Annan offers new human rights body as sop to the Americans

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A main feature of Kofi Annan's report concerns the creation of a new body to uphold human rights globally, in a gesture to the Americans who have been ready to walk away. He said the much-criticised United Nations Human Rights Commission had failed to measure up because its members often used it to shield abuses in their own countries.

A main feature of Kofi Annan's report concerns the creation of a new body to uphold human rights globally, in a gesture to the Americans who have been ready to walk away. He said the much-criticised United Nations Human Rights Commission had failed to measure up because its members often used it to shield abuses in their own countries.

The proposal drew a warm initial response from human rights advocacy groups. Mr Annan is calling for a human rights council to replace the 53-member commission based in Geneva. It would be a smaller body, with its membership directly elected annually by the UN General Assembly in a two-thirds majority and it would be prepared to convene any time. At present, membership of the commission is chosen by regional groupings of UN countries. Mr Annan paid tribute to some of the achievements of the commission, which normally meets for only one six-week session each year, but said it required a radical overhaul. "The commission's capacity to perform its tasks has been increasingly undermined by its declining credibility and professionalism," he told the General Assembly in New York.

"In particular, states have sought membership of the commission not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticise others. As a result, a credibility deficit has developed, which casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations."

Challenging world leaders to focus on human rights, Mr Annan said it was not enough to promote prosperity and democracy. "Even if she earns enough to live, a woman who lives in the shadow of daily violence and has no say in how her country is run is not truly free."

Groups that welcomed the UN move included Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. For years, they have chastised the commission for routinely ignoring rights abuses. They have also criticised the system for selecting membership. Commission seats were given to countries at the top of their lists for rights violations, including Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Nepal.

"The Commission on Human Rights, the main human rights body within the UN, is becoming increasingly paralysed in effectively addressing human rights violations around the world," Amnesty International said. "Creation of a human rights council with enhanced authority that can sit in sessions throughout the year could be a huge step forward."

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