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UN Commissioner says Human Rights Under Siege

The top U.N. human rights official, Louise Arbour, says nations are falling far short of their responsibilities to protect and promote human rights. Ms. Arbour told delegates attending the opening session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission that greater action must be taken against states that violate their peoples' human rights.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour acknowledges her Human Rights Commission has not always met the challenge of bringing human rights violators to justice. She says much remains to be done to prevent the most horrific manifestations of, what she calls, man's inhumanity to man.

As a way of emphasizing this, Ms. Arbour recalls that this year the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge and last year was the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

"The secretary-general used that occasion to demand determined action to bring an end to the mass violations of human rights being perpetrated in Darfur, Sudan," said Ms. Arbour. "Our response, so far, to that human rights crisis should be examined to see if it falls short of our collective responsibility to the most vulnerable. I suggest to you that it falls very short, whether measured against our obligations or against our means or both."

Ms. Arbour describes the past year as one of turmoil and trauma. She says people around the world are feeling less secure. She contends that upholding human rights can enhance security and peoples' welfare.

She criticizes those who argue that justice can be an impediment to peace. On the contrary, she says justice is the guarantor of peace. She notes that on a recent trip to Afghanistan, people told her they believed that security and peace would best be achieved by obtaining justice for the wrongs which had been done to them.

"They wanted action to be taken against those who had preyed on their vulnerability over an extended period of time," she said. "But, first and foremost, they wanted to be sure that those same individuals no longer had positions of power over them; they wanted the violations to cease and, for once, they wanted the state to do it on their behalf. In that fundamental way, they were truly seeking peace through justice."

The High Commissioner says she is particularly concerned that some long-established rights, such as the right not to be tortured, are now open to unprecedented interpretations. She says failure to effectively implement long-held rights leads to the erosion of those rights.