September 13, 2005

September 13, 2005 | News Releases on Legal Issues

Time to "Completely Rethink" U.N.'s Approach to Human Rights, Expert Says

WASHINGTON, SEPT. 14, 2005 - When it comes to human rights and the United Nations, it's not enough to tinker at the edges, as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed. Rather, says a new paper from The Heritage Foundation, it's time to "completely rethink our commitment to human rights in the context of the United Nations."

For too long, notes Joseph Loconte, a Heritage expert on religion and free societies who served on the 2005 Congressional Task Force on the United Nations, non-democratic nations with long histories of human-rights abuses have sat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. As long as that situation is allowed to stand, "it will be difficult, if not impossible, to effectively advance the cause of human rights in the United Nations," Loconte says.

The Heritage report notes that countries such as Libya, a well-documented violator of human rights, recently chaired the U.N. Human Rights Commission. And countries such as Sudan-scene of open, government-sanctioned genocide in recent years-manage to remove themselves from the U.N.'s list of countries that require special monitoring, even as the massacres continue.

Secretary-General Annan has recognized that such practices damage the international organization's stature, telling delegates to the commission that their work had become dangerously compromised. "We have reached a point at which the Commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough," he said.

Loconte recommends taking Annan at his word and calls for abolishing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights outright. The Heritage analyst also recommends:

  • Rejecting any reform proposal that would allow any successor to the Commission to have its membership determined by a General Assembly vote. "On issues as diverse as anti-Semitism, the definition of terrorism, the promotion of democracy and the reality of genocide, this body has demonstrated it can't be trusted to separate those who belong on such a commission and those who don't," Loconte says.
  • Establishing a U.S. Commission on Human Rights, led by an independent human rights commissioner appointed by the president. The new commission would focus on preventing genocide and gross human-rights abuses around the world.
  • Mobilizing a Democracy Caucus to work inside and outside the United Nations to promote democracy and human rights.
  • Strengthening the office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights. The United States should insist that the High Commissioner focus on the most serious abuses and report directly to the Security Council, Loconte says.
  • Strengthening the role of non-governmental organizations and others in monitoring human-rights abuses.

"If we want to extend and defend the cause of human rights in the world, the effort has to involve the countries as committed and animated by these ideals as we are," Loconte says. "It begins with us."

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