Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Reform at the U.N.?

I'm wondering if anyone else has had the chance to read Kofi Annan's report for reforming the U.N. (available at: http://www.un.org/largerfreedom/contents.htm). It is quite a bold statement and includes some very substantive proposals to change not only the Security Council, but the Commission on Human Rights as well. Among the many proposals that I found most interesting and worthy of consideration would be expanding the permanent membership of the Council (to possibly include countries like Brazil, India, Egypt, and others....although granting of veto power will certainly be a contentious debate), and also elevating the Commission on Human Rights into a Human Rights Council (possibly on par with the Security Council). The Commission's membership would also be geared towards being more "merit-based", with 2/3 of the vote the General Assembly required for membership, rather than the current membership of the Commission which is largely dictated through block and regional voting mechanisms.

I'm currently sitting in an airport returning from Geneva where I attended the Commission for 2 weeks. While many people say that the Commission is somehow discredited because of recent memberships being granted to Sudan, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Libya, and other perceived pariah countries (at least where human rights are concerned), I'm not sure that closing the Commission off from such countries is the best idea. Although it does give a certain amount of cover for countries to hide behind (Cuba and China have been particularly effective at this it seems), there is something valuable in countries having a platform to at least be heard.

While geo-politics seemed to seep from every corner of the Commission's proceedings, it was nonetheless fascinating to see it all play out. During the high-level segment of the first few days, foreign ministers rose to defend their own country's human rights record, while also sometimes "naming and shaming" the record of others. Such speeches made for some high drama on the Commission floor, with Zimbabwe calling the U.K. "blood-thirsty war-mongers", Cuba railing on the U.S. as a global imperial power and the worst human rights violator out there, India and Pakistan exchanging very aggressive statements on the situation in Kashmir (a bit surprising considering the recent thaw in relations between the two countries), and Turkey and Greek-Cyprus sparring over the division of Cyprus.

So it seemed that many of the vestiges of the Cold War split between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights still lives on (the U.S. refusing to even really consider this latter category as human rights). It will be interesting to watch the next few years as the push for drafting an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR gathers steam. Will these countries that have steadfastly stood for the primacy of E, S, and Cultural rights step forward to embrace this enforcement mechanism? the early signs are not encouraging, as at last year's Commission it was some of these very same countries that tried to stall the debate on the Optional Protocol. It seems that this could be one of the defining issues in the next couple of years, where we'll really get to see who is serious about human rights, and who is using the rhetoric more for political expediency........any thoughts?


Anonymous Jeff L. said...

Thanks for this post. It's great to hear about an event like this first-hand. Very interesting. I hope to see more stuff like this on your blog.

2:14 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home