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Foreign ministers from a group of 12 countries focusing on security and human rights should support the United Nations reforms proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Human Rights Watch said today. The Human Security Network will hold its annual ministerial meeting in Ottawa from May 18-20.

The Human Security Network emerged from the global anti-landmines campaign and was formally established in Oslo in 1999. Canada currently holds the chairmanship of the group. Other members include Austria, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Thailand, and Switzerland, with South Africa as an observer.

Human Rights Watch called on the Human Security Network to support Annan’s proposal for a U.N. Human Rights Council, which would operate year-round. In his recent proposal on U.N. reforms, Annan stressed the importance of advancing the causes of security, development, and human rights together, pointing out that otherwise none will succeed.

“By endorsing the Human Rights Council, the Human Security Network would help bring about the most significant advance in U.N. efforts to protect human rights in the past 50 years,” said Joanna Weschler, U.N. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

In addition, Human Rights Watch called on members of the Human Security Network to support several other reform proposals. The Human Security Network should also endorse Annan’s recommendations on collective responsibility to protect civilians from atrocities and mass killings. The group’s members should also endorse the five criteria of legitimate protective action, which were laid out in the U.N. High-level Panel’s report in December, but they should insist that international humanitarian law be a guiding principle for any military action.

Human Rights Watch also urged the members of the Human Security Network to support the call made by the U.N. High-level Panel for the permanent members of the Security Council to “refrain from the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses.”

“The Human Security Network should call on the Security Council’s permanent members to commit not to use their veto powers in situations involving genocide or other massive abuses,” said Weschler.

In addition to calling on the members of the Human Security Network to reaffirm the need to safeguard human rights in the global effort against terrorism, Human Rights Watch also urged them to work towards adopting a definition of terrorism. That definition, as proposed in the reform package, should provide that the right to resist foreign occupation does not imply a right to target civilians and non-combatants. However, Human Rights Watch also urged that governmental conduct not be excluded from a definition of terrorism, as was proposed by Annan’s report.

“Governments as well as opposition groups can commit acts of terror,” said Weschler. “It is essential that a legal definition of terrorism reflect that.”

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