- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

The world’s most repressive countries hold more than a quarter of the seats in the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission and their presence has subverted the panel’s mandate, a respected watchdog group reported yesterday.

In its annual report on the world’s biggest human-rights abusers, Freedom House lists 18 countries as the “worst of the worst regimes” and notes that six of them — China, Cuba, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe — are members of the commission.

“Repressive governments enjoying [U.N. Human Rights Commission] membership work in concert and have successfully subverted the commission’s mandate,” Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor said.

“Rather than serving as the proper international forum for identifying and publicly censuring the world’s most egregious human rights violators, the [commission] instead protects abusers, enabling them to sit in judgment of democratic states that honor and respect the rule of law,” she said.

When Cuba was re-elected to a three-year term on the panel in April 2003, the White House denounced it, saying the move “is like putting Al Capone in charge of bank security.”

Yesterday in Geneva, the United States announced plans to introduce a resolution in the commission censuring Cuba for its human rights record.

Besides the six members of the rights commission, the countries listed among the most repressive are: Belarus, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Nine other countries — Bhutan, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Swaziland and Togo — that are members of the rights commission have been rated “not free” by Freedom House.

“Not free” countries hold 15 out of the 53 seats on the commission.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a March 21 report on reforming the United Nations, acknowledged that the presence of suspect countries has dealt a severe blow to the credibility of the rights commission and proposed replacing it with a “Human Rights Council.”

Members of the council would be chosen based on their compliance with the “highest human rights standards,” he said.

Mr. Annan’s proposal received mixed response from diplomats and the human rights community.

“Instead of defending human rights, the commission has become an Abusers’ Defense Society,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with The Washington Times.

He said Mr. Annan “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.”

According to the proposal, the council would be elected directly by member states of the U.N. General Assembly by a two-thirds majority.

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