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UNHRC Receives Mixed Reviews at Conclusion of Geneva Session - 2002-04-26

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has ended its six-week session in Geneva amid mixed reviews of what it has achieved to end rights abuses.

Many human rights activists are calling this year's commission a failure. They say if the U.N.'s top human rights body is to remain an important mechanism for rights protection, something must be changed. In remarks to reporters in Geneva, Rory Mungoven of the organization Human Rights Watch, stressed the concerns rights advocates have.

"The commission has effectively become hostage to a group of human rights abusers whose interest is in defending themselves from scrutiny, rather than upholding human rights," he said. "And the U.S. and the European Union, governments that should champion human rights, have been very half-hearted and inconsistent in standing up to this assault. This session we have seen some of the commission's most important tools, in particular its power to name and shame human rights violators, come under attack and be seriously eroded."

Rights advocates argue that the commission failed to address charges of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, China or Chechnya. They also say the mandates of special investigators to Iran and Equatorial Guinea were ended, despite continued allegations of persistent rights violations in those places.

In addition, the activists say the United States undermined initiatives to protect human rights in the war against terrorism. They say Mexico reluctantly withdrew a resolution calling for anti-terrorism measures to conform with international humanitarian law in response to pressure from the United States. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Kevin Moley, declined to respond directly to the charge, telling reporters they should ask Mexico why it withdrew the resolution.

But human rights activists also point to positive advances made by the commission. They say measures to combat torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions were strengthened during the six-week session.

In her closing remarks to the commission, the U.N.'s top human rights official, Mary Robinson, warned that the commission could lose its mandate, if it does not do more to protect people whose rights are being violated.

"I hear distress and concern voiced by the human rights movement over allegations of increased politicization of issues in the commission to the detriment of true human rights concerns," she said. "This is a time to remind ourselves of the essential role of the Commission on Human Rights in protecting human beings against gross violations through highlighting and publicizing those violations."

Mrs. Robinson said the commission must remember that it has two important roles: to serve as a forum for victims of human rights abuses and to heed voices of conscience from every part of the world.