Geneva, Feb 23, 2006 – Today’s proposed UN resolution to replace the world body’s discredited human rights commission with a new council offers some improvements, but falls short of the broad reforms urged by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group that has closely monitored the negotiations.
Mr. Neuer welcomed the introduction of a peer review system under which all states would be subjected to some level of guaranteed scrutiny, but expressed concern that the reviews would come only every few years, as in existing UN treaty-monitoring bodies. He voiced cautious support for mechanisms empowering the new human rights council to convene special sessions at the request of one third of members, and to respond promptly to human rights emergencies. The existing human rights commission, Neuer noted, had a similar authority to call special sittings, but used it in recent years only to examine Israel (the subject of the last such session in March 2004), while ignoring human rights emergencies in Sudan or Zimbabwe.
“The greatest disappointment of today’s proposal,” said Mr. Neuer, “is that it does nothing to redress what Mr. Annan and his panel of experts recognized as the greatest obstacle: its membership, the pernicious presence on the panel of notorious offenders such as Libya, Cuba or North Korea.” The Secretary-General’s plan had advocated giving one-third of General Assembly members the power to block unqualified countries, which Neuer says would have excluded abusers like Sudan. The current text, however, doubles the requirement to two-thirds for any country’s membership to be suspended.
“What it means is that when the council created by this draft meets for the first time in Geneva, the faces around the table will look awfully familiar. Mr. Annan called for radical surgery to revive the discredited human rights commission; today’s draft offers to give two aspirins and wheel the patient back onto the street,” said Mr. Neuer. “Now the UN expects human rights groups to say Hallelujah, the patient’s been healed. But if we recall Mr. Annan’s simple goals, this is hardly mission accomplished.”
Neuer expressed two additional concerns:
- The preamble includes a clause (PP7) demanded by 56 Islamic states that would impose demands on the media to respect religion, but which omits any mention of freedom of speech or freedom of the press. “This rewards the violent agitators who burned buildings and killed innocent people with a grant of international legitimacy.”
- Non-governmental organizations will be subjected to the constant threat of restrictions on their participation under a new qualifying clause (OP 11) that commits to recognize existing NGO privileges, “while ensuring the most effective contribution of these entities.” In recent years, several NGOs, including Medecins Sans Frontières and the Transnational Radical Party, were threatened with suspension by member states upset over criticism of their human rights records.