Uniting Nations on Human Rights; Reform Membership Criteria and Refocus Resources

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 9, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Uniting Nations on Human Rights; Reform Membership Criteria and Refocus Resources


Byline: David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The United Nations will soon decide whether to replace its current Human Rights Commission (HRC) with a new body that can, with credibility, highlight and address human rights abuses around the globe. There is, of course, a broad consensus that the HRC is deeply flawed. Its membership includes a number of states with abysmal human rights records. However, despite Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call for a smaller body composed of states abiding by the highest human rights standards, agreement on how to reform this critical institution has proven elusive.

Indeed, the most recent proposal, for a Human Rights Council of 47 members (down six from the current 53 members), would only be window dressing. As a result, the United States and other democracies should oppose this plan. The time for fixing the HRC is now, but it has to be done right. This is one policy exercise where seeking perfection (or, at least, genuine reform) is both desirable and necessary.

There are two fundamental problems with the existing HRC. First, its members are selected based upon the United Nation's regional bloc system, which allocates a certain number of seats to each of five geographic groups, such as Africa or the Western European and Other Group (which includes the United States). As a result, countries with poor human rights records, but who may be highly important or influential in their own region, are regularly seated on the HRC. More than anything else, the participation of oppressive regimes such as Sudan, Libya and Saudi Arabia has destroyed the HRC's credibility and effectiveness. Second, the HRC has increasingly focused its attention on alleged human rights abuses by Western democracies, especially the United States and Israel, and has not done enough to address egregious violations of human rights norms by such countries as, for example, Cuba, Iran or North Korea. Obviously, these problems are related and solving the first will go a long way toward solving the second.

There is, of course, wide agreement that the HRC's work has been undercut by the participation of severe human rights abusers, and that an appropriate mechanism must be found to ensure that such states are excluded from membership. The problem is creating a mechanism that will both be effective and acceptable to U.N. membership.

There are a number of suggestions, including election by a majority of the United Nation's general membership, featured in the pending reform proposal, a two-thirds-majority requirement (favored by the United States) and barring any state that is currently subject to Security Council sanctions.

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