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Human Rights Commission Losing Credibility, NGOs Warn - 2004-04-24

As the U.N. Human Rights Commission concluded its annual six-week session, representatives of several non-governmental organizations said they are disappointed at this year's proceedings. The organizations accuse member governments of undermining the work of the Commission.

Non-governmental organizations acknowledge that some progress was made at this year's commission meetings. In particular, they welcome the naming of Special Investigators to monitor the human rights situations in North Korea and Belarus. They note that a chairperson's statement on Nepal finally brings what they term the "human rights crisis" there into the Commission's focus.

But they say the failure to pass resolutions condemning the situations in the Russian Republic of Chechnya or China or Zimbabwe constitute a defeat. As the Executive Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Nicholas Howen put it, it is discouraging to see how some member states use every possible tactic to undermine the commission by blocking debate on important issues.

"So what do we find? We find 'no-action' motions suddenly turning from something which was rare and only used in the case of China, to being almost routine," said NicholasHowen. "Where Zimbabwe and China, and almost Belarus could escape from scrutiny because of a procedural motion to even block, to cut off, to silence debate at the commission. We find the African group being complicit by building a fortress around the continent and voting in a bloc to prevent action on Zimbabwe and softening approaches to countries like Burundi."

The president of the commission, Australian Ambassador, Mike Smith, says it is the job of non-governmental organizations to criticize. But, he does not agree that the body is losing its credibility. He says the commission is a forum of states and that immediately makes it a political body.

"Therefore, there are always trades and compromises that are made," he said. "But, the strength of it is that when you get a consensus agreement among the membership, it represents a true international consensus on addressing certain issues, which is one of the reasons countries go to great lengths to try and get consensus documents because it does carry a lot of power. But, in that process, of course there are a lot of compromises."

Mr. Smith says this year's commission was successful in passing resolutions which strengthen the ability of the U.N. to monitor violations in countries such as Sudan, Colombia and Nepal. He says he is particularly pleased that the commission strongly supported national human rights institutions. He says they, more than anyone, protect and promote human rights in their own countries.