- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

GENEVA — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal to ditch the controversial Human Rights Commission has drawn mixed reviews, with supporters lauding the idea as long overdue.

“It could be a positive way to increase the effectiveness of human rights by making them more manageable and decreasing the possibility of notorious violators being elected to it,” said Chris Sidoti, director of International Service for Human Rights.

Similarly, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Monday: “Instead of defending human rights, the commission has become an Abusers’ Defense Society. … The secretary-general is right to conclude that a new council, composed of governments that are genuinely committed to human rights, is the only way to end the travesty.”

The thrust of Mr. Annan’s proposal — which is for heads of state to decide upon during a summit on development and U.N. reform in September during the General Assembly — is to scrap the 53-member-nation commission in favor of a smaller Human Rights Council.

According to the proposal, the council would be elected directly by member states of the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority, and that it would be up to the U.N. member countries to decide if it would be a principal body of the assembly or a subsidiary body.

Amnesty International said in a statement Monday that it welcomed the “bold initiatives” of Mr. Annan to strengthen the human rights machinery.

“With the necessary political will, this time of U.N. reform offers a rare opportunity to create an effective human rights body,” Amnesty added.

Some humanitarian law experts reckon the idea is timely and will fly.

“It’s hard for people to oppose it,” said a former ambassador.

But not all initial reactions were positive that the Annan proposal — in its current form — would muster the necessary political support.

“This looks like a de-facto revision of the finely balanced U.N. charter,” said an ambassador from a Middle East country.

Creation of a new Human Rights Council would require an amendment to the charter, noted Amnesty.

“Developing countries will not swallow it. It will be rejected, of course,” said an ambassador from a major developing country who requested anonymity.

A number of influential Western countries, however, are not convinced a smaller council consisting of mainly states with good human rights records is the way to go.

“It could end up just a club of democratic states who are resented by the rest of the membership and may in fact weaken the reporting aspects in countries further,” said a Western European envoy.

The United States is not keen on universal membership, which is the preferred option for many developing and quite a number of Western countries, while some are completely flexible as long as there is change.

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