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Human Rights Watch Chides UN Rights Commission

The humanitarian organization, Human Rights Watch, says the U.N. Commission on Human Rights must take dramatic steps to restore its "sinking credibility." The organization says it is unacceptable that among its members, the Commission includes governments responsible for crimes against humanity. The Commission opens its annual session next week in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch says the increasing politicization of the U.N. Human Rights Commission is undermining the reputation of the United Nations as a whole. It says the U.N. body must aggressively expose and respond to human rights abuses worldwide if it is to remain relevant.

The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says the Commission has become a refuge for governments like Sudan, which should be in the dock, rather than on the podium as a member of the Commission. He also says the most important issue facing the Commission this year is to find a way to address human rights abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism.

And he says one of the most urgent humanitarian situations facing the Commission, is the acute crisis in Sudan.

"The atrocities in Darfur have been abominable," he said "They are continuing to this day. While clearly the Security Council is seized of the matter, that does not in any sense relieve the Commission of its responsibility to act vigorously."

Last year, the U.N. Human Rights Commission voted to discontinue the mandate of the U.N. expert appointed to investigate human rights abuses in Sudan. Mr. Roth says the Commission must name a new investigator who could shine a light on that country's violations of international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch also is calling for a special rapporteur on the African Great Lakes region, to report on cross-border human rights concerns. It says the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda are very worrying.

Mr. Roth says the Commission must condemn Russia for its policies in Chechnya. He says Russia has benefited from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He says President, Vladimir Putin, has skillfully cast the war in Chechnya as part of the global war on terrorism.

"It is time to end that green light," he said. "Putin has profited from this impunity by accelerating the killings in Chechnya. There has been an explosion of disappearances. And, this worsening situation again cries out for a resumption of the critical resolutions that for two years had finally been adopted with respect to Chechnya."

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and other allegations of mistreatment of terror suspects, Mr. Roth also lashes out at what he calls the negative role played by the U.S. government. He says the United States is not the worst abuser, but is setting a bad example.

"I cannot tell you how often these days Human Rights Watch encounters governments and when confronted about their abuse of prisoners they turn around and say 'well what do you think the United States does,'" he said.

Human Rights Watch also is urging the UN Human Rights Commission to carefully scrutinize the worsening human rights records of countries such as Iran, Nepal and Uzbekistan.