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UN Human Rights Commission Resumes in Geneva for Last Session

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights resumes its last annual six-week session Monday with an uncertain agenda. The widely criticized commission is to be replaced this year by the newly created Human Rights Council.

Diplomats here in Geneva believe the U.N. Commission on Human Rights will not finish out its final session and predict it will wrap up within a week.

The commission had in its agenda U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and the human rights records of countries such as Sudan, Israel and Uzbekistan.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says the 53-member forum is not likely to engage in much substantive work - as these important matters will be left to the newly created Human Rights Council.

"I also would like to think that the last session of the commission will provide at least some opportunity to put on the record, at least some testimony of its historical achievements and some reflection on how far we have taken ourselves with this mechanism in the last 60 years," sh says. "Now, whether this is seen as a sufficient, substantive session and whether even the appetite will be for that, I think is a question, as I said, for member states,"

The commission 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.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution to create a new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited commission. The United States was one of four countries to vote against the motion, saying the new body also does not have a mechanism to prevent abuser nations from becoming members.

The new council comes into being on June 19. The General Assembly will vote May 9 by secret ballot to pick the body's 47 members.

Reed Brody - special counsel to the U.S.-based group, Human Rights Watch - says he hopes the new council will block undeserving countries from membership.

"I think the challenge now frankly is to prove the United States wrong," he says. "And, I think our challenge is to make the council as good as the United States would have liked to see the council be…. Human Rights Watch has said publicly that countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Nepal who are sitting on the current commission have no business on the Human Rights council."

Brody says the lame-duck commission should wrap-up its meeting quickly. He says it will not be able to pass resolutions and should leave the substantive issues for the new council to tackle.