UN expert defends use of donation before reporting on Russia

September 15, 2017 GMT

GENEVA (AP) — A U.N. human rights expert took the unusual step Friday of publicly defending his use of a $50,000 donation from Russia’s government to support his work before he reported on the impact of economic sanctions on Russia.

Special rapporteur Idriss Jazairy said in a statement that he denies “accusations” that the findings in his report after his April visit to Moscow “were influenced by funds allocated to my mandate,” which is to examine the effects of sanctions on people. Russia has come under tough sanctions by the U.S. and the European Union, notably over its annexation of Crimea.


On Thursday at the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Hillel Neuer of advocacy group UN Watch, which has criticized Jazairy’s mandate, asked him about the “ethical implications” of receiving money from a country before reporting on that country. Jazairy replied that he would not respond to “discursive remarks.”

The issue strikes at funding pressures faced by the U.N. rights office, which receives far less money than larger U.N. operations like the World Health Organization and refugee agency UNHCR but has a vital role in monitoring and denouncing rights violations and other crimes around the world.

Russia is not alone: Western countries like France, South Korea, and Norway and others regularly give hundreds of thousands of dollars to special rapporteurs, outside of regular U.N. budget allocations. The statement on Friday said 35 percent of the human rights office’s total budget last year came through extra-budgetary support, going to a total of 27 mandate-holders like Jazairy.

“Voluntary contributions are necessary for the proper functioning of the special procedures system, but I reject in the strongest terms accusations that my findings on my visit to the Russian Federation were influenced by funds allocated to my mandate,” said Jazairy.

U.N. rules bar using such donations for reports or country visits, and the U.N. regular budget paid for his trip — not Russia.

Even before the report on Russia, Moscow has previously given money to Jazairy’s mandate and provided $50,000 to six separate special rapporteurs in 2016, for issues like terrorism and racism. But Russia would have also known it was due for a review by Jazairy when it allocated to his office, whose mandate is officially said to examine “unilateral coercive measures” — or sanctions.

Jazairy’s mandate as an unpaid, independent expert is to explore the impact of sanctions on many U.N. member countries, and it generally pinpoints the negative effects on individual citizens — in the latest case, Russians. Russia’s government praised the report, as have many countries visited by Jazairy and his predecessors for their work.

The mandate is often favorably seen by countries examined, because it looks at the impact of punitive measures imposed by others.

His defense epitomizes the dilemma faced by U.N. human rights staffers and outside experts: The regular budget is not sufficient to pay for the demands on the rights office, and contributions from individual countries are essential for its work — even if they can lead to a perception of conflict of interest at times.

The U.N. General Assembly resolution that 11 years ago set up the Human Rights Council, which in turn created the mandate held by Jazairy, says the council’s work “shall be guided” by principles including “impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity.”


This story has corrects word to ‘unilateral’ instead of ‘universal’ in paragraph 8.