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At its 59th session on February 27, the United Nations commission on human rights rejected a motion to hold a special sitting on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Iraq as a consequence of the war. The proposal was defeated by seven votes with seven abstentions. But the UNCHR has been annually discussing the situation of human rights in Iraq since 1992.

There is a tendency to consider human rights issues as being “irrelevant” in a situation such as the one that presently obtains in Iraq. As if, since the war has been forced upon humanity by unilateral action, the focus should only be on humanitarian aid. Since there is no way to halt such unilateral action, human rights issues are not a priority.

Such a tendency also questions the strength of human rights and the principles of rule of law. As Pierre-Henri Imbert, director-general of human rights council of Europe stated while addressing the UNCHR on March 27, “It was precisely in times like this, when human rights values were threatened even more than usual, that one should redouble efforts and be particularly attentive to the risks of their being violated”.

To pass or not to pass

The question is whether the Western bloc, which has been sponsoring the resolution on the situation of human rights in Iraq since 1991 will sponsor it at the ongoing session. If the Western bloc fails to sponsor the resolution, it will imply that the human rights violations that were being perpetrated in the regime of Saddam Hussein can be condoned, the situation is being taken care of by the allied forces and there is no need for further monitoring.

On the other hand, if the Western bloc sponsors a resolution, it must include monitoring of human rights violations by all the actors of the conflict, a move that will be opposed by the United States of America and Britain. Finding appropriate UN semantics acceptable to all will be akin to a search for the Rosetta stone — unless the the resolution pertains to technical cooperation programmes in post-war Iraq.

But it would be unfortunate if the UNHCR fails to pass a resolution on the situation of human rights in Iraq. It would reinforce the notion that human rights are not important in times of armed conflicts and that to remove an evil all types of human rights violations can be permitted. It is the same notion that the Bush administration and its allies have espoused in the war against terror since September 11, 2001.

Stop unilateralism

At the 54th session, the UNCHR passed a resolution on enhancing the effectiveness of the mechanisms of the commission on human rights. In the name of enhancing effectiveness, the UNCHR disarmed the only independent body of experts, namely, the sub-commission on human rights.

Since 2000, while this sub-commission can debate country situations not being dealt with by the commission and discuss urgent matters involving serious violations of human rights in any country, it cannot adopt country-specific resolutions nor can it refer to a country in a thematic resolution.

Under the shadow of war in Iraq, the UNCHR is once again engaged in the rationalization of its work after the 58th session. The Like Minded Group, however, is planning to completely disarm the UNHCR.

The Indian representative, stated reasons for India’s abstention on the motion to hold a special sitting on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Iraq: “The commission’s role must be that of human rights and standard setting, not that of political motives. India had consistently opposed resolutions targeting special countries whatever the actual intentions of the sponsor were since this politicised the work of the commission.”

It is important for the UNHCR to adopt a resolution to monitor the human rights situation in Iraq, including violations by coalition soldiers. But unilateralism poses the single most dangerous threat to the multilateral fora of the community of nations.

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