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UN Commission on Human Rights must reform

UN Commission on Human Rights must reform itself or risk irrelevance

(Geneva) By failing to act promptly and effectively, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights risks becoming irrelevant, said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, on the eve of the 60th session of the Commission, which begins on 15 March.

"The Commission is the pre-eminent human rights body within the UN. It was created to uphold human rights and denounce violations wherever they occur. But instead, time and time again, the Commission has behaved in a highly fractious, self-interested, politically expedient manner, turning a blind eye to human rights violations and allowing perpetrators to operate with impunity," said Ms Khan.

"Countries with appalling human rights records, such as Algeria, China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Zimbabwe, have escaped serious scrutiny, while the scandalous situation of detainees held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has not even made it to the Commission's agenda."

"All too often the Commission has ignored the finding and recommendations of its own rapporteurs and experts. All too often, Commission members have failed to implement the resolutions and decisions of the Commission, damaging its credibility and undermining its effectiveness," she added.

"We challenge the Commission to reform itself by establishing transparent and objective criteria for selecting the countries it will scrutinise, and by putting in place a more effective system for monitoring and evaluating the implementation by States of the Commission's recommendations," said Ms Khan.

Over the next six weeks the Commission is expected to consider the human rights situation in some 20 countries and address a range of thematic issues. Amnesty International is calling on the Commission to give urgent attention to Haiti where a human rights catastrophe is unfolding as regime supporters and past perpetrators agitate against the background of a UN-sanctioned intervention, and to Iraq where escalating violence continues to endanger civilian lives as plans are made to hand power to an Iraqi government. Amnesty International is also calling on the Commission to take up the human rights situation in Nepal, which is experiencing the highest level of violence since 1996, and in the Sudan where fresh conflict in the Darfur region has affected tens of thousands of people.

Noting the launch of Amnesty International's worldwide campaign to Stop Violence against Women on 5 March 2004, Irene Khan urged Commission members to give priority attention to ensure that women can lead lives free from the fear of violence.

"A decade after the Vienna Conference endorsed women's rights as human rights and the Commission established the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, one in three women in the world still continues to suffer serious abuse, attack, rape or coerced sex because of inequality and discrimination, impunity and apathy of state and society alike. This is an outrageous scandal that should shame every government into urgent attention," said Ms Khan.

"The international legal framework exists - what we now need is commitment and concrete action by governments to implement and uphold those obligations. The Commission is uniquely placed to demand states' compliance of standards that guarantee women's rights to freedom from violence. We support the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur to focus on effective implementation of international treaties and standards."

According to Amnesty International, as of last year, 54 countries still have laws that actively discriminate against women, 79 countries have no law against domestic violence and 127 countries have no laws against sexual harassment.

Welcoming the appointment of Louise Arbour as the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Khan said: "We count on her, as the UN's chief advocate on human rights, to provide leadership to the UN human rights machinery."

"Ultimately, however, the responsibility rests with the member-states of the United Nations. At a time when confidence in the United Nations is low and respect for international law and human rights are under unprecedented pressure, the Commission must rise to the challenge to regain lost territory and re-establish its credibility."

All Amnesty International media materials for the Commission will be available on

Amnesty International 2004 UN Commission on Human Rights Mission: to promote and protect human rights - Summary:

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