Keeping the U.N. Human Rights Panel

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Tuesday, we heard from a commentator who suggested that the troubled U.N. Human Rights Commission should be abolished. For another point of view, commentator David Bosco tells why he thinks it should instead be restructured and reformed.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A bipartisan task force on the United Nations released a sober report to Congress yesterday. And yesterday, we heard from commentator Joe Loconte at The Heritage Foundation, who argued that a part of the UN, the Commission on Human Rights, should be abolished. Well, today we hear another point of view from David Bosco, a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

DAVID BOSCO:

There's nothing easier these days than to call for the abolition of various parts of the UN. The organization is often inefficient and hypocritical, and it's not very good at fighting back, which makes taking potshots all the more enjoyable.

There's probably no more deserving target than the 53-member Human Rights Commission, which includes some of the world's nastiest governments. Serial rights violators on the commission have formed a mutual protection pact: `You cover up my abuses, I'll cover up yours.' Even Secretary-General Kofi Annan has conceded that the commission brings the organization into disrepute. He recommends downsizing it and revamping its byzantine selection process. Instead of being chosen by shadowy and unaccountable regional caucuses, members would have to secure votes from two-thirds of the General Assembly. Kofi Annan's proposed reform is a good solution. Voting in the light of day should get the Sudans and Saudi Arabias off the commission's member list and onto its agenda.

For purists, though, Annan's proposal falls short. A reformed commission, they fear, will still reek of hypocrisy and leave many abuses untouched. But if hypocrisy were grounds for abolition, the UN Security Council should have disappeared decades ago, or at least in the mid-1990s, when the Security Council slashed its peacekeeping force as genocide consumed Rwanda and stood by as Serbs massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslims in so-called `UN safe areas.' Why aren't outraged conservatives calling for its dismantling? Because the US sits pretty there, with a permanent seat and a veto.

Concerns about the commission's ineffectiveness are also overblown. People who want to know about the world's dark corners look to groups like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, not the UN's commissions. There's no danger that abuses will go unreported just because the UN commission stumbles. And there is a value in having forums, including a restructured Human Rights Commission, where states of all stripes can bang heads, call each other hypocrites and, yes, occasionally do the right thing. Even the unreconstructed commission, after all, was able to condemn Belarus, Cuba and North Korea this year.

When the UN commission falters, we should say so, loud and clear. Force disreputable regimes to talk the human rights talk and condemn them when they don't walk the walk. Today's UN is bigger, more fractious and much more skeptical of the US than it was when it was founded. But when the world body finds its voice, it can still be powerful. There is room for improvement here, and giving up is not the answer.

SIEGEL: David Bosco is a senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Yesterday, we heard an opposing view, and if you want to hear it, you can go to npr.org.

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