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UN Human Rights Commission in Crisis, charges Rights Group - 2003-03-12

The human rights group Human Rights Watch is calling on the United States and the European Union to restore the credibility of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth told reporters in Geneva that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is in crisis. He says the U.N.'s major rights forum is ineffective in combating abuses because many of the countries that belong to the commission are among the biggest violators of human rights and are trying to use the forum as a shield against scrutiny.

Mr. Roth urged the United States and the European Union to take an active role in countering this trend by working to ensure that the commission does its task, which is to name and shame those countries that abuse human rights.

"They are getting away with this because of all the members of the commission, including the U.S. and the EU, have permitted a system to exist in which anybody can be on the commission," said Mr. Roth. "You can make a mockery of it. You can be the worst offender and still be on the commission. And that for us highlights the need for membership criteria. Somebody has to take the lead on that and it is not going to be the abusers."

The Human Rights Watch official says his group wants resolutions passed censuring China, Colombia, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan for abuses that have taken place in those countries. He also said Russia's actions in Chechnya should be censured.

In addition, Mr. Roth discussed the human rights issues that could arise in the event of a war against Iraq. "We are concerned that, probably first and foremost, the likelihood that Saddam Hussein, if he sees the end is near, will wind up killing as many Iraqis as he can as a way of retaliating or embarrassing the United States. So we are very concerned about doing everything that can be done to avert a large-scale slaughter of Kurds or Shi'a," he said.

Mr. Roth was also critical of the United States and the European Union. He accused the European Union of being pre-occupied with forming a consensus on every issue, which he say makes it more difficult to get measures approved condemning abusers. He criticized the United States for placing a higher priority on counter-terrorism measures than on measures to protect human rights.

The Human Rights Commission officially begins its hearings Monday in Geneva. The hearings will last for six weeks.