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Commission caught in transition

Suhas Chakma

From March 15 to April 23, 2004, the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights will be held in Geneva. While human rights violations in the Occupied Arab Territories of West Bank and Gaza dominated the 58th session, the war against Iraq overshadowed the 59th. The violations of the right to life in the occupied Arab Territories and occupied Iraq have become rituals and, therefore, increasing insensitivity and decreasing outrage against the killings.

The Commission on Human Rights will, for the first time, deal with human rights violations by the occupying powers in Iraq. For decades, the world's attention was drawn towards massive human rights violations by Saddam Hussein. As no WMDs, the raison d'etre for the war, were found, the issue of human rights violations by Saddam are being raised to justify the Iraq war. Yet, those who preached Saddam about the rule of law are all set to try him in a Kangaroo court that fails to meet international judicial standards of fairness. The occupying powers and their allies are likely to advocate side-stepping with the country rapporteur on Iraq to escape international scrutiny.

The situation of human rights in Iran reflects the dilemmas before the commission. In a clear sign of cooperation with UN, the reformist government led by President Khatami invited the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression to visit the country last year. But, the rigged elections in February 2004 might reverse the reforms processes. Canada, which had earlier sponsored a resolution against Iran at the General Assembly after the death of photo journalist, Zahra Kazemi, is likely to lead the censure motion against Iraq.

Though President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti has been dislodged, the involvement of the leader of the rebel National Resistance Front for the Liberation of Haiti, Mr Guy Philippe, in the future government will not help in improving the human rights situation. Haiti's former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mr Boniface Alexandre, has been sworn in as interim President. But establishing the rule of law in a wretchedly poor, conspicuously corrupt and politically divided country will remain an uphill task.

Double standard is synonymous with diplomacy at the commission. At the 58th session, after being voted off, Mr Kevin E Moley, the US permanent representative to the UN in Geneva accused the European Union of hiding behind the US after the EU failed to sponsor a resolution on the situation of human rights in China. After being voted on, the US itself did not sponsor a resolution at the last 59th session. It remains to be seen whether the State Department's recent grumbling on human rights situation in China will lead to sponsoring a resolution against China.

The European Parliament, in a resolution on February 10, 2004, called on the EU to "sponsor or co-sponsor resolutions on China (in particular addressing the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang and the repression of the Falun Gong), Iran, Pakistan, India (in particular addressing the situation in Gujarat), Indonesia (in particular in Aceh and Papua), Nepal, North Korea, Vietnam, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, the Israeli Occupied Territories and the area under the Palestinian Authority, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Liberia, Saudi Arabia, the Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chechnya, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan."

The fact that India was not mentioned even in the oral intervention of the EU on country situations at the 58th session immediately after the Gujarat riots speaks of the divisions within EU and, therefore, the failure to censure gross human rights violations. Even a resolution for monitoring human rights abuses by the Maoists and Nepal's security forces appears difficult at the 60th session. India has consistently opposed any international mediation including overtures from Secretary General Kofi Annan for resolving the conflict between the Maoists and the Government of Nepal. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will rally behind Nepal and India if any resolution on human rights situation in Nepal is tabled.

Since September 11, counter-terrorism has become synonymous with state terrorism. Though five Britons have been released from Guantanamo bay, the US has so far failed to clarify the situation of prisoners in Guantanamo in respect of international human rights standards and humanitarian law, and consequently either to put them on trial or to release them. Post-September 11, the number of countries which need to be preached to respect the rule of law has increased manifold with the admission of the US and UK. They need to be named and shamed.


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