U.N. replaces discredited rights panel
The discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission held its last meeting before being replaced by a new body, ending a 60-year history in which some of the world's worst offenders often used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.
Peruvian Ambassador Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros, chairman of the 53-nation commission, gaveled the final session to an end in a packed meeting hall at U.N. offices in Geneva as young campaigners took photographs and lamented the loss of a rights forum they said was unfairly disparaged. The new 47-member Human Rights Council will hold its first meeting June 19 in Geneva and the U.N. General Assembly will vote on new members May 9.
The commission, which originally was inspired by the United States, came to be discredited in recent years because it admitted countries with terrible human rights records such as Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba who tried to shield each other from censure. China and Russia lobbied heavily to avoid having their performances held up to scrutiny. "The commission will not be mourned by many who value human rights," U.S. Ambassador Kevin Moley told The Associated Press. "The good news is the commission is over. The bad news is that what replaces it isn't much better." U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said member states should now seize the opportunity to improve the U.N.'s tarnished rights record.
"We are, truly, in the midst of a quiet or even maybe not so quiet human rights revolution," Arbour said. "Much will rest on the profound culture shift that must accompany this institutional reform. The protection of human rights will thrive in a rigorous, frank and cooperative environment." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the commission had been discredited when he called last year for it to be replaced with a new, strengthened body that would review every nation's right record.
The General Assembly voted earlier this month to replace the commission with the new council, ignoring U.S. objections that not enough was done to prevent abusive countries from becoming members. The United States was one of only four countries to vote against the council, but it has said it will cooperate with the new body. It has yet to decide on whether it will seek election, Moley said. Rights groups said the requirement that members receive at least a majority 96 votes will keep out the worst offenders.
The last session was largely subdued by commission standards, with most speakers expressing their support for the council and praising certain elements of the commission they believed needed to be preserved. One exception was Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Asian group of countries, which vowed to continue the "campaign against foreign occupation and its implications in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Syrian Golan and south Lebanon."
Israel's ambassador in Geneva told The Associated Press his country would support the new council, even though it had voted with the U.S. against its creation two weeks ago. Many advocacy groups, however, were uncertain as they left a forum where they commanded great attention, sometimes for issues largely ignored in their home countries. Jean Ziegler, the commission's expert on the "right to food," said outside the meeting that the commission was the only U.N. body where peasants' leagues, women's groups, environmentalists and others gathered under one roof to debate universal rights. "There was something special with the commission, and it was wrong to call it 'discredited,'" Ziegler said.
Source: Associated Press.