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Confronting the UN's Anti-Human Rights Lobby

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson is to be replaced by the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, a longtime UN diplomat, on September 12 th . That transition will be a tricky one, because the governments that dominate the UN commission for human rights (CHR) are increasingly trying to protect themselves - and their allies - from any scrutiny or criticism.

During the last annual session of the CHR, held in Geneva last spring, the body voted one by one to ignore severe human rights violations in such places as Russia/Chechnya, Zimbabwe, Iran and Equatorial Guinea. For several other violators - such as China, Algeria, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia - the CHR couldn't even muster the will to put their abuses on its agenda. It also cut back on several country-specific monitoring mechanisms, compromising one of the most powerful of human rights tools, that of naming and shaming.

This is happening, in part, because countries with vile human rights records - Algeria, Burundi, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Vietnam - command a powerful bloc within the CHR. They compose a near majority on the fifty_three member body. In 2003, Zimbabwe will joined them and, unless African countries reverse an earlier decision, Libya will chair this body for a year!

Such countries go out of their way to secure seats on the commission and then actively work to build alliances with pliable governments. In addition, they have developed a number of clever procedural ploys to undermine the commission.