GMA, ANNAN  TALKS  ABOUT  U.N.  REFORMS,  HUMAN  RIGHTS  COMMISSION

JAKARTA (VIA PLDT), April 23, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica  ó President Arroyo and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan met yesterday on the sidelines of the Asian African Summit here to talk about UN reforms, particularly on the Human Rights Commission, which the Philippines wants to replace with a more aggressive council.

"The secretary general wants to meet the President because of UN reforms, including the Security Council, the General Assembly and its organs," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said.

Manila is keen on trimming the membership of the UNís human rights council, he said. "The human rights council will meet throughout the year and also, instead of so many members, I think the proposal is to limit it to 19 members to be elected by two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly."

Manila is also seeking a seat on the council and it will support Annanís reforms, Romulo said.

"The idea is the human rights council should meet not only six weeks a year... so that it will really serve its purpose as (a) human rights council... so that it can have members who can truly represent human rights interests," he said.

Annan said the UN Human Rights Commission failed to uphold human rights standards and therefore a new body is needed to boost the UNís credibility.

Critics say the commissionís member-nations are too concerned about protecting their own national interests.

Its members include Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. All have been accused in the past of routinely violating human rights.

"We have reached a point at which the commissionís declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system," Annan said as he addressed the commissionís annual six-week session at its Swiss headquarters. "Unless we remake our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself."

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

It also must be more accountable and more representative, he added. "The main intergovernmental body concerned with human rights should have a status, authority and capability."

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 United States and human rights groups.

In the past, Tripoli was accused by the West of sponsoring terrorism.

Annan urged governments to endorse "bold and far-reaching" reforms in the UN. These include expanding the Security Council membership, setting out rules on when it can authorize military force, and an agreed definition of terrorism.

The proposals are designed to ensure the UN, which was shaken by the bitter debate over the US-led war in Iraq, remains at the heart of world security.

US President George W. Bush ordered the invasion as part of his campaign on terrorism without Security Council authorization, alienating most of Washingtonís European allies.

Annanís reforms come at a time when the world body faces criticism over its alleged mismanagement of the oil-for-food program in Iraq and allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His proposed reforms will be discussed by a meeting of world leaders attending a UN summit in September, and must then be endorsed by the General Assembly.

"This hall has heard enough high-sounding declarations to last us for some decades to come," he said. "We all know what the problems are and we all know what we have promised to achieve. What is needed now is not more declarations or promises, but action ó action to fulfill the promises already made."

In a report outlining his proposed reforms, Annan urged governments to "act boldly" and adopt "the most far-reaching reforms in the history of the United Nations."

"We will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights," he said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo pushed for the nomination of former Filipino ASEAN secretary general Rodolfo Severino as head of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) during her meeting with Annan.

Romulo said the President reiterated the Philippinesí bet for the UNCTAD instead of the one nominated by Annan.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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