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UN Human Rights Commission Session in Doubt

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights opens its annual session on Monday under a cloud of uncertainty, as negotiations on forming a new human rights body have deadlocked.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights is scheduled to open its annual six-week session on Monday, but it may not follow its usual, full agenda.

U.N. Human Rights Spokesman Jose Dias says the status of the Commission in Geneva has been thrown into a state of uncertainty, following the failure of negotiators at U.N. headquarters in New York to agree on what a new Human Rights Council would look like. He says suspending the Geneva session is a possibility.

"You have heard some reports about what was being envisaged for the opening of the session. That option, namely the suspension of the session, is still in the cards… For the Commission to take a decision as a Commission, it will have to open," Dias said. "So, it will have to meet, even if it is to say 'we are closing.' So, there will be an opening."

On Friday, in the face of strong U.S. opposition, the president of the U.N. General Assembly decided to postpone a meeting of the body that was to approve creation of a new Human Rights Council. The United States argues the proposed plan will not prevent nations that abuse human rights from becoming members of the new body. It wants stronger barriers to membership and says the current text should be amended.

However, most governments and human rights organizations say reopening the text would lead to its defeat. They concede that the text is not perfect, but, they say it is a good compromise, and would strengthen the U.N.'s human rights efforts.

The 53-member Commission on Human Rights has been criticized for allowing some of the world's worst violators of human rights to sit in judgment on others. In recent years, members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

The executive director of the non-governmental group, Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says he would like to see the Commission operate as a transitional body, one that will hand over power to a new Council. Nevertheless, he says he would like to see the Commission deal with some substantive issues during this year's session, such as the continuing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region.

"We failed last year to get a resolution on Uzbekistan, and a month later Uzbekistan slaughtered hundreds of people on the streets of Andijan… Clearly, there are some countries that should be condemned, even by this Commission," Roth said. "Last year, we got at best a watered-down resolution on Darfur. There is an urgent need for a U.N. resolution on Darfur.

However, Roth says he does not expect any decisions of great import to emerge from this session.