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FRIDA GHITIS

The UN charade on human rights

IT IS TIME once again to mock the victims of human rights abuse. Yes, it is time for the yearly session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the group that describes itself as the ''world's foremost human rights forum" and, with no trace of irony, dares to declare that it ''continues to set the standards that govern the conduct of states."

In reality, the commission has become the clearest symbol of the UN's need to change. Today, it represents little more than a gruesome caricature of what started in the earliest days of the United Nations as an earnest effort to ensure respect for the rights of every individual on the planet.

To get an idea of the panel's moral authority, picture a project to combat crime featuring Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson on its top commission.

And yet, this 61st annual session presents the world with the ideal opportunity to take constructive action. The UN Human Rights body is such a travesty that even the UN's staunchest supporters know it cries out for reform. Critics and supporters of the UN must seize this moment, with the spotlight on this preposterous organization, to work together on a solution. And the solution must include minimum standards for membership.

During the six weeks from March 14 until April 22, members of the 53-country commission will gather in Geneva and pretend to protect human rights. Those seated at the table, looking serious and committed to the cause, will include a Who's Who of perpetrators of large-scale crimes against their own people.

The commission this year includes countries like Sudan, whose government, much of the world agrees, is complicit in the murder of tens of thousands and the forced displacement of millions of the country's citizens. A UN report found the government and its allies guilty of carrying out a policy of murdering, raping, torturing, and destroying the villages of non-Arab Sudanese in the Darfur region of the country. The world can't quite agree on whether Sudan's government is guilty of genocide or crimes against humanity. Yet Sudan's representative will help ''set the standards" for human rights around the world.

God help us all.

Sudan will receive presumably invaluable help in its efforts to protect human rights from the government of Zimbabwe, whose president used battalions of thugs to intimidate the opposition, destroy freedom of the press, and successfully destroy the country's economy, plunging most of its population into poverty. They will work shoulder to shoulder with that other defender of freedom, equality, and tolerance: Saudi Arabia.

Monarchs, despots, and dictators of all stripes will contribute to the commission's work, with regime representatives from such paragons of human rights as Cuba, Nepal, Egypt, Pakistan, Swaziland, Bhutan, and China, among others, helping craft the agenda to defend human rights and individual freedoms around the world.

Oh, yes. We could hardly be in better hands.

Just wait until you see their work. They will attack the actions of democracies and they will do their best to prevent any resolution that tarnishes the image of the panel's members or their friends.

The commission is an insult to the millions of people who have fled their homes running from slaughter and now live in squalid refugee camps in places like Chad, Sudan, and Congo. It is an affront to the hundreds of millions of women treated as second-class citizens and abused with the consent of their governments in dozens of countries around the world. It mocks the struggle of millions in the Middle East and other parts of Asia, Africa, and even parts of Europe, who want to share the freedoms others take for granted in much of the world.

The gathering of what is supposed to be the world's principal body for protecting human rights should bring hope to the oppressed around the world. Instead, it sinks their spirits. What could be more discouraging than seeing your oppressors treated as honorable members of that, of all commissions?

The time is long overdue for the UN's human rights charade to come to an end. How best to honor the victims than to do some thorough spring-cleaning? Scrub the UN Human Rights Commission of human rights violators and other despots.

Membership on the commission should constitute a high honor. Only those who deserve it should have a seat at the table.

Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs.


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