Sunday, April 24, 2005

How to live down to the worst cariciature of yourself, part 2

The United Nations system has been under serious pressure in the last few years, ever since its refusal to authorize the American-led aggression against Iraq. One of the main criticisms of American neo-conservatives has been of the UN's Human Rights Commission.

Granted, this is merely a fig leaf in a greater effort* to discredit the UN into submissiveness. And though advocacy groups had complained about the HRC for years, neo-cons never showed any particular interest in the commission or in human rights in general (except as a rhetorical device) before the UN-disapproved Iraq invasion.

Yet, however disingenuous some criticisms may have been, its clear that the UN Human Rights Commission as presently constituted is worthless.

Most recently, the commission passed a resolution criticizing human rights violations in Sudan's Darfur region but refused to name the Sudanese government specifically. Yet even that watered down resolution was seen as a bitter pill for the Khartoum regime to swallow.

The HRC comprises 54 UN member states, divided by geography and headed by a chief appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In other words, approximately one out of every four UN member states is on the commission. One can expect bad human rights' abusers to serve on the commission merely by the law of averages. This year's guardians of human rights include Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and, arguably the most repressive state in the world, Saudi Arabia.

Secretary-General Annan recognized that the HRC was harming the reputation of the UN as a whole and called for it to be scrapped and replaced by a much smaller council. Though the right wing should be beware: he also wants a new council to have more power, which might be problematic to the neo-con strategy of 'accountability without authority.'

The HRC is so useless that even its own head trashed it. The highly respected Louise Arbour, who is a former justice on the Canadian Supreme Court and was once head of the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, called the commission selective and unfair.

"There is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world is answered by reference to just four states," she said.

The current HRC's sole purpose is to protect its members from being named and shamed. Annan, Arbour and others are right to call for a new body with both accountability AND authority.

*-For more on the UN's rough year and the dubiousness of its harshest critics, read here


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