- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

NEW YORK — The U.N. Human Rights Commission will release a report this week assessing the state of Iraqis’ civil rights under the Coalition Provisional Authority, a potentially critical accounting that could undermine U.S. authority on the commission and ignite renewed revulsion over Abu Ghraib.

The report, compiled by a small group of human rights experts with detailed input from senior CPA officials, should be made public in the next few days, according to U.N. officials in Geneva.

The investigation was announced on April 23 by acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan, long before news of the prison abuses. Mr. Ramcharan has the right to initiate such a report without consulting the 53-member HRC.

U.S. officials said they learned of the investigation shortly before it was announced at the conclusion of a particularly fractious HRC session. U.S. delegates at one point walked out of the session to protest the election to the commission of Sudan, which stands accused of ongoing genocidal practices in its western province of Darfur.

“Our feeling is that they should focus on the Saddam era,” said one State Department official who frequently works on human rights issues at the United Nations. “We were hoping the Iraqi human rights ministers … would tell them, ‘Look, this isn’t necessary.’ ”

The report will examine the period from April 2003 to May 2004, dealing specifically with the military and security situation, protection of civilians, treatment of persons in detention, the situation of women and children, freedom of religion, civil and political rights, and other standard human rights criteria.

The investigation has been championed by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

U.S. officials say the CPA, the occupation’s civilian authority, has done well overall. But they acknowledge that the prison abuses will probably overshadow significant civil rights advances, such as the provisional constitution that guarantees full rights to women and religious freedom for all.

“Presumably, there will be things in there that will give us heartburn,” said Richard Williamson, the Chicago lawyer and diplomat who chaired the U.S. delegation to the Human Rights Commission this spring.

He said in a telephone interview that he does not expect the report to be deeply biased, but feared “this could really undermine our moral superiority in the commission.”

Washington has staked out an increasingly moral and, in many quarters, unpopular stand in the HRC by aggressively seeking the censure of China, Zimbabwe, Cuba and other dictatorial regimes, even as it defends Israel. Some of these resolutions have narrowly squeaked by while others routinely fail.

Mr. Williamson acknowledged that the United States is not getting any more popular on the HRC, whose members include more than a dozen nations with suspect human rights records such as Sudan.

“The United States in the HRC is already fighting an uphill battle,” he said. “We’d like to be putting the spotlight on the worst dictators in the world, instead of this.”

The investigation was carried out by a small group from the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who traveled to the region but not to Iraq itself to interview Iraqis, international groups and nongovernmental organizations. Members of Iraq’s newly created human rights office were to speak to the UNHCHR team.

“I think there will be fairly straight reporting, mention of things we have tried to establish, like the interim constitution,” said the State Department official. “If you look at the list of 10 things, our feeling is that there is some good news to tell, not just the prisons.”

Jose Diaz, a spokesman for Mr. Ramcharan, said the report would likely be presented to the commission late this week. He said it was not clear yet whether there would be a public discussion of the report, nor what kind of follow-up action, if any, will be requested by members.

Mr. Ramcharan served as the deputy high commissioner for human rights under Mary Robinson and Sergio Vieira de Mello. He has been filling in as high commissioner since Mr. Vieira de Mello’s death in August. He will step down when Canadian lawyer Louise Arbor takes over the office in September.

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