Thursday, April 1, 2010

Role of United Nations for Human Rights

Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance

The pursuit of human rights was a central reason for creating the UN. World War II atrocities and genocide led to a ready consensus that the new organization must work to prevent any similar tragedies in the future. An early objective was creating a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations. The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights” and to take “joint and separate action” to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though not legally binding, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all. The Assembly regularly takes up human rights issues.

The UN and its agencies are central in upholding and implementing the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A case in point is support by the UN for countries in transition to democracy. Technical assistance in providing free and fair elections, improving judicial structures, drafting constitutions, training human rights officials, and transforming armed movements into political parties have contributed significantly to democratization worldwide. The UN has helped run elections in countries with little democratic history, including recently in Afghanistan and East Timor. The UN is also a forum of support the right of women to participate fully in the political, economic, and social life of their countries. The UN contributes to raising consciousness of the concept of human rights through its covenants and its attention to specific abuses through its General Assembly, Security Council resolutions, or International Court of Justice rulings.

On 15 March 2006 the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with the UN Human Rights Council, Its purpose is to address human rights violations. The UNCHR had repeatedly been criticized for the composition of its membership. IN particular, several of its member countries themselves had dubious human rights records, including states whose representatives had been elected to chair the commission. The new council has stricter rules for peacekeeping membership including a universal human rights review and a dramatic increase in the number of nations needed to elect a candidate to the body, from election-by-regional-slate on the 53-member Economic and Social Council to a majority of the 192 member General Assembly.

On 9 May 2006 elections were held to elect all 47 members to the council. Seats are allocated by region: Africa (13), Asian (13), Eastern Europe (6), Latin American and Caribbean (8) and Western Europe and other (7). Members of the council serve for three year terms, and may not serve three consecutive terms. While some governments with poor records were elected, such as Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan, some other rights violators that ran for election did not receive enough votes: Iran, Thailand, Iraq, and Kyrgyzstan. This change in membership has been cited as a positive first step for the council. There are now seven UN-linked human rights treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Secretariat services are provided regarding six of those (excluding the latter) by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Inaction on Genocide and Human Rights

The UN has been accused of ignoring the plight of people across the world, especially in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Current examples include the UN’s inaction toward the Sudanese government in Darfus the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing in Tibet, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the wake of the Rwandan Genocide, the UN and the international community in general drew severe criticism for its inaction. Despite international news media coverage of the violence as it unfolded, most countries, including, France, Belgium, and the US, declined to intervene or speak out against the massacres. Canada continued to lead the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda, UN Assitance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). However, the UN did not authorize UNAMIR to intervene or use force to prevent or halt the killing.

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