11.03.2005

U.S. Human Rights Policy

Here is an excerpt of frank remarks indicates the U.S. position and priorities concerning human rights in the world:

Creation of U.N. Human Rights Council Immediate U.S. Priority

State Department's Lagon says current mechanisms are broken

Washington -- Passage of a resolution to establish the proposed United Nations Human Rights Council is an immediate priority for the United States, says a top State Department official.
The new body, as put forward by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, would replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

“The new Human Rights Council should have fewer diversions, more credibility, and preferably fewer members,” Mark Lagon, lead official on many United Nations-related policies in State’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, told those attending a B’nai B’rith conference on world challenges October 29.

Lagon said membership would be key to the council’s effectiveness. “Currently,” he said, “some of the world’s most egregious violators of human rights work through their regional blocs to gain nomination and election to the CHR in order to protect themselves from criticism.”

These nondemocratic countries then use their position on the panel to work against meaningful resolutions that condemn serious human rights violations by specific states, he said.

Lagon said the existing human-rights mechanisms are broken, and quoted a colleague on the proper makeup of a new council: “The membership must be the firefighters of the world, not the arsonists.”

He had words of support, however, for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and called for doubling its budget because its duties have expanded to include conflict prevention, crisis response and technical assistance.

Additional funds are especially needed, he said, to standardize the training, effectiveness and professionalism of the special rapporteurs –- experts who research and monitor human-rights violations and report to the United Nations.

Lagon urged the democracies within the United Nations to join together in a Democracy Caucus “to overcome the influence of nondemocratic governments,” saying that such a bloc could help reform the world body.

“In too many cases, the governments voting at the U.N. have not been democratically elected,” he said.

A common commitment to the promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights gives democracies “a responsibility to work together to help the U.N. achieve its original vision and potential, especially in advancing human dignity,” Lagon said.

He also noted that the Democracy Fund, a new initiative supported by the United States and established by the General Assembly in September, will provide grants to international organizations for programs that build civil society and strengthen democracy in transitional states. So far, Lagon said, 15 countries have pledge $43 million to the fund.

President Bush, in a 2004 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, called for the establishment of a fund to assist nations seeking to transition to democracy or strengthen their democratic institutions. (See related article.)

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the Democracy Fund on July 4.

The transcript of Lagon’s remarks is available on the State Department Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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