Michelle Nichols, Louis Charbonneau
18 December 2013
The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday condemned Syria for widespread human rights abuses and expressed concern about such violations in Iran and North Korea, but it welcomed pledges by Iran’s president to improve in some areas.
The resolution on Iran was approved with 86 votes in favor, 36 against and 61 abstentions, and the draft on Syria was adopted with 127 votes in favor, 13 against and 47 abstentions. The resolution on North Korea was passed by consensus, but some states publicly disassociated themselves from the text.
The resolutions on these countries have become an annual rite. They intensify international pressure and further isolate those states but have no legal consequences. All three countries lobby hard against adoption of the resolutions.
While the resolution on Iran expressed concern at serious ongoing abuses, it acknowledged pledges by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, on human rights issues such as eliminating discrimination against women and members of ethnic minorities and promoting freedom of expression and opinion.
It also praised Rouhani’s plan to implement a civil rights charter and encouraged Iran “to take concrete action to ensure these pledges can result in demonstrable improvements as soon as possible and to uphold the government’s obligations under its domestic laws and under international human rights law.”
The U.N. envoy on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, told the committee in October that Iran’s rights record should not be overlooked amid overtures to the West by Rouhani. He criticized Tehran for executing 724 people in 18 months, including dozens after Rouhani was elected in June.
Rouhani is a relative moderate who opened the door for compromise on Iran’s nuclear program after years of escalating confrontation with Western powers.
An Iranian delegate told General Assembly members before the vote that the resolution does not reflect the actual situation inside Iran and will be counterproductive.
The resolution on Syria strongly condemned “the continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and all violations of international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities and the government affiliated shabbiha militias.”
More than 100,000 people have been killed during a 2-1/2 year civil war in Syria, which has forced millions to flee.
The resolution on North Korea expressed “very serious concern at the persistence of continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.”
North Korea is one of the world’s most reclusive and repressive countries, accused of starving and torturing thousands of people in prison camps while taking extraordinary steps to prevent its citizens from fleeing to South Korea or other countries.
A North Korean delegate told the assembly that the resolution was a “fabrication” concocted by “hostile forces”.
The assembly postponed a vote on a similar resolution on Myanmar that would express “serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State, including repeated instances of communal violence and other abuses in the past year and about attacks against Muslim minorities elsewhere in the country.”
A vote on the Myanmar text is expected in the near future.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Toni Reinhold)