Report on UN future - good diagnosis, but poor prescription
(in http://italy.peacelink.org/pace/articles/art_8489.html la traduzione in italiano)
More Needed to Restore Legitimacy of Commission on Human Rights
(Geneva, December 2, 2004) -- A report on the future of the United
Nations, ordered last year by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and officially
released today, accurately diagnoses the sorry state of the U.N.
Commission on Human Rights but proposes an inadequate cure, Human Rights
Watch said today.
The report is on target in recognizing that gross human rights violators
seek seats on the Commission to protect themselves from criticism. But
instead of establishing membership criteria linked to a member state's
human rights record, the panel members give up the battle and recommend
expanding the Commission to include all 191 U.N. members.
Among its key findings, the report highlights that the Commission suffers
a serious problem of credibility that casts doubts on the overall
reputation of the United Nations. The report, entitled "A More Secure
World: Our Shared Responsibility" and prepared by an panel of eminent
persons, notes that the Commission's most serious problem is that so many
of its 53 member states are themselves responsible for serious human
"The report is on target in recognizing that gross human rights violators
seek seats on the Commission to protect themselves from criticism," said
Joanna Weschler, U.N. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "But
instead of establishing membership criteria linked to a state's human
rights record, the panel members give up the battle and recommend
expanding the Commission to include all 191 U.N. members."
This recommendation is inconsistent with the report's own analysis. In a
section on the General Assembly, the only U.N. body with universal
membership so far, the report states that the Assembly has lost its focus
and recommends that it establish "smaller, more tightly focused
The General Assembly has hardly been a reliable defender of human rights.
Just days ago, it voted not to take any action on or even discuss several
resolutions against highly abusive states: Sudan, whose ethnic cleansing
is responsible for ongoing crimes against humanity in its western region
of Darfur, as well as Zimbabwe, and Belarus. Even the Commission with its
current membership had succeeded in criticizing Belarus earlier this year.
"There's little that a 191-member body could accomplish during a six-week
session. At best, it would be yet another talk shop," Weschler said.
Human Rights Watch has argued that governments wishing to serve on the
Commission should fulfill membership criteria and make specific rights
commitments prior to their election. In addition, the Commission on Human
Rights should become a standing body, capable of acting upon crises as
they occur rather than waiting for the six- week annual session. In its
report, the Panel recommends the creation in the unspecified future of a
Human Rights Council, which presumably would be permanent.
Among many other issues covered by the report, Human Rights Watch welcomed
the prominent place that the report gives to the recommendation that the
Security Council should stand ready to use its authority to refer cases to
the International Criminal Court.
Also of great value are recommendations made regarding the responsibility
of the United Nations to protect civilians from atrocities and mass
killings committed by their governments. Human Rights Watch supports the
five criteria of legitimacy laid out in the Panel's report, but criticized
the lack of reference to international humanitarian law as the
indispensable guiding principle of any military action. Significantly,
the report calls on the permanent members of the Security Council to
"refrain from the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large scale
human rights abuses" ? a recommendation that Human Rights Watch strongly
Human Rights Watch endorsed the report's proposed definition of terrorism.
The report found that the right to resist foreign occupation does not
imply a right to target civilians and noncombatants.
"Nothing justifies deliberately attacking civilians," Weschler said.
Human Rights Watch also welcomed the report's recommendations addressing
the due process concerns related to the listing of individuals and
entities identified as supporters of al-Qaeda as well as lists created by
some other Security Council sanctions regimes.
"We have been concerned for years about the lack of due process behind the
listing and delisting of individuals and entities targeted for sanctions,"
Weschler said. "The Panel was right to press for this problem finally to
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