- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed to scrap the Human Rights Commission, expand the Security Council’s responsibility to intervene in crisis, and adopt a universal definition of terrorism as part of a broad effort save the United Nations from irrelevancy.

Mr. Annan will submit the proposal to member states today, kicking off a six-month diplomatic blitz to win support for a complex package of reforms that reconceptualize the responsibilities of both the organization and its member states.

The proposal is an attempt to draw together the overlapping issues of security, human rights and development and, aides to Mr. Annan stressed yesterday, should be adopted by the U.N. member states as a whole rather than picked apart to serve national interests.

The need for a speedy response to the issues will be stressed at a summit on development and U.N. reform, which is being organized to coincide with the annual opening of the General Assembly in September.

“There is this ‘now-or-never’ sense, the sense that the status quo is not acceptable and there has to be a set of reforms to align the U.N. to take on the world’s challenges,” Mr. Annan’s chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, told reporters yesterday afternoon.

The Bush administration long has pressured the United Nations to play a more effective role in the fight against terror and to improve its efforts to spread human rights and democracy.

The U.N. report, titled “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All,” addresses all three issues, though its authors acknowledge that some of the suggestions will be difficult for Washington to swallow.

In one of the most radical suggestions, Mr. Annan proposes scrapping the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission — which has been rendered toothless by the election to its membership of notoriously repressive nations — and replacing it with a new body that would be elected directly by a two-thirds majority of U.N. member states.

Members of the current body are elected by their neighbors on a regional basis, resulting in the selection of countries like Cuba, Pakistan, Sudan and China to monitor human rights violations around the world.

Mr. Annan, a former head of U.N. peacekeeping, also suggests that the Security Council accept its “responsibility to protect” civilian populations by passing a resolution promising to intervene when a government can’t or won’t protect its own people from crimes against humanity.

That proposal could, in theory, legitimize the war in Iraq and hasten action in Sudan. But it surely will meet resistance from nations — possibly including the United States — that worry about infringing on national sovereignty.

In another potentially controversial stand, Mr. Annan has endorsed a definition of terrorism that makes no reference to “state-sponsored” acts, and urged nations to conclude a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention in 2006. Many Arab and Islamic nations favor the “state-sponsored” language as a slap at Israel.

The secretary-general has largely sidestepped the most politically difficult question: How to expand the Security Council to reflect the modern balance of power in the world?

There is broad agreement that there should be permanent members on the council from Africa and Latin America, while all regions could benefit from more rotating seats. But choosing which nations would get the seats, and how to apportion their power, remain contentious.

Mr. Annan has chosen not to endorse any particular approach, merely urging world leaders to make up their minds before they get to New York for the Sept. 14-16 summit.

The 56-page report did not include many provisions to make the organization more transparent and accountable — in part, aides said yesterday, because Mr. Annan expects to detail those later.

Among the anticipated new policies are a sharing of internal audits with member states, steps to make the inspector general’s office more independent, and protection for whistleblowers.

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