UN sets up new rights body
In May, the UN General Assembly will elect 47 member states to the newly created Human Rights Council, to replace the often-criticized Human Rights Commission. The creation of the council “marks a new beginning for all the UN’s human rights work,” states Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “There is every reason to hope that the new council will combine the best features of the old system with some much-needed changes.”
One of the criticisms of the old Human Rights Commission was that its rules made it too easy for countries that did not uphold human rights standards to gain seats on the body and then use it to deflect censure of violations by themselves or their allies.
In the March vote, 170 member states were in favour of creating the council, four voted against and three abstained. The US voted against, said the country’s ambassador to the UN, Mr. John Bolton, because the resolution did not go far enough to “keep gross abusers of human rights off the council.” The US favoured an earlier proposal that members be individually elected by a two-thirds majority, rather than the absolute majority stipulated by the resolution. Mr. Bolton nevertheless pledged that his country would work cooperatively with others to make the council as effective as possible.
Liberian ex-president accused
The former president of Liberia, Mr. Charles Taylor, was formally charged with crimes against humanity and other offences by the UN-supported Special Court for Sierra Leone on 3 April. He thus became the first former head of state in Africa to be officially charged with violations of international human rights laws. Specifically, he has been accused in connection with his alleged role in leading or supporting rebel movements in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Mr. Taylor’s appearance in the Freetown courtroom was the latest chapter in a 16-year saga of war, brutality and pillage that engulfed much of the region, took 300,000 lives and saw the former guerrilla commander go from head of state (1997-2003) to exile to accused war criminal. Mr. Taylor was initially granted asylum by Nigeria in 2003 as part of an agreement to end the Liberian civil war. He was handed over to UN peacekeeping troops in Liberia by the Nigerian government at the request of the newly elected Liberian president, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and immediately transferred to Freetown.
ICC arrests Congolese militia leader
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in March that it had arrested the leader of an armed group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on charges of war crimes. The arrest of the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), Thomas Lubanga, comes almost two years after the court announced the start of investigations there. The court has found reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Lubanga, who was in the DRC’s custody, was involved in enlisting “children under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.”
The ICC, based in The Hague, in the Netherlands, has broad international support. Currently, 100 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which came into force in July 2002, establishing the court. In October 2005, the court issued its first arrest warrants, for several leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, although they are not yet in custody. Mr. Lubanga is therefore the first person to be arrested and transferred to the ICC.
Because the ICC will only prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after July 2002, it will likely prosecute only a few high-ranking perpetrators.
Mr. Mark Malloch Brown of the UK has been named by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as his deputy secretary-general, effective April 2006, replacing Ms. Louise Fréchette. Just prior to his appointment, Mr. Malloch Brown served as chef de cabinet to the Secretary-General, and before that was head of the UN Development Programme from 1999 to 2005. Previously, he was a World Bank vice-president and deputy chief of the Emergency Unit of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, undertaking missions in the Horn of Africa and Central America.
The UN General Assembly, acting upon the recommendation of the UN Secretary-General, has elected Mr. Achim Steiner of Germany as the new executive director of the UN Environment Programme, for a four-year term starting on 15 June 2006. He succeeds Klaus Toepfer. At the time of his appointment, Mr. Steiner was director-general of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), a position he has held since 2001. His previous positions included serving as secretary-general of the World Commission on Dams and as chief technical adviser on a programme for sustainable management of the Mekong River watersheds.
Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, Norway’s former prime minister, has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa. He succeeds Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, who in turn becomes special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Future Status of Kosovo. At the time of his selection, Mr. Bondevik served as president of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights. Among other positions, Mr. Bondevik served previously as Norway’s minister of foreign affairs (1989-1990), among other cabinet positions.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Nobuaki Tanaka of Japan as the new under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, succeeding Mr. Nobuyasu Abe, effective 6 April 2006. Most recently, Mr. Tanaka has been Japan’s ambassador to Pakistan. A seasoned diplomat, Mr. Tanaka has also served as an assistant director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and a deputy director-general in Japan’s Foreign Ministry.