Human Rights Watch said the United Nations Human Rights Commission must prove it can promote human rights despite the bad record of some of its own members. Speaking to reporters in Geneva ahead of the commission's opening on Monday, the rights group expressed concern that some countries are using anti-terrorism measures after the September 11 terrorist attacks to justify crackdowns on opposition.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch says the U.N. Human Rights Commission is going to have to battle to show that human rights are relevant as the war on terrorism presses on.
The group's policy director, Reed Brody, said it is an uphill task because this year's commission has a large number of what he called abusive governments among its 53 members.
"It has to show that despite the sorry record of many of its members, that it can rise above self-interest and that it can act to promote human rights around the world," Mr. Brody said.
Mr. Brody said Human Rights Watch is on hand in Geneva to help generate the political will needed to defend human rights and to shame countries into action.
He accused the United States of rewriting international humanitarian law to suit its own purposes, while China, he said, must be taken to task for its crackdown on religious movements.
Mr. Brody also argued that Russia has refused for the past two years to address commission concerns over alleged atrocities in Chechnya. But he pointed to the escalation of civilian casualties among Israelis and Palestinians as the most pressing human rights crisis at the moment.
"The predominance of civilians among those killed and gravely wounded reflects a pervasive disregard for civilian lives and well-being by those with arms, and by the occupying power," he said. "Israeli security forces, which have been responsible for the most extensive abuses, have used excessive and indiscriminate force in built-up areas, and sometimes targeted civilians. Palestinian-armed groups have made a specialty of indiscriminate attacks designed to maximize Israeli civilian casualties."
Mr. Brody repeated a similar call by Amnesty International for the stationing of human rights monitors to help quell the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
He says such a presence could improve security for civilians while providing the international community with independent information as to whether further protective steps are needed.