(Geneva) — With a membership that includes governments responsible for crimes against humanity, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva next week must take dramatic steps to restore its sinking credibility, Human Rights Watch said today.
Sudan, which was re-elected to the Commission last year, was recently found responsible by the Security Council-created Commission of Inquiry on Darfur for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that likely “constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
To remain relevant, the United Nations’ top rights body must aggressively expose and respond to human rights abuses worldwide, Human Rights Watch said. The Commission on Human Rights itself has come under attack by the U.N.’s High-level Panel on Threats, which noted its “eroding credibility and professionalism.”
“The Commission must focus on protecting human rights, instead of blocking criticism of members that commit serious rights abuses,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The Commission has become a refuge for governments like Sudan, which should be in the dock rather than on the top U.N. rights body.”
Only by reclaiming its role of exposing governments that systematically abuse human rights, and establishing measures to redress those situations, can the Commission re-establish its relevance, Human Rights Watch said.
While the list of countries that should be subject to the Commission’s scrutiny is long, Human Rights Watch has highlighted several urgent situations where the Commission has a particularly urgent responsibility to act. These recommendations should be viewed as test cases of the Commission’s ability to continue to perform its most fundamental responsibilities.
Nepal: In light of the sharply deteriorating human rights conditions in Nepal, where the government’s abuses include numerous “disappearances,” the Commission should establish a special rapporteur on that country to monitor and report on the situation.
Iran: The Commission must restore the recently discontinued mandate of a human rights monitor for Iran. In the past year, human rights conditions have significantly deteriorated in the country, where abuses include torture and ill-treatment in detention, including indefinite solitary confinement used routinely to punish dissidents.
Sudan: The Commission must re-establish the mandate of the special rapporteur on human rights for Sudan and condemn gross abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Sudanese government, its allied Janjaweed and other militia, and rebel groups in Darfur.
Great Lakes region of Africa: With the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda, the Commission should create a post of special rapporteur on the African Great Lakes region to report on cross-border human rights concerns, including the growth of ethnic tensions and the human rights consequences of cross-border military activity.
The former Soviet Union: The Commission should adopt critical resolutions about the situations in Belarus, Russia’s Chechnya region, and Turkmenistan, as well as the ongoing human rights crisis in Uzbekistan.
The United States: Human Rights Watch called on the Commission to condemn “disappearances,” torture, and other mistreatment of detainees by the United States in the “global war on terrorism” and to ask that the United States grant access to terrorism suspects held by the United States around the world to the Commission’s different monitoring mechanisms that have requested such access several months ago.
The adoption of critical resolutions on several of the world’s most severe human rights crises would signal the return to the Commission’s most fundamental focus: the protection of human rights around the world. Another step toward restoring the Commission’s credibility would be ridding its membership of the worst violators of human rights. Human Rights Watch called on member states of the United Nations to deny a seat on the Commission to countries with the worst human rights records and to insist that states seeking Commission membership make positive commitments to human rights.
“The Commission has only one option to regain its stature and credibility,” Roth said. “It must do its job by exposing abusive governments and working resolutely for the protection of human rights.”