Monday, March 13, 2006

Rethinking UN reform - Editorials & Commentary - International Herald Tribune

*Critique of UN HRC reform*

In the interest of full disclosure and debate, there is an earlier article related to this and sets out why the reforms, despite it being a dilution of the originals aims nevertheless is a good thing.

I do not doubt it is. By any measure, not much else could be worse than the current Human Rights Commission sort of it being entirely composed of the most egregious human rights abusers.

Oh wait, it nearly is.

But to be fair, a great effort is probably being made and it could be debated whether the current proposals really are as bad as they seems.

1. Enforceable standards for membership.

Here, Mr. Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House) and Mr. George Mitchell (former US Senate Majority Leader) recognise that the very nature of the UN, which is premised on statehood/soveriegnity and not Human Rights, and the general limits of America to enforce/impose its value and will on the institutions and mechanisms to more closely reflects its own.

Nevertheless they argue that the very nature of the Council i.e. to promote and protect Human Rights MUST deny any states currently under sanction and/or are unwilling to accept some form of monitoring mission. There is great force in this argument I think, even while acknowledging the good that can come from embracing and engaging rather than isolating such regimes. Furthermore, even if one conceeds the properganda material that can be used when such states are denied a seat, nevertheless, the previous Human Rights Commission showed how much of a mockery this becomes if there are no minimum standards imposed or even to enforce.

This is not to say that accusations of double standards will not abound and this is where I get a lot more uneasy over the policy. Take on the first level, a nation like China, whose power as a permenent member of the Security Council and an economic giant and military aggressor to boot, makes it impossible to keep off the council (if it so chooses). A realist argument is that a nation like China simply cannot be contained and it's better to engage seeing as it has paid off quite a lot more dividents than any other policy. Conversely, most other egregious abusers can be overawed by the collective power of the UN if not nations like the US and EU and arguably, a hardline stance will reap much faster reform and change.

Another similar charge would be that I fear of Israel. My sympathies are generally with Israel I think on the basis that they have shown more restraint than other would have been in a converse position. But more than that, it seems likely that they will accept monitoring. However, whether that would come to any fruition is another matter for another post.

2. Regional Groupings per "equitable geographical representation"

I think the fear mentioned here is real. Not only does it shift the balance of power away from nations for whom human rights are a real concern (even including the current US regime), but the basis of rotation on which this seems premised on would almost ensure that some abusers will get onto the Council, seeing that there are no membership criteria.

I suppose it is not impossible to "persuade" these nations not to take their place on the council ala Myanmar, however, the amount of diplomatic dancing and the I-can't-even-imagine-how-much-backroom-dealings it took makes this an exercise of self-flagetion and futility. Much better to set this off on a firm footing than to allow a piecemeal patchwork Council to stagger its way into the future like a Romario Zombie.

3. Voting requirements

Simple majority by a secret vote. The Americans want Sec-Gen Kofi Annan's original proposal of 2/3 majority. Each policy has its weakness and I would of course favour a 2/3 majority by secret vote.

But realistically speaking, the simple majority by secret vote MIGHT be a better mechanism than the open 2/3 majority insofar as it would allow nations from being pressured by a open vote into voting along regional bloc lines. But I conceed I really have no idea how this would translate in reality.

4. Removal from Council requires 2/3 majority

The critique by the Americans here have quite a bit of force when they call this "backward". I personally agree that the bar should be set high for admission but low for removal.

However, like anything else, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and one need not look to far into history to realise that this was what happened to the Americans in the old HRC.

Personally speaking, I don't think any criteria by themselves are necessarily bad. But as negotiations has taught me, it's about the package. Some are simply worse than others. Some clauses in one package are perfectly fine while others make them a deal breaker. So far, I'm still not entirely in favour of the new Council but I'm realistic as to the possibility of a 'better deal'.




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