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  4. December 1997 - Volume 10
  5. UN Human Rights Commission - Effort to Weaken?

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FOCUS December 1997 Volume 10

UN Human Rights Commission - Effort to Weaken?

Human Rights Watch and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, both New York-based, initiated a campaign to prevent efforts by some member-States to weaken the United Nations human rights system specifically its Human Rights Commission.

In a paper issued by these organizations, it is observed that the Human Rights Commission has gained "unprecedented growth and effectiveness". From standard setting, it developed in the 1980s mechanisms to look into human rights violations affecting individuals, to contact governments on emergency basis, and to report its findings and recommendations promptly and publicly. The Commission,s Special Procedures (i.e., working groups, special rapporteurs, independent experts, and special representatives) displayed relative independence, speed and strength. Embarrassing reports by these UN mechanisms raised considerably the price of human rights abuses. These special procedures also developed ways to respond quickly to individual cases of abuse through "urgent appeals" which have been issued directly to governments on behalf of individual victims and have often yielded significant improvements. Finally, in recent years, the Commission has mandated the Centre for Human Rights to establish a field presence in numerous locations, affording an opportunity for on-going, on-the-ground-monitoring of human rights developments.

Some member-States (with questionable human rights record), however, begun to take steps to weaken this system. After getting elected into the Commission to form powerful bloc, they make the effort to keep the mechanisms weak, marginalized, distracted and ineffective, and to keep information from reaching the public on a timely basis. They have also begun to protest against the voting procedure, by which country-specific resolutions are reached, to demand that the threshold be raised from a majority to 2/3 or consensus, and to employ direct censorship.

These member-States also prepared resolutions to "rationalize", "restructure" or "review" the special procedures system which will ultimately weaken the system.

Human Rights Watch and the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights are therefore seeking the support of human rights organizations to counter these efforts. Preparations have to be made for the 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in March 1998

For more information contact: Ms. Jennifer Schense, Human Rights Watch, with this e-mail address: Majordomo@igc.orgor Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, American Jewish Committee,165 East 56th Street, New York , NY 10022 USA.