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'Members Should Uphold Human Rights,' Says Head of UN Human Rights Commission - 2002-09-20


The new head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission says countries serving on the commission should themselves respect human rights.

In his first public statements as the U.N.'s top human rights defender, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said the yearly forum examining countries' rights records must have more stringent criteria for its member countries.

Mr. Vieira de Mello said the U.N. Human Rights Commission must ensure that only those states that uphold human rights can serve as members. "Select criteria for membership in the Commission on Human Rights defining the bottom line: adherence, ratification of all important human rights instruments, their implementation and practice within the borders of that country," he said. "The willingness to promote and protect human rights worldwide."

This year, some countries on the U.N. Human Rights Commission blocked scrutiny of alleged rights abuses in China, Zimbabwe and the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya.

Next year, African states will have the right to elect the commission chair, and it appears they will select Libya. Many nations have expressed concern about that possibility because of Libya's human rights record.

On other subjects, Mr. Vieira de Mello said he will seek to protect civilians in conflict situations, combat racism and see the rights of women promoted. But he indicated he may do so in a more quiet, behind-the scenes way than his predecessor, Mary Robinson.

Turning to concerns that human rights are being trampled in the world-wide fight against terrorism, Mr. Vieira de Mello says exceptional threats often require exceptional measures. But he adds that there are limits that must be respected. "These exceptional measures must be taken in transparency, respecting the fact that there are certain fundamental rights, which are non-derogable - that cannot be derogated - and these measures should be of short duration," he said.

Mr. Vieira de Mello is a veteran Brazilian diplomat, who worked for more than 30 years in U.N. humanitarian operations in the world's trouble spots, including the Middle East and Afghanistan. He says he plans to put people first in his job, especially the tortured, silenced and the oppressed, while making sure governments uphold the rule of law.

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