Geneva, Jan 16, 2006 – The U.N.’s much derided Commission on Human Rights, slated to be replaced soon by a proposed new council, formally opened its 2006 session today with Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and several other accused rights abusers assuming their seats on the 53-nation body. According to a report released today by UN Watch (click here to see report ), a Geneva human rights monitoring organization, more than half of the incoming members of the 2006 Commission fail to meet accepted democratic standards, with 30% constituting regimes where basic political rights and civil liberties are systematically denied.

“It’s scandalous,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, after attending the meeting in Geneva’s Palais des Nations.  “Today’s gathering only underscores what Secretary-General Annan has been saying for the past year: countries with notorious records are poisoning the working of the Commission, and now threaten to besmirch the reputation of the UN as a whole.”

The World Summit in September resolved to replace the Commission with a new body, but negotiations in New York on its size and mandate remain deadlocked.

Neuer objected to the latest UN draft’s proposal to allow members of the existing Commission to automatically become the first members of the new Human Rights Council. “Replacing the word ‘Commission’ with the word ‘Council’ does nothing for the dozens of journalists suffering in Fidel Castro’s prisons, or for the victims of mass rape in Sudan,” said Neuer.  “The human rights community will not abide by nor acquiesce in an exercise that calls itself reform, but which in reality preserves the ancien regime under the guise of a new name.“

In a statement presented to the Commission in November on behalf of 38 international human rights organizations, UN Watch called for a new council that would meet regularly (instead of for only one session per year), comprised of countries bearing solid records on human rights, to be elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.

The purpose of Commission’s meeting today was to select Peru, represented by Ambassador Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros, as its Chair, along with other members of the governing bureau.  The Commission’s substantive session is set to begin o March 13 and last until April 21.

UN Watch