Friday, February 03, 2006

NYT on UN Human Rights Commission reform draft

The NYT has a news story today describing the state of play over reform proposals and drafts for replacing the UN Human Rights Commission. It comments on the drafts and then describes the level of US engagement with the process. NYT, international news, February 3, 2006. Here, behind a firewall. Excerpts:

February 3, 2006
New York Times

With Its Human Rights Oversight Under Fire,
U.N. Submits a Plan for a Strengthened Agency


UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 2 — United Nations negotiators circulated a draft resolution on Thursday for a Human Rights Council that would have standards for membership, means for timely interventions in crises and a year-round existence.

The proposed 45-member council is meant to replace the widely discredited 53-member Human Rights Commission, and its creation this month is seen as a critical test of whether the United Nations can adopt meaningful reform and redeem its scandal-tarnished reputation.
The commission is scheduled to begin its annual six weeks of sessions in Geneva on March 13, and diplomats believe the new council must gain General Assembly approval by Feb. 15 to be able to replace the existing body on time.

The commission has been a persistent embarrassment to the United Nations because membership has been open to countries like Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe, current members who are themselves accused of gross rights abuses.

In introducing his recommendation for the new council last March, Secretary General Kofi Annan said such countries sought participation on the panel to block examination of their own records, a practice he said "casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations as a whole."
Thursday's proposal, a refinement of a draft circulated in December, leaves open for further negotiation a critical element of Mr. Annan's recommended plan — a requirement that new members be elected by a two-thirds vote of the 191-member General Assembly.

Put forward as a way of weeding out notorious rights violators, the requirement is a step backed by the United States, European countries and human rights groups.

"The new text substantially advances the discussion and gives a good basis to achieve a stronger human rights council, assuming there is a decision to have members of the council elected by a two-thirds majority," said Peggy Hicks, the global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.
The proposal maintains the right of regional groups to put forward a slate of candidates, but adds the requirement that there be individual secret ballot votes in the General Assembly on each country. Every country on the council will also be subject to a review of its rights records at least once during its three-year term.

Nations would not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms, meaning they would have to step aside for a year before reapplying.

The proposal also says that the General Assembly should "take into account" whether applicant countries have been cited by the United Nations or "whether there are situations that constitute systematic and gross violations of human rights."

The new text strengthens the council's ability to respond promptly to human rights crises but weakens the language on preventing crises by stressing the need for "dialogue and cooperation" with offending countries. Late last year, human rights groups faulted the United States for scrimping on its support for the council, but Ms. Hicks said Thursday that the American engagement had "intensified substantially."

Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, said the United States had no immediate comment on the revised resolution. "We have just received the text and we are studying it closely," he said.

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