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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 April, 2005, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Annan says rights body harming UN
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan has proposed sweeping reforms of the United Nations
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has accused the UN Human Rights Commission of failing to uphold human rights and said a new, permanent body is needed.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Annan said the commission was undermining the credibility of the entire UN.

Human rights groups say the body's member nations are too concerned with protecting their national interests.

Current members include Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia - all accused of rights abuses.

Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself
Kofi Annan

"We have reached a point at which the commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system," Mr Annan said as he addressed the commission's annual six-week session at its Swiss headquarters.

"Unless we re-make our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself," he said.

Greater status

As part of his programme of UN reforms, Mr Annan wants to create a smaller Human Rights Council, whose members must uphold the highest human rights standards.

Mr Annan said the UN needs the new council if it is to prevent appalling suffering occurring around the world.

He said the council must be more accountable and more representative.

It would, he explained, allow for a more comprehensive and objective approach, which, in turn, would produce more effective assistance.

"The main intergovernmental body concerned with human rights should have a status, authority and capability," Mr Annan said.

Sudan controversy

The commission was launched in 1946 to uphold human rights worldwide, and has 53 members.

Libya chaired the commission in 2003, despite opposition from the US and human rights groups.

In his annual address last year, Mr Annan warned that the conflict in Sudan's province of Darfur bore worrying similarities to the Rwandan genocide.

The commission had before it strong evidence of atrocities being committed in Darfur and of the Sudanese government's involvement in them, but no resolution was passed condemning Sudan.

Instead, Sudan was elected to the commission for another year.

There is talk of a resolution this year, but the countries drafting it include Sudan itself and Zimbabwe, also in the spotlight for human rights violations.

Activists also want the commission to condemn the US for its treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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