- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

Jakarta gets panel

Indonesia will be chosen today to chair the U.N. Human Rights Commission, according to sources in Geneva.

The archipelago nation is not exactly a beacon of human rights and self-determination, say Western diplomats and human-rights advocates, but they also say it is not as embarrassing as seeing Libya elected to the same position two years ago.

By chairing the commission, Jakarta will have some latitude in determining how to resolve the inevitable disputes over resolutions condemning dictatorships from Cuba to Zimbabwe. It also will have latitude to appoint rapporteurs authorized to travel the world and evaluate the rights of minorities, prisoners and other disenfranchised portions of society.

The commission will meet for six high-decibel weeks this year, starting March 14.

As with most desirable U.N. jobs, the Human Rights Commission chairman is rotated regionally. And as the unchallenged choice of the Asian group, Indonesia’s candidacy can only be rubber-stamped by commission members. It was the same with Libya, the choice of the African group in 2002.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said this weekend that Indonesia “is not the same tragedy as Libya, but neither is it a paragon of virtue.” He said Jakarta committed “extensive atrocities in Aceh and shows a determined unwillingness to bring to justice people responsible for atrocities in East Timor.”

On the other hand, he added, the new government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has taken positive steps toward reform.

Danforth bows out

John C. Danforth represented the United States here for only six months, but he marshalled every tool in the box to increase international leverage in Sudan.

The former Episcopal minister and longtime senator denounced human-rights abuses there every time he passed a microphone, and made similarly impassioned pleas in private meetings with diplomats and U.N. officials.

In November, he airlifted 15 Security Council representatives to Kenya to watch officials from Khartoum and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army sign a peace accord after two decades of north-south warfare.

Throughout his six months at the United Nations, Mr. Danforth was not shy about expressing his frustration with its work.

But in his farewell remarks to the Security Council on Thursday, he emphasized the importance of the United Nations, and made an effort to defend the United States to other members.

“I would simply say in this connection that the United States is a big country; it’s a very strong country; it’s a well-meaning country. It really tries to do the right thing, and nobody likes opposition; nobody likes criticism.”

Mr. Danforth, who served at the United Nations during an unusually fractious interlude in U.S.-U.N. relations, was careful to publicly defend the organization as “even more important than I thought it was when I came here.”

“The United Nations is important for the welfare and the stability of the world,” he declared, “and it is important for the welfare of the United States as well.”

Mr. Danforth, a political appointee, was the first U.S. ambassador in a long time who was not a career Foreign Service officer and did not harbor political ambitions.

The plain-spoken Missouri native acknowledged the strange folkways of the United Nations.

“It struck me as odd, for the first month or so, how we would get all tied up in ‘wordsmithing,’ the difference between ‘demands’ and ‘urges,’ or the difference between measures and sanctions, and so on,” he said.

“But thinking about it, it really is evidence of the fact that people from all over the world are trying to reach together to bridge differences and to define formulations that bridge differences and allow us to move forward in addressing matters of very serious concern.”

Mr. Danforth is to return to St. Louis this week. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson will fill in until a permanent successor is named and confirmed.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at BPisik@washingtontimes.com

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