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U.N.: Annan Reforms ‘Courageous’

(New York, March 21, 2005) – The U.N. Secretary-General is right to conclude that the spectacle of abusive governments flocking to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has so discredited the commission that it is time to simply start over, Human Rights Watch said today.

" The Secretary-General is proposing a structure that could do much more to protect human rights than what the U.N.’s been doing for the last fifty years. "
Kenneth Roth, executive director
In place of the commission, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed a Human Rights Council – a smaller body that would meet year-round. He is making the proposal in a new report officially released today, “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All.”  
The current U.N. Commission on Human Rights ordinarily meets only six weeks out of the year, in March and April. That leaves a rushed agenda and frequently precludes urgent or preventive action. Governments with extremely poor human rights records often manage to stymie any condemnation of themselves, Human Rights Watch said.  
“The Secretary-General is proposing a structure that could do much more to protect human rights than what the U.N.’s been doing for the last fifty years,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This is a courageous proposal and we support it.”  
A human rights body working year-round would also allow for more consistent follow-up on recommendations, better use of the U.N.’s monitoring procedures and more effective responses to crises, Human Rights Watch said.  
The Secretary-General’s report concludes that members in the new body should undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards – a key to distinguishing the new Council from the current Commission.  
“Member states should understand from the outset that membership in a human rights body is a privilege, not a right, and that with it comes the responsibility to live by the standards being upheld,” Roth said.  
The Secretary-General also took courageous steps in the realm of terrorism and counterterrorism, Human Rights Watch said. He rightly concluded that there is never any justification for deliberately attacking civilians or noncombatants, and took the much-needed step of highlighting the need for terrorism to be fought with strict respect for human rights.  
“The Secretary-General’s conclusions on terrorism are an important rejection of those who believe their cause justifies attacking civilians,” said Roth. “His remarks on terrorism and human rights are an important antidote to the epidemic of torture, inhumane treatment, and arbitrary detention that has spread in response to terrorism.”  
At a time when the Security Council is endlessly debating Darfur as its people die, the Secretary-General strongly endorsed the responsibility of the international community to protect people facing mass atrocities when their own governments fail to act, and encouraged full cooperation with the International Criminal Court.  
“The Security Council should heed the Secretary-General’s call and move beyond its endless deliberations to finally provide genuine protection to the people of Darfur,” said Roth.  
On the new Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch emphasized the importance of making sure that the new body continues the most valuable elements of the current system. Those elements include the independent human rights monitoring procedures, known as rapporteurs and working groups, and the active participation of nongovernmental organizations in the work of the body.

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