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Annan Calls for Sweeping Reforms of Rights Body

  • Lisa Schlein

Kofi Annan
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the agency needs a new human rights commission to battle suffering around the world. In a speech to the Commission, Mr. Annan called for sweeping reforms of the body which, he said, has become less effective in protecting people around the world.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan lashed out at the Commission for its failure to stop human rights abuses. He said the UN Human Rights Commission had become too politicized and this is undermining its ability to carry out its work.

"We have reached a point at which the Commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough or will not do," he said. "And, unless we remake our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself."

The Commission is composed of 53 member states which are nominated by regional groups. Mr. Annan proposes to replace this body with a smaller Human Rights Council, whose members would be elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. He said those elected should have a solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards.

Human Rights Organizations have long complained that some of the world's worst violators of human rights are members of the Commission. They accuse these countries of working to protect their own national interests to the detriment of victims of abuse who are in need of protection.

Current members include Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, China and Russia. All are countries accused of widespread violations of human rights.

Speaking with journalists after his speech, Mr. Annan said no country would escape scrutiny by the new Human Rights Council.

"No one can claim complete virtue when it comes to human rights application," he said. "And, that the new Council should have the opportunity periodically of looking at human rights records of every country and that we should be able to apply the rules fairly and consistently across the board. I think you expect now that I will name names. I'm not going to do that."

Mr. Annan said human rights are the core of the United Nations' identity. But, he noted that the U.N., for too long, has failed to deliver on its promise of defending the rights of the weak and the voiceless. He said these people will not understand or accept any excuses if the United Nations, once again, fails to act.

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