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New UN Human Rights Body Comes Under Fire

On the heels of a well-received report on Darfur by the newly revamped UN Human Rights Council, the body is in danger of having its power stripped away. The EU says, give the council more time.

The initiative is threatening the UN's credibility

The initiative is threatening the UN's credibility

Cuba is leading a bid by a number of countries to strip the Human Rights Council of its power to investigate and condemn violations of human rights, a move some activists warn could jeopardize the entire UN's credibility, the news agency Reuters reported.

The 47 member states of the new UN watchdog, which was set up last year to replace its discredited predecessor, are quietly negotiating a package of measures which will define its role.

At stake is the fate of "special procedures" -- independent investigators appointed to report on countries where abuses are suspected. The former Secretary General Kofi Annan described these rapporteurs as the "crown jewels" of the UN human rights machinery.

"Our fear is that some governments are trying to sell the crown jewels, trying to undermine the independence of special procedures," Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, told reporters in Geneva.

"There are huge stakes here for human rights, not only for survivors of abuses but the credibility of the council and the larger credibility of the United Nations," she said.

Politically motivated

bush_uno_gr.jpg

The US declined a seat on the Human Rights Council

Its 13 special rapporteurs on countries, retained for now from the former UN Commission on Human Rights, include experts probing suspected abuses in Belarus, Cuba, Sudan and North Korea.

One such investigator, Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams, issued a much-anticipated report on Darfur March 12 which blamed Sudan for orchestrating war crimes across Darfur.

Still, some countries singled out for this attention, and their allies such as China, say such finger-pointing is selective and politically motivated. They want to abolish the investigators.

Cuba -- which has never allowed a visit by the special rapporteur on Cuba, Christine Chanet -- is leading the charge to dismantle country investigators.

Those opposed want that countries should submit their own reports on their domestic records. They add there intrusive investigators are unnecessary.

"The perpetuation of country-specific mandates, imposed by force and blackmail, would maintain the spiraling confrontation that did away with the authority and credibility of the defunct Commission on Human Rights," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said in a speech last week.

EU supportive

Wechsel an der Spitze der UNO

Both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon worried over the council

The European Union says that it is fighting to preserve the special procedures, as well as the forum's ability to adopt resolutions condemning countries for the worst violations.

"When Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took office, he said, 'The world is watching to see whether this young council will live up to its promise,'" one EU official said. "We haven't given the council enough time."

Others say the investigators are vital.

"Special procedures are independent and efficient -- that is why they are under attack," Reed Brody, counsel at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

He said UN human rights' probes had been successful, pointing to Chile in the late 1970s and the former Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s.

The Council will make a decision on the issue by mid-June.

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