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Accept rights reforms.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Human Rights Commission has long been a symbol of the United Nations' ineffectiveness, stagnancy and hypocrisy.

In recent years, the commission's membership has included notorious human rights violators such as Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Instead of serving as a beacon of the ideals contained in the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the commission has become an object of derision and a symbol of a failed global response to human rights crises.

With support from the United States, Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year proposed abolishing the commission and replacing it with a new human rights council. His plan called for the council's membership to be elected by a two-thirds vote of the 191-member General Assembly instead of being approved by a regional subgroup - a change that would make it more difficult for rogue nations that grossly abuse human rights to gain membership. The council also would have 30 members, 23 fewer than the current body, and meet several times a year, enabling it to respond more nimbly to crises.

After months of negotiations, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson returned with a compromise draft that weakened some of these reforms. Most significant were changes that called for the council to be elected by a simple majority vote and a membership of 47 nations. Voting on new members also could be done by secret ballot, opening the door to backroom deals that could compromise the council's integrity and effectiveness.

The modifications are a disappointment, in particular the elimination of the two-thirds majority demanded by U.S. Ambassador Robert Bolton. While the draft resolution requires regular human rights reviews of council members, it would still take a two-thirds majority vote to remove gross human rights abusers from the council.

Yet the compromise remains a significant improvement over the old system. Annan has endorsed the draft resolution, as have the European Union and a long list of respected human rights organizations. The United States stands alone in opposing the compromise.

A vote on creation of the new council could come as early as this week. Bolton, whose proclivity for stubbornness and inflexibility have prompted concerns about his ability to represent the United States in the world community, should state U.S. concerns about the reforms and then, reluctantly, support this com- promise.

Eliasson has rightly warned that attempting to renegotiate the resolution could weaken or even kill it. That would play into the hands of human rights violators who were adept at manipulating the old sys- tem.

It would be a grave mistake for the United States to withdraw its support from the new council or, as has happened in the past, withhold U.N. contributions because it did not fully get its way. Such obstinacy and refusal to compromise could also endanger the many larger reform efforts that have yet to be addressed.

The United States should now focus its efforts on influencing the election for the council's membership, shaping the protocols that will govern its work and moving on to reshape the U.N.'s approaches to administration, development and terrorism.

The cause and defense of human rights requires that the United States be a full participant, not an obstructionist or pouting on the sidelines.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; The U.S. should approve compromises on council
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 11, 2006
Next Article:A complicit Congress.

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