UN human rights chief criticizes Egypt for cracking down on activists

Geneva–The United Nations' human rights chief criticized big powers on Monday, rapping Russia over the killing of journalists, China for rights crackdowns and the United States over anti-terrorism measures.

Addressing the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, Navi Pillay also rapped Iran over attacks on rights advocates and dissidents, Egypt, Libya and Syria for harassing civil rights activists and France for deporting Roma to the Balkans.

UN officials said the High Commissioner's stern comments, delivered to a body including many of the countries she named, was a sign of her determination to point to alleged abuses wherever they occur.

"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," while in Sudan repression accompanied April's presidential poll, Pillay added. Civil society groups have been hit by measures restricting their action in many states including Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Libya, Panama, Syria and Tunisia, she said.

And competition over natural resources has compounded threats and assaults against journalists, trade unionists and community organizers in African countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, according to Pillay.

While Russia and China avoided direct response, US and French envoys defended their countries and Arab states said defending human rights was a key priority for them and demanded more focus on Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.

Pakistan, on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, asked why she had not mentioned the threat by a US church leader to burn Korans, and said Pillay should put defamation of Islam at the top of her agenda.

Cuba said her remarks showed a growing tendency "to target southern countries with unfair and unsubstantiated accusations."

Pillay, a former South African high court judge, delivered he remarks at the start of a three-week autumn session of the council, set up in 2006 to replace another body which had become ineffective through political wrangling.

But the Council has increasingly drawn the same criticism.

Developing nations forming a bloc in the body have fended off criticism of countries like Iran and Sudan, 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 criticized Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, saying what she called "the de facto authorities" there had shut down civil society organizations.  

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