The UN Human Rights Council will this week hold an unprecedented secret ballot to pick its president after China and others blocked a candidate from Fiji considered a rights champion, sources and analysts said.

In first, UN rights body to vote on president as China blocks human rights champion

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by Nina LARSON

The UN Human Rights Council will this week hold an unprecedented secret ballot to pick its president after China and others blocked a candidate from Fiji considered a rights champion, sources and analysts said.

“There has been a standoff,” a source close to the council who asked not to be named told AFP. “It is a very, very messy situation.”

The dispute could underscore growing jostling in the top UN rights body by countries intent on steering it away from criticising nations over alleged abuses of individual rights and towards focusing on advances in economic and social rights.

The council’s presidency rotates each year between regions and is typically agreed by consensus within each regional group.

This year, though, the Asia-Pacific group (APG) due to take the helm failed to agree on a candidate — or even on holding a vote within the group.

That means the council, which for the first time in its 15-year history began the year with no president, will on Friday hold an unprecedented vote among all 47 members.

Sources close to deliberations said China, Russia and Saudi Arabia and others balked at the widely-expected appointment of Fiji’s ambassador, and orchestrated an opposing candidacy.

Among the official objections was that Fiji had presented its candidacy too early, prior to elections of this year’s council members, but rights groups said the opposition was likely driven by the Pacific island nation’s outspokenness on rights issues.

“They would say that Fiji is too pro-Western,” Marc Limon, head of the Universal Rights Group think-tank, told AFP.

“But I think in reality, their problem is that Fiji is pro-human rights, and has taken strong positions on the council.”

A senior Chinese diplomat rejected allegations that China had opposed Fiji or urged others to do so, insisting this was a “misinterpretation of our position”.

Asking not to be named, the diplomat stressed that China could “accept any of the three candidates” now on the ballot.

Russian and Saudi Arabian representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

– ‘Active’ president? –
The Asia-Pacific group had been expected last month to anoint Fiji’s ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, who served as vice president last year and was long the only candidate in the race.

But just days before the expected announcement on December 7, Bahrain announced the candidacy of its ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri.

“We understand… that Bahrain came forward after being encouraged by states including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia,” Phil Lynk, head of the International Service for Human Rights, told AFP.

While the standoff over a largely procedural position might seem surprising, he said there appeared to be concern that Fiji’s strong stance on a number of issues since joining the council in 2019 might have raised concerns that Khan would be an “active” president.

The president mainly oversees council meetings, but is also in charge of appointing the independent experts who investigate countries’ alleged rights abuses, and can determine how hard to crack down on cases of state intimidation against those who cooperate with the body.

Concerns over a strong council president may also have been exacerbated ahead of a year when the United States is expected to return, after outgoing President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, analysts said.

– ‘Very sad’ –
Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, said the objection to Fiji was “a transparent effort to handicap the Human Rights Council.”

“They prefer somebody like Bahrain, which is effectively a stooge of the Saudis, and hardly has any interest in promoting human rights, because Bahrain is a severe abuser itself,” he told AFP.

Bahrain representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Both Fiji and Bahrain met with opposition from several countries, so a call was put out for a third candidate and Uzbekistan entered the fray.

None of them meanwhile managed to garner consensus support, forcing Friday’s unprecedented vote before the full council.

The Chinese diplomat voiced frustration at the situation, adding that his country had urged all sides to “show flexibility.”

“This is the first time that one regional group cannot reach agreement on a single candidate to nominate to the Human Rights Council,” the diplomat said.

“That is very sad.”

After all of the back-and-forth, observers said Fiji was expected to carry Friday’s vote.

“Looking at the membership leanings, Fiji is likely to win,” the source close to the council said.

Agence France-Presse

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POLITIKO / Across the Nation

POLITIKO / Latest News

Rule of law prevailed: Trillanes hails CA ruling junking revival of rebellion raps

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Tuesday (March 2) hailed the favorable ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) concerning his rebellion case.

“Today, the rule of law prevailed,” Trillanes declared.

With this, the former lawmaker also expressed gratitude to the appellate court for the favorable ruling.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga CA justices na gumawa ng desisyong ito,” he stated.

“Sana all na judges and justices ay may ganitong sense of justice to check the prevailing authoritarianism in the country,” he added,

Trillanes’s petition before the CA assailed the 2018 orders of Makati City Judge Elmo Alameda to issue a hold departure order (HDO) and arrest warrant against the former lawmaker even though the same magistrate dismissed back in 2011 the rebellion case against him.

The case was dismissed by the judge in 2011 after Trillanes was granted amnesty by then President Benigno Aquino III.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sought to revive the case before the Makati court after President Rodrigo Duterte revoked the amnesty.

Sinong guilty? Lord Velasco’s allies gang up on Alan Cayetano after ally exposes P20-B budget cut

By Billy Begas

Allies of House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco slammed the camp of Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano for his supporters’ attempt to drag the Marinduque lawmaker in the issue involving the P20 billion pension and gratuity fund of uniformed government personnel that was diverted to infrastructure projects.

Senior Deputy Speaker Salvador Leachon said it was clear based on the explanation of House Committee on Appropriations chairperson Eric Yap that the slashed P20 billion will not be used this year to pay the pension and gratuity of uniformed personnel.

“Based on Congressman Yap’s accounts, which I find to be accurate, the current problems involving the pension of uniformed retirees was due to the P70-billion cut in their budget for the year 2020, during Cayetano’s term,” Leachon said.

Yap said that the House then led by Cayetano slashed P70 billion from the 2020 national budget.

Earlier, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor said that he did not know what happened then. “Hindi ko ho alam kung nag-usap sila (House-led Cayetano and Department of Budget and Management) pero ang sigurado ko ho nagrereklamo ngayon ang DBM dahil binawasan ang pension fund.”

Yap claimed that the DBM knows the reduction of budget.

“Their unfounded allegations against Speaker Velasco boomeranged to them when it turned out the current problems faced by uniformed retirees was brought about by the more than P70 billion deducted from the 2020 PGF budget during Cayetano’s time,” said Leachon.

Defensor contradicted Leachon’s claim in a text message. “How can it have boomeranged when Chair Eric Yap admitted that they slashed the Pension and Gratuity Fund by 20 billion. They should not over complicate and over think- return the 20 billion to our military, police and uniformed personnel pension and gratuity fund.”

Defensor also challenged the camp of Velasco to show to the public that they did not use it as pork barrel fiund.

Deputy Speaker and Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves said Defensor’s accusations were “part of an obvious attempt to antagonize Speaker Velasco.”

“It was obviously premeditated with some members of the so-called ‘BTS sa Kongreso’ present to interpellate Defensor and tried but failed to amplify the allegations against Speaker Velasco,” Teves said referring to Back To Service sa Kongreso formed by Cayetano in January.

Teves added that the game plan of Cayetano’s camp was to make Velasco “look bad in the eyes of President Duterte by attacking the Speaker on an issue very close to the Chief Executive’s heart—the pension and gratuity pay of police and military retirees.”

Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza, meanwhile, blasted Cayetano’s group for hypocrisy following the revelation of Deputy Speaker Isidro Ungab that the Cayetano-led House manipulated the 2020 national budget, which resulted in budget cuts totaling P209 billion, including the P70 billion slashed from pension and gratuity fund.

“Umaalma sila sa binawas na P20 billion na napunta naman sa COVID-19 response ng gobyerno pero ‘yung P70 bilyon at kabuuang P209 bilyon na tinapyas nila sa 2020 national budget e okay lang sa kanila,” said Atienza.

Defensor said it is not true that the P20 billion went to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.

He said that based on the copy of the General Appropriations Act, the budget for vaccines remained at P2.5 billion.



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