The United Nations as an organization is pathetically  inefficient at protecting human rights.  While the US can go to the Security Council and start a war over false intelligence and secure a coalition, women are raped and children are slaughtered in Sudan while the powers that be squabble.  

People go to see Hotel Rwanda and say, “How could the world have let this happen?” and many have no idea that it is happening as they speak in Sudan.  

I was a bit heartened to read this morning that Kofi Annan has called for changes to the UN Human Rights body.  It seems that he wants to give human rights issues greater import by changing the structure of the human rights organization and elevating it to the stature of the Security Council.

As part of a package of reforms unveiled last month, the secretary-general proposed a human rights council to replace the present commission. The new council would be a permanent body, possibly on a par with the Security Council.

As a standing organ of the United Nations, the body would meet when necessary, addressing human rights violations as they arise. At present, the commission can only address issues during its annual six-week session.

Council members would be elected directly by the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority and fulfill specific human rights criteria, according to the proposed reforms.

I had no idea their window to act was so limited.  Of course nothing substantial will get done in six weeks, and that fact calls the entire idea that the UN is committed to improving human rights into question, for me.  They may be committed to finger-wagging and hand-wringing, but that’s about all.

The issue with the human rights body that I was aware of was the election of the most egregious human rights violators to the council, but Annan has called for changes to this system as well.  

Under U.N. rules, members of the commission have been picked by regional groups. Current member states that have been criticized themselves for abuses include China, Cuba, Nepal, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Several other countries with poor human rights records have been on the commission over the years, and Libya has even held the chair.

“The new human rights council must be a society of the committed. It must be more accountable and more representative,” Annan said. “Ultimately it would produce more effective assistance and protections, and that is the yardstick by which we should be measured.

The United States used to be the world leader in enumerating and defending civil and human rights.  We still claim that title, but Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the Defense of Marriage Act, Ryan Shepard, Teri Schiavo, denials of birth control, and the Patriot Act (to list but a few) all prove us wrong.  I am afraid that one day human rights will be an idea that Americans mouth support for to assuage their guilty consciences while the world sneers, and I am afraid that day is already here.  

I still believe in human rights, even though I see damn little evidence lately, and I believe in the UN, flawed as it is.  But few organizations (NARAL, maybe) are more hated by the current administration and the freepers.  Maybe the US will oppose out of hand any changes.  As will the human rights violators named above.  The rhetoric of human rights is far more expedient to politicians than any action.  Paying lip service is far more easy than paying cash, sending troops, reforming your government, handing power back to the people to whom it rightfully belongs.  

The new humans rights body, and the UN in general, is only ever going to be as effective as it’s members are committed.  I think this is an awesome vision.  It remains to be seen if anything will come of it.  

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