US could face UN scrutiny over rights

The US, usually a finger-pointer on human rights, could face condemnation over reports of torture and abuse in its so-called war on terror when the United Nations begins a worldwide scrutiny this week.

    The Commission on Human Rights itself faces a crisis of credibility

    Activists, such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch, are urging members of the Commission on Human Rights to condemn Washington for mistreatment of prisoners detained abroad.

     

    If any such move emerges during the commission's annual session, which starts on Monday, the United States will be in a similar position to Cuba, Iran and Sudan, countries that Washington and others are likely to seek to pillory.

     

    "If the commission is going to be taken seriously, it needs to be looking at the United States as well as Cuba, China and other serious human rights situations," Loubna Freih, Geneva representative of Human Rights Watch, said.

    Questionable

     

    The US has been criticised over revelations of abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and allegations of mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

     

    But for many activists and diplomats, it is debatable whether the commission, whose 53 members include many states whose rights' records are questionable, can be taken seriously.


    Influential members usually get
    away with barely a reprimand

    Other members of the committee are Sudan, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia, where critics say abuse is common.

     

    A high-level panel of experts investigating the workings of the UN, at the request of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, concluded its credibility had been eroded because members were more concerned with protecting themselves and their allies than in exposing rights violations.

     

    Launched in 1946, the Geneva-based commission examines nations' adherence to treaties and conventions on issues ranging from illegal killings and arbitrary detention to women's rights, child pornography and the right to food and health.

     

    But the most political heat has been traditionally generated by report cards on individual countries.

     

    Israel's actions in Palestinian territory under military occupation will be again condemned, as will North Korea, Myanmar and possibly Belarus, diplomats say.

     

    The six-week session could also see tough words for Nepal, where King Gyanendra sacked the government and took full powers, adding to what Amnesty International says is a "human-rights catastrophe".


    "If the commission is going to be taken seriously, it needs to be looking at the United States as well as Cuba, China and other serious human rights situations"

    Loubna Freih,
    Human Rights Watch

    Elusive China
     

    However, it was not certain there would be a fresh attempt to censure China over reported repression of ethnic and religious minorities and other alleged abuses, or Russia over continuing kidnappings and disappearances blamed on security forces in Chechnya.

     

    Russia was last criticised in 2001, but China has always successfully used procedural manoeuvres to block any effort to condemn it.

     

    And African members of the commission may rally enough support to ensure that Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's government has been widely accused of repressing dissent, again escapes rebuke, diplomats say.

     

    In the case of Washington, so far only its political enemy Cuba has said it will attempt to bring the prisoner abuse issue before the commission.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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