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Melia: UN Human Rights Council 'Shanghaied' by Dictatorships

June 27, 2007

The UN Human Rights Council was created one year ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, a once-prestigious UN body that had become dominated by rights abusers. In contrast with the commission, the council is smaller, meets throughout the year, and is chosen by all UN members. But rights watchdogs see a disturbingly similar pattern in the way it operates. The council has reduced the number of single-country monitors, ignored serious rights violations in Africa and Asia, and singled out Israel for special scrutiny.

Thomas O. Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House, which closely follows the Human Rights Council, says that like the previous commission, countries with poor human rights records like China and Cuba lobby to get voted on to the council. The mechanisms of the new council have so far been "shanghaied" by dictatorships, says Melia. He sees some promise in the new "universal review mechanism," by which all UN members will have their rights records reviewed. But it makes little sense reviewing the records of Norway and Iceland, Melia says, while not placing troublesome countries under immediate scrutiny. He says the United States must join the council to work for reforms within.

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