobi, dozens of human rights activists who spoke with UN special rapporteur Philip Alston's report to the HRC on killings by Kenyan police are in hiding, their lives threatened for their cooperation with the UN's human rights machinery.

   At the UN's March 30 noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas if the UN is aware of the activists' plight and if it is providing or arranging for any protection for them.

     "The Human Rights Council does not have its own security services," Ms. Montas said, "if that’s what you’re asking." Video here.

And that was it: the UN and its HRC apparently provide no protection to witnesses or cooperators. Worse, when HRC special rapporteur Thomas Ojeda visited Myanmar, he flew around in a military helicopter. Little wonder he didn't hear from those whose rights are most violated by Than Shwe's regime, the Rohingya and Karen people, and had nothing to say when lengthy prison terms for dissidents were announced just after his trip.

UN's Ban in Kenya, threatened human rights activists not shown

Another recent controversy at the HRC was the passage last week of a resolution opposing “defamation of religion.” Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas if Ban Ki-moon had any comment on the resolutions relation to the freedom of information enshrined in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No, Ms. Montas said, he has no comment. While the US State Department is on record opposing such limitations on free speech, what is their position and plan on the HRC's lack of witness protection, and the plight of human rights activists in Kenya and elsewhere? We'll see.

  The March 30 Q&A:

Inner City Press Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask about two issues about Kenya.  One is that there are these reports following up on Philip Alston’s report about police killings in Kenya that some 30 human rights activist and lawyers have gone into hiding because they think they’re going to be killed because they cooperated with the UN on the report.  Is the UN aware of it, and what’s the UN going to do for people that actually worked with the UN on this report?

Spokesperson Montas:  This report was made to the Human Rights Council and it is a matter for the Human Rights Council to take decisions on.

Inner City Press Question:  But if it’s true what these people say that they’re in fear of their life because they cooperate with the UN, does the Human Rights Council have any safety or security service?  What’s the procedure?

Spokesperson:  The Human Rights Council does not have its own security services, if that’s what you’re asking.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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