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March 15, 2006
When Reform Just Means Changing Names

The US will vote against Kofi Annan's plan to reform the Human Rights Commission at Turtle Bay after the initial proposal got watered down to please the abusers it meant to keep from the council. The US position will force an actual vote rather than approval by consensus, opening the floor to amendments and debate:

The United States will call for a General Assembly vote on the proposed Human Rights Council on Wednesday, and vote against it, a senior Bush administration official said Tuesday.

"We tried very hard to see if we could support this, but in the end we just didn't think this initiative met the very high bar we set for an effective council," said R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. "The U.N. needs a stronger body to fight human rights abuses in places like Darfur and Burma." ...

Jan Eliasson, the General Assembly president, who negotiated the final text, had hoped to submit it for approval by consensus, which would have forestalled actions by objecting nations.

But that plan was upset by the American decision to vote no, announced by John R. Bolton, the United States ambassador, on Feb. 27.

Until now, other nations and the UN had been lobbying the US to change its position. Human-rights organizations had campaigned globally in an effort to soften our position, and the EU promised to use its leverage to keep abusers off the new panel, now named the Human Rights Council. Somehow those pledges didn't work to keep the necessary language in the proposition itself, prompting the US to have little faith in EU pledges to meet some unwritten guidelines in the future.

After having the text significantly weakened, the new proposal gives nothing but window dressing to what is essentially just a name change. The number of nations seated on the newly-reminted Human Rights Council drops from 53 to 47, but membership still can be gained by a support of a majority of the General Assembly rather than the two-thirds that constituted the original bar to membership. In the present composition of the Assembly, it would be too easy for the abuser states such as Cuba, Iran, and others to gain access to the panel. The General Assembly does not consist in large part of democracies, where voters hold leaders accountable for their actions, but autocracies and kleptocracies that cannot be trusted to judge the protection of human rights at home, let alone globally.

The UN needs real reform, not just window dressing. The US should continue to hold a hard line on so-called reform that does little more than create excuses for press releases. If we do not demand real change at Turtle Bay, it will never come at all.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 15, 2006 5:50 AM

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