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UN Human Rights Commission Suspends Session


Human Rights Organizations are dismayed by the decision of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to suspend its annual session for the second time in two weeks. The commission says it is awaiting a decision from the U.N. Economic and Social Council on how it should proceed with the transition to the newly created U.N. Human Rights Council. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA in Geneva that the commission is to resume its work next Monday.

For the second week, the Peruvian chairman of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights suspended the annual six-week meeting. He told delegates that later in the week, New York would inform the commission whether it should hold a one or two day procedural session or meet for the remaining three weeks.

Peter Splinter is Amnesty International's Representative in Geneva. He calls these serial suspensions a very sad ending to the commission, which has been in existence for more than 60 years.

"This Commission should be wrapping up its business so the Council can begin in June. Many diplomats talk about having a dignified last session of the Commission. Some even talk about a dignified funeral," Splinter says. "What is happening now is akin to having a bar-room brawl at a funeral. This is not the right way to wrap-up the last session of the Commission. It deserves better than this."

Splinter says there is still important business the commission could be doing instead of just marking time until the new Human Rights Council comes into being. He says the commission could recommend that the General Assembly adopt a Convention on Forced Disappearances and a Declaration on Indigenous Rights.

One person who is not sorry to see the commission go is David Matas. He is a lawyer and part of the delegation from B'Nai B'Rith International in Canada. Though the commission is not holding its regular session, he says he still considers the long trip he made to Geneva to have been worthwhile.

"As a member of B'nai B'rith International, I feel it is appropriate to come to visit its death and burial because this is a commission that really collapsed because of its obsession with Israel and its failure to focus on other countries and their violation," Matas says. "So, that is one reason I am glad to be here."

A member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Edith Ballantyne has been following the Commission since 1970. She says the commission has achieved a lot of good work and she is sorry to see it come to an end. She says she is disappointed the commission is not pursuing its human-rights agenda. She adds she does not understand why the commission cannot do substantive work during this final session.

"I do think that the victims are short-changed because an awful lot of people are suffering all over the world," Ballantyne says. "They are appealing to the U.N. So, it is really the U.N. that is going to be discredited by not really responding to the need, because the mechanisms are in place, at least still until June."

Issues that were to have come up at this session include reports on torture, forced disappearances and summary executions. The commission also was set to examine a special report on U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanemo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and human-rights violations in countries such as Sudan, Israel and Uzbekistan.

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