Issue 1: The 54th Session of the Commission on Human Rights; a debate at the US House of Representatives on the UN and Iraq; and Syria complains about DPI’s photos from Annan’s visit to Israel

The 54th Commission on Human Rights opened on 16 March 1998 with Secretary-General Kofi Annan recalling the horrors of war, declaring “we cannot afford indifference, individually or collectively.”

Analysis: Fifty years after the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, violations against defenseless populations – women, children, minorities and the elderly – continue with increasing violence.  The need for a responsive human rights machinery is as great as ever.

The Commission on Human Rights is not the needed machinery.  The Commission’s Agenda remains politically skewed, allowing some countries to be annually and continually lambasted while noted human rights violators, like China, remain uncensored.  In addition, the slow-moving machinery lacks any real debate among largely predetermined country positions. These flaws undermine the credibility of the Commission’s work.  The Commission on Human Rights can be strengthened by adopting a more equitable Agenda, by encouraging more genuine debate, and by acting swiftly with realistic and actionable proposals.

*  Speaking on the House floor, Representative Gerald Solomon (R-NY) verbally attacked the Secretary-General and his recently brokered deal with Iraq.  Solomon said Annan “ought to be horse whipped” for optimistic comments regarding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Analysis: The Congressional majority is playing fast and loose with US interests and security.  The Secretary-General’s agreement in Iraq may have been a blessing in disguise for the US and the UK, who seemed to be virtually  alone in facing down Iraq.  The Secretary-General’s deal rescued the US and its allies from a possible military embarrassment.

The UN is becoming important as a tool in the execution of US foreign policy.  An increasingly interdependent world will rely more heavily on multilateralism, making the UN ever more relevant to Western foreign policy-makers.  The US annual dues amount to about the same money spent on the 1996 presidential election. This is a small price for ensuring a voice in this important forum.

*  The Syrian Mission to the UN in New York lodged a complaint that the number of photographs of the Secretary-General’s trip to Israel displayed by the UN Department of Public Information was unbalanced and included a stand-alone portrait of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Analysis: At its core, the Syrian complaint seeks to marginalize a fellow Member State.  Syria seems to have forgotten that Israel, as a Member of the UN, is entitled to all benefits of membership.  These benefits even extend to the Department of Public Information making available photographs of the Secretary-General’s trip to the  Member country.  Fairness, equity and respect all demand that photos of Israel not be singled out by Member States for harassment, nor prematurely removed as a result of pressure.

UN Watch