'Real Progress' Expected in Creation of U.N. Human Rights Council

As weeks remain before the regular session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights commences in March, the U.N. Secretary-General is expecting "real progress" this week in the creation of a Human Rights Council and other reforms.

After having prioritized the establishment of an effective council promoting human rights at the start of the New Year, Kofi Annan said in a statement released Monday, "I am really hopeful that we will see real progress on human rights this week."

Human rights organizations urged for a strong and effective council, calling the U.N. Democracy Caucus to ensure such an establishment with member states abiding by the highest standards of human rights.

"With so much of the final text for the Council still in dispute, it is absolutely vital that the Caucus' leaders weigh in now and insist on a new and improved human rights body," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, in a released statement today.

Organizational reform of the international body is taking place as the 53-member Human Rights Commission had received wide criticism from human rights and Christian groups for being ineffective and corrupt. Last year, the Lutheran World Federation and 14 other groups presented a statement at the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights saying that the Commission was "undermined" and calling for "fundamental improvement" in the human rights system.

Annan had proposed the creation of a new human rights body within the United Nations and made it a top priority for 2006 among other reforms. The secretary-general made plans to establish the new council before the Geneva session in March.

Outlawing religious defamation

In the meantime, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is urging the United Nations to outlaw religious defamation in a resolution creating the U.N.'s human rights council. The Saudi-based association of 56 Muslim states made demands to Annan on Monday for the resolution's draft text to state that "defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression."

The demand was made to help douse the fury and violence that arose after the publication of caricatures depicting Muhammad in Western newspapers.

Freedom House, the Transnational Radical Party and U.N. Watch said in a joint statement that the OIC proposal would conflict with the new council's mandate to promote rights.

"If the price to pay for the establishment of the new human rights council is curtailing freedom of expression and religion, and appeasing violence and threats of violence, it is not worth paying," said the statement.

Violent attacks spread throughout the world in recent weeks following the reprinting of the cartoons in European media. The first major protest occurred in Africa's most populous nation this past weekend as the deadliest confrontation yet over the cartoons. Reports indicated that Nigerian Muslims burned 15 churches on Saturday in Maiduguri with at least 15 people killed.