UN Chief Wants More Rights Muscle

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The United Nations needs a new, permanent human rights body if it is to prevent appalling suffering happening around the world, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday.

Speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Annan said the 53-nation body is failing to stop human rights abuses, particularly in Sudan's conflict-ravaged Darfur region, and should be replaced by a council with greater authority.

"We have reached a point at which the commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough," Annan told delegates.

"The commission's ability to perform its tasks has been overtaken by new needs, and undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work," Annan said.

As part of a package of reforms unveiled last month, the secretary-general proposed a human rights council to replace the present commission. The new council would be a permanent body, possibly on a par with the Security Council.

As a standing organ of the United Nations, the body would able to meet when necessary, addressing human rights violations as they arise. At present, the commission can only address issues during its annual six-week session.

"Today we have reached another moment when we must prove our commitment," Annan said. "A human rights council would offer a fresh start."

Council members would be elected directly by the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority and fulfill specific human rights criteria, according to the proposed reforms.

Under U.N. rules, members of the commission have been picked by regional groups. Current member states that have been criticized themselves for abuses include China, Cuba, Nepal, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Several other countries with poor human rights records have been on the commission over the years, and Libya has even held the chair.