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Annan wants UNCHR abolished

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Last updated on: April 08, 2005 18:24 IST

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday urged member-states to reach an agreement on the abolition of the UN Commission on Human Rights to replace it with a smaller Human Rights Council.

Annan was addressing the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights at Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The establishment of the new council, he said, was necessary to protect the image of the United Nations. He said the "declining credibility of UNCHR has cast a shadow on the reputation of the UN system as a whole, and any piecemeal reform would not be enough."

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Annan had made this proposal in a report called "In Larger Freedom" released in New York in March.

However, he elaborated his arguments and explained the need for the abolition of the present commission for the first time on Thursday.

Annan addressed the packed auditorium for about 15 minutes. The meeting was attended by the High Commissioner of UNCHR, Louise Arbour, chairman of the ongoing session Makarim Wibisono, ambassadors of almost all the 53 member-states of the UN, international rights groups and journalists.

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Reading out a written speech in English, he said: "I urge member-states to reach early agreement in principle to establish a Human Rights Council. They can then turn to the details of its size, composition and mandate; its relationship with other UN bodies; and how to retain the best of the existing mechanisms."

Annan said the current body has some "notable strengths" but its "ability to perform its tasks has been overtaken by new needs, and undermined by the politicisation of its sessions and the selectivity of its work."

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"A Human Rights Council would offer a fresh start." He called this proposal as "most dramatic."

He said the new body should have status, authority and capability commensurate with the importance of its work.

Unlike the current practice in which the commission meets annually for six weeks in March-April, Annan suggested that the new council would work throughout the year and have "explicitly defined function as a chamber of peer review."

The most important point of the new council is that it would be smaller than the current commission and would have only select members.

At present all 53 member-states of UN are the members of the commission. These members include countries that have been alleged with gross human rights violations.

Experts and observers have been questioning how can the commission have such countries in its ambit who do not follow the basic principles of citizens' rights.

Annan has proposed that the General Assembly will elect the members of the new council by two-third majority.

This, according to him, would make the council more representative and devoid of the violators of human rights. It will also enable the council to take action against them if found guilty.

Experts and observers have said that the current commission has become a place of "power game."

Rich and powerful countries are able to form groups and gain support of other states to get a favourable resolution passed. Influential nations use their might to corner smaller and poor nations.

For example, United States has been accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Cuba and Afghanistan. Similarly, China has been accused to torturing minority Falun Gong followers and Uighurs.

But no scrutiny or strict resolutions against them have been proposed at the ongoing session of the commission. However, smaller states are always under the monitoring of the UN.

Without naming any country, Annan said: "Nobody has a monopoly on human rights virtue. Abuses are found in rich countries as well as poor."

He proposed that under the new system "every nember could come up for review on a periodic basis." In his speech, Annan emphasised by repeating twice that the main task of the council would be to "evaluate the fulfilment by all states of all their human rights obligations."

He praised the commission's work in the last 60 years, but urged for a complete change in the existing structure to meet new challenges. Annan said: "The era of declaration is now giving way to an ear of implementation."

He asked the High Commissioner to submit a report on the UNCHR by May 20, 2005.

Acknowledging the shortcomings of the UN system, he said: "The gap between what we seem to promise and what we actually deliver, has grown…Our constituents will not understand and accept any excuse if we fail to act. So let us show them that we understand what is at stake."

Ehtasham Khan in Geneva