U.S. shouldn't back new plan for U.N. Human Rights panel

Posted: Mar 30, 2006 12:01 AM

Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term "United Nations" in 1942, when an alliance of democracies (with the help of the Soviet Union) was fighting the totalitarian Axis powers. FDR dreamed of a post-war world in which free people would help promote peace and make everyone safer. So how has the actual United Nations measured up to that ideal?

Look no further than its discredited Human Rights Commission.

In 1948, when Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the commission, it drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document she compared to the American Bill of Rights. But in recent years, the commission has shifted gears. It no longer attempts to protect the persecuted and the abused. Instead it serves as a shield for the planet's bloodiest, most repressive regimes.

That's because those regimes often sit as full-fledged members of the commission. Last year, notorious human-rights abusers such as Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe were members. Not surprisingly, the commission condemned so-called "atrocities" in Israel (the sole democratic state in the Middle East) while ignoring actual atrocities in Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea.

The commission also has failed to battle against the greatest threat to human rights today: terrorism. And it has done nothing to prevent the political and religious persecution plaguing much of the Muslim world.

Even the U.N. admits the commission has failed. "The commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system," Secretary General Kofi Annan said.

Unfortunately, the cure announced last month -- a new Human Rights Council -- is a placebo.

For one thing, as with the current commission, any country can be a member, even if it's a known human-rights abuser. That's hardly a step forward.

The only supposed protection -- a country can be suspended if two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly agree to do so -- is toothless. Just last year, less than half the General Assembly agreed that Sudan, where genocidal attacks have massacred 300,000, was guilty of human rights violations.

Even worse, American influence on the new council would be reduced. Since its inception under Eleanor Roosevelt's leadership, the United States has been a virtually permanent fixture on the commission and its leading advocate for equality, openness and freedom.

But under the new council, non-democratic countries would hold 55 percent of the votes. That would weaken the U.S.-led bloc. Plus, the United States would be term-limited. That means our representative could serve only six years before having to take three off.

The United States shouldn't give the new Human Rights Council any credibility; it needs to earn it. In fact, we shouldn't even attempt to be a member during the council's first session. Instead, we should monitor it from the sidelines, to make sure no human rights abusers are allowed to join and that at least three quarters of the council is made up of democratic nations.

Washington should also consider creating a separate human-rights group, one that includes only nations genuinely dedicated to defending human rights and freedoms. This new institution could be funded by the contributions the United States otherwise would make to the Human Rights Council. It would promote basic human rights and serve as a watchdog over the new council.

It's a shame it's come to this, considering the high ideals FDR upheld for the United Nations. Sixty years later, the organization turns a blind eye to genocide and other abuses. For the sake of those suffering, it's time to force the U.N. to fulfill its promises.