Print this Page

What's New

Resources updated between Monday, February 20, 2006 and Sunday, February 26, 2006

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Yesterday the President of the UN General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, released the final draft of a new UN human rights body. With a design which promises an institution more contemptible than its predecessor, the process has brought the UN to the edge of an abyss.

Human rights protection was the UN's essential rationale. The credibility of the entire organization depends on fixing its discredited central human rights mechanism, the Commission on Human Rights. It is now clear that this effort has failed.

Regardless of its content, Secretary-General Kofi Annan desperately wants the creation of this new Council to stand as the crowning achievement of his nine years in office. Shortly after the text was announced, therefore, Annan released a statement dramatically raising the stakes. He claimed that failure to adopt Eliasson's proposal "would undermine the Organization's credibility, render the commitments made by world leaders meaningless, and deal a blow to the cause of human rights."

The reality, however, is that the proposed Council represents an enormous step backward for the international protection of human rights and the spread of democratic governance. The United States would do the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first Chair of the Commission on Human Rights, an enormous disservice by pretending otherwise.

The heart of the problem with the Commission lies with its membership. Current members include some of the world's worst human rights violators, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Throughout the months of negotiations over a new entity, such states vehemently opposed efforts to introduce criteria for membership on the Council. They succeeded. Not one criterion is included. Instead, the draft merely suggests "when electing members" a state's human rights record be "taken into account". Even states under Security Council sanction for human rights violations (albeit at the moment applying only to Sudan and Cte d'Ivoire) would not be excluded automatically.

Other features of the proposal which reveal the failure to fix the membership problem, and the consequences:

  • There is a provision for suspending a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights. But the step can only be taken with the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly. Not even fifty percent of the General Assembly could agree that Sudan was guilty of human rights violations in November of 2005.
  • The proposal significantly shifts the balance of power away from the Western regional group, including the United States. The African and Asian regional groups will hold 55% of the votes. The proportional representation of the Asian group will see the greatest increase and the Western group, the greatest decline.
  • States which are elected must rotate off every two terms. The United States has been a member of the Commission since 1947 with one exception, and has played a leadership role in efforts to promote human rights throughout its history, as well as contributing 22% of its costs.
  • While there is a plan to conduct a human rights review of all UN states, there is no guarantee that even those countries found complicit in massive and sustained human rights abuses would be censured. No outcome of the review process is specified and the review takes place only after the elections.
  • Instead of a much smaller body designed to attract the best citizens of each regional group, the proposal merely reduces the number of members from 53 to 47.
  • Special sessions of the Commission can be called by only one-third of the Council's membership. Although this feature has been hailed as an improved capacity to deal with urgent human rights situations, the membership of the new Council will make it more likely that special sessions will be about the United States and Israel than China or Sudan.
  • The Council is given a mandate to follow-up goals and commitments "emanating from UN conferences and summits" - many of which have been specifically rejected by the United States.
  • A last-minute addition in response to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Danish cartoons affair, places the emphasis on roles or responsibilities rather than reinforcing freedom of speech.

There is no doubt the United States would be the biggest single loser from the creation of this body. But more generally, U.S. support is unwarranted because the name change from Commission to Council will erroneously suggest renewed credibility in the absence of real reform.

Annan is insisting that the vote to adopt this Council occur by the end of next week. His false deadline conveys a sense of panic that looking at the proposal too closely will raise serious doubts. The UN has waited decades to repair an ailing Commission. Annan's retirement party is not a good reason to substitute a cure that is worse than the disease.

This note appeared earlier in the National Review Online.

Anne Bayefsky

Yesterday the President of the UN General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, released the final draft of a new UN human rights body. With a design which promises an institution more contemptible than its predecessor, the process has brought the UN to the edge of an abyss.

Human rights protection was the UN's essential rationale. The credibility of the entire organization depends on fixing its discredited central human rights mechanism, the Commission on Human Rights. It is now clear that this effort has failed.

The Proposed UN Human Rights Council: The Cure is worse than the Disease Editor's Note

February 24, 2006

Mahmoud Abbas

Not surprisingly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sees the UN as the right body to attempt to thwart Israel's self-defense.

Abbas appeals to UN Security Council to halt IDF's Nablus operation Article

The art of UN doublespeak. The Palestinian UN observer says of the election of Hamas by the Palestinian people - an organization dedicated to the destruction of a UN member state - "the election results do not represent a departure from the positions and agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority. This includes international and various Arab summit resolutions, the provisions of international law...the road map...and all the agreements signed with Israel." Trouble is, the Arab Terrorism Convention and the Terrorism Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exclude "Peoples' struggle including armed struggle ...aimed at liberation and self-determination" from the definition of terrorism.

Letter from the Palestinian observer to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council on "plans by the Government of Israel to isolate Al-Aghwar (the Jordan Valley) area from the rest of the West Bank" Development

February 23, 2006

Alvaro de Soto

UN official, once again, steps in to protect Hamas.

UN faults Israel for halt in funds to Palestinians Article

February 22, 2006

Mark Malloch Brown

Just for starters the Secretary-General, who has been at the helm of the UN for nine years, sent his Chief of Staff, who has been on the job for one year, to brief the UN Security Council on financial scandals concerning peacekeeping-related procurement (valued at $1.4 billion in 2005). An embarrassed Mark Malloch Brown explained "The Secretary-General felt that...[I] would be the most appropriate person to update the Council on such important issues." Compare the Secretary-General's leap at the opportunity just over a week ago to open the meeting of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (the same Committee that displayed a map without the UN member state of Israel at its previous session.) Is the Secretary-General under the impression that it's ok to stick to a rigorous round of cocktail hours, or sticking his neck out occasionally to criticize the United States, for the remainder of his 10 months in office?

Security Council meets to discuss Peacekeeping operations, particularly procurement practices(press release) Development

John Bolton

Ambassador Bolton listens to the Security Council reports on UN action to combat terrorism and has one overriding message many UN members don't want to hear - implementation; "technical assistance" won't take the place of concrete action. Of course, the UN's inability to agree upon a definition of terrorism and therefore to identify leading terrorists and their state sponsors, puts something of a damper on the credibility of any UN initiative in the field.

Statement of Ambassador John Bolton in the Joint Public Meeting on the Counter-Terrorism Committee, Al Qaeda/Taliban Committee and Counter-Proliferation Committee Development

Fayssal Mekdad

Clear evidence why the UN stands for international peace and security (remember the UN Charter?) but cannot combat the mortal threat which terrorism poses to peace and security today. All of the three committees meeting yesterday to discuss the UN role in fighting terrorism were actually the same Security Council wearing three different hats. The conversation of the committee chairmen focused on such issues as reports due, a few visits to states by invitation of the country concerned, and enhancing dialogue on technical assistance. Four and a half years after 9/11 the UN still has no definition of terrorism. A state like Syria, therefore, has no problem telling the Security Council: "his Government condemned terrorism...his country...had been a victim of terrorist activity...Syria was developing its own national legislation to combat terrorism...Syria...urged the...Committee to consider the legitimate right of peoples to fight against occupation and to liberate their lands. The Arab region was suffering from terrorism every day -- State terrorism in particular, as practised by Israel..." And very few laughed.

Security Council briefed by anti-terrorism Committees (press release) Development

Here we have the spectacle of the Non-Aligned Movement - 113 of the 191 UN member states - suddenly interested in scandals which have plagued the UN for years, under the guise of protecting their turf. The impetus? Ambassador John Bolton, as President of the Security Council for the month of February, quite properly insists that these issues should no longer be swept under the rug or hidden from public view.

Letter from the Non-Aligned Movement to the President of the Security Council on "the relationship among the principal organs of the United Nations" Development

February 21, 2006

Food for Nukes? Article

Secretary-General Kofi Annan worries about a "power-grab" by the United States, a democratic state funding a quarter of the UN budget. Note he never talks about a power-grab when it comes to the strangle-hold that the Organization of the Islamic Conference has on the General Assembly - witness the Assembly's inability to adopt a definition of terrorism. Nor does he speak about a power-grab when it comes to the African group's protection of such serial human rights abusers as Sudan and Zimbabwe. The 2005 Assembly refused to adopt resolutions condemning these states. (AB)

Annan, Assembly head expect progress on rights council, other reform this week Article

Not a public document says UN official referring to "A recently completed report from the Organization's Office of International Oversight Services (OIOS)" which raises "a number of serious allegations and concerns." (AB)

Press Conference on UN Procurement by Under-Secretary-General for Management Development

February 20, 2006

UN's ElBaradei once again helping Iran move closer to the acquisition of nuclear weapons - "small-scale enrichment on Iranian soil" being somewhat like a little bit pregnant.

Iran, Russia to Hold Crucial Nuclear Talks Article

Cash-for-Kofi Article