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Report co-authored by Case School Of Law professor contains blueprint for replacing U.N. Human Rights Commission with new Human Rights Council

report co-authored by a Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor contains a detailed blueprint for implementing the United Nations Secretary General's recent proposal to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights with a smaller, standing Human Rights Council.

The 27-page report was released April 15 at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) spring meeting in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the showcase panel, “Reforming the UN Human Rights Commission.” The panel featured presentations by U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Richard Schifter, and Michael Scharf, professor at the Case School of Law and director of its Cox International Law Center.

The report is the product of the ABA’s Task Force on Reform of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, chaired by David Birenbaum, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. for Management and Reform. Citing the Commission's record in recent years of failing to condemn genocide in Sudan and electing Libya as chair, the report concludes that the Commission “has failed to fulfill its mission to promote and protect human rights.” The main reason for this, it says, is “the increasingly politicized nature of the Commission, which has severely compromised the capacity of the Commission to take action in response to serious human rights violations.”

The task force's report was written by its co-Rapporteurs: Scharf and Paul Williams, professor at American University’s Washington College of Law. Students in both law schools conducted much of the research that went into the report.

The report concludes that the only way to ensure the proposed Human Rights Council's effectiveness is for the United States and other nations committed to supporting human rights

to “treat the Council with a seriousness of purpose and commitment at least equal to that of the Member States whose agenda has been to prevent the Human Rights Commission from doing its job of protecting human rights.”

Among the reports specific recommendations are:

. • The Council should concentrate on the most fundamental, legally-enforceable human rights, and work to focus world attention on conflicts that may result in ethnic cleansing, genocide, or other mass violations of human rights.
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. • The United States and its allies should build a coalition of democratic states from various regional groups that will act in concert to pass key resolutions in the Council.
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. • No state being sanctioned by the Security Council should be eligible for membership on the Human Rights Council until the sanctions are lifted.
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. • The Council's member countries should be required to adopt a code of conduct committing them to honor their obligations under human rights treaties to which they are party and to cooperate in the investigations of the Council. Countries violating the code would be disqualified from future membership in the Council.
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One of the underlying problems with the existing Human Rights Commission, Scharf explained, is that its members (which currently include China, Congo, Cuba, Libya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe) are frequently among the worst violators of human rights. Their membership enables them to block the Commission from examining their human rights records.

“The only real power the Commission has is to ‘name and shame,’ Scharf said. “So if the Commission can’t even discuss a particular country’s record in regard to human rights, then it is truly powerless.”

Another problem with the Commission is its constant focus on Israel’s human rights record, often to the exclusion of nations with far worse records. “The preoccupation with Israel severely detracts from the Commission’s credibility,” Scharf said.

The ABA’s Section of International Law adopted the report last month. It will be referred to the association’s House of Delegates at its next general meeting in August for final approval. The report is also being shared with the U.S. State Department, foreign bar associations, and United Nations members and staff.

Scharf is a former attorney-adviser for United Nations Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and a former delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He and Williams co-founded the Public International Law and Policy Group, for which the two men have been nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

Case law students Nicole Dorsky, Sarah Blake, and Leslie Murray participated in researching and writing the report. The text of the report is available on-line at http://law.case.edu/war-crimes-research-portal/instant_analysis.asp?id=14.

 

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