Every December, diplomats on the UN General Assembly’s fiscal body, the Fifth Committee, hold negotiations on the UN budget. As in past years, China and Russia have been pushing to cut funding for a number of budget items related to human rights, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Several important investigative mechanisms established by the UN Human Rights Council are on the agenda. Those include an investigation into rights violations in Sri Lanka, another for widespread abuses in Belarus, one for rights violations across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and an international expert mechanism on rights violations by law enforcement officers against Africans and people of African descent.
The Fifth Committee also needs to address funding for a UN study on missing persons and identifying human remains in Syria and for the human rights work of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Budget negotiations around the UN’s human rights pillar have become increasingly contentious in recent years as China, Russia, and their allies claim – unpersuasively – that human rights get too big a share of UN resources. This year, the two Security Council members and Sri Lanka are fighting to cut funding and staff for the Sri Lanka accountability mechanism. Similarly, Russia and China are opposing funding for the Belarus probe, while vigorously resisting efforts to fund the UN study on missing persons in Syria.
The Iranian delegation is also making a last-minute push against funding for the team of the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. Making matters worse, the UN’s so-called independent budget assessment body is increasingly undermining efforts to fund UN human rights work by making what diplomats describe as “politicized” recommendations to reduce funding for rights-related activities.
The UN’s human rights work is typically mandated by its key legislative bodies, the Security Council, General Assembly, or the Human Rights Council. Governments should continue to counter the Russian and Chinese push to defund human rights work and ensure all rights activities are fully funded. Compromising will only embolden Russia and China in their anti-rights agenda.
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