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UN Human Rights Commission Comes Under Scrutiny

Diplomats and human rights organizations say the U.N. Human Rights Commission will come under close scrutiny during its six-week annual session, which opens Monday in Geneva. Human rights groups say the credibility of the U.N. body is on the line.

The United Nations is undergoing a process of reform. And, the U.N. Human Rights Commission is not exempt from this.

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth says governments and rights groups will be looking to see whether the Commission, in its current form, is able to promote human rights, or whether radical reforms are needed. He says the membership of the body needs to be reviewed.

"Roughly half of the membership of the Commission is present, not to promote human rights, but to undermine the Commission," he said. "That is a travesty. It is a travesty that there is a duty for the United Nations to address, if it is to redeem its credibility as a meaningful promoter of human rights."

Among the Commission's 53 members are Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe, all countries, which have been cited for gross violations of human rights.

About 5,000 representatives of governments, international and non-governmental organizations will attend the conference. To set the tone, foreign ministers and other senior government officials, as well as heads of U.N. agencies and intergovernmental organizations will present their views on human rights issues this week.

The rest of the session will examine human rights violations around the world and review reports on topics such as torture, arbitrary detention and summary executions.

Mr. Roth says the commission should examine the question of human rights abuses in the war on terrorism.

"In the name of fighting the plague of terrorism, we are all too aware of the many governments that are violating human rights through arbitrary detention, through the use of torture, or inhumane treatment," he said. "And, so, we urge the adoption of a full, three-year mandate of a special rapporteur assigned to address terrorism and counter-terrorism questions from a human rights perspective."

A representative of Amnesty International, Peter Splinter, says the commission must also come to grips with the terrible abuse and loss of life of tens of thousands of civilians in Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region.

"It is also important for what it will say about the commission," he said. "What will the Commission on Human Rights do on Sudan? Will we have another milk toast [weak] resolution under Item 19 or Item three like last year? Or will the commission take a firm stand, and say to the government of Sudan that measures must be taken to end the violations in Darfur, and improve the respect and impunity."

Amnesty International also is calling for condemnation of abuses in Nepal, Chechnya in the Russian Federation, the United States in Guantanamo and Zimbabwe.