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The Politics of Human Rights
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Friday, 05 April 2002
The US recently released the 2001 Country Human Rights Reports, which are annual reviews of the human rights situation in other countries. The reports, mandated by the US Congress, are cause for great discussion within the US, and -- since many countries reject Washingtons right to judge their internal policies -- resentment around the world. To the USs credit, not only do the reports document abuses in such traditional outcasts as Cuba, Iraq and North Korea, but they also survey key US allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Also highlighted this year are Chinas campaign against Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and Russias poor record in Chechnya. Improvements in human rights were noted in several states, including Bahrain, which repealed the repressive State Security Act, released all political prisoners, and registered the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the countrys first human rights organization. The reports, coincidentally, were released a couple of weeks before the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights convened for its 58th annual six-week review. The US is notably absent from the Commission this year, having been booted from the 53-member group after France, Sweden and Austria decided that the Bush administration needed punishing for its perceived unilateralism. The Briefing takes a skeptical view of this measure, not least because several states renowned for their use of torture and extra-judicial executions were elected to the Commission without any qualms -- including China, Sudan and Syria. The USs absence is further missed because no other country, European or otherwise, has been willing to sponsor reviews of some of the worst offenders of human rights, including China.

Even with US support such measures usually fail: Chinas record has been reviewed only once in the last decade, while Russias policy in Chechnya has also been spared scrutiny in the last two years. But the mere proposal of an enquiry serves notice to the offending states that the world has not overlooked their state-sanctioned human rights violations, and perhaps recognizing that the international communitys interests are not served by a Commission dominated by the likes of China, Cuba, Sudan and Syria, European nations are reportedly ready to support the USs return to the Commission next year.

To read the 2001 Country Human Rights Reports go to http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/. To read more about the 58th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, go to http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu2/2/58chr/58main.htm.

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