Time for new UN rights body is now as status quo cannot continue, says top official

22 April 2005

Faced with major deficiencies, over-politicization and only selective reviews of countries' abuses, the United Nations Human Rights Commission wrapped up its annual session today with a ringing call for its replacement by a leaner, meaner body, as put forward in Secretary-General Kofi Annan's reform proposals.

"The space is there, now, for its creation: the status quo on this issue is not a credible option," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told the closing meeting of the 53-member body's sixty-first session in Geneva.

"Simply put, the Commission's ability to address issues of human rights concern at the national level is demonstrably deficient," she said of the panel that Mr. Annan wants to replace with a streamlined, more authoritative and more empowered body elected by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the decision as to whether or not a country situation is addressed is viewed either as a political triumph or a political defeat, she declared.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered only by reference to four states," she added, referring to resolutions adopted at the session on Myanmar, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Cuba and Belarus.

"I put it to you that it is a discredit to this Commission to view these decisions as political victories or losses. I say this in the full knowledge, and with all due respect for the fact that yours is an inter-governmental body.

"To suggest it should be apolitical is somewhat akin to criticizing spring for coming after winter. But political considerations should not be allowed to bypass entirely the substance of the work entrusted to the Commission. The fact that only four states were singled out does not make them less answerable for the human rights situations in their countries," she said.

"But, equally, a reasonable person might ask whether it is really so that only four countries merited scrutiny by this Commission when it considered the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world."

On 7 April, Mr. Annan warned the Commission that the very credibility of the UN was at stake in the way it addresses human rights abuses worldwide. "Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself," he said then.

Today, Ms. Arbour emphasized the Secretary-General's recommendation that the body be refined, improved and heightened in stature as the new Human Rights Council.

"As you have now agreed to reflect coherently on the recommendations of the Secretary-General through an open-ended Working Group in June, I am confident that you will embark on this exercise fully committed to the enhancement of human rights worldwide," she said.


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