U.N. Human Rights Agency Hails Changes

The U.N. human rights office on Tuesday welcomed reforms proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), saying that it is currently ill-equipped to respond to rights abuses around the world.

Several of Annan's recommendations, such as replacing the much criticized U.N. Human Rights Commission (search) with a Human Rights Council, are matters for member states to decide, said Jose Diaz, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"The driving notion behind that proposal, however, namely the upgrading and overhauling of the existing human rights machinery, is extremely important," Diaz told reporters. "The office remains woefully ill-equipped to respond to the broad range of human rights challenges facing the international community."

Under U.N. rules, members of the Human Rights Commission have been picked by regional groups. Current member states that have been criticized for abuses include Sudan, China, Cuba, Nepal, Russia and Zimbabwe. A number of countries with poor human rights records have been on the commission over the years.

Annan proposed that members of the Human Rights Council be elected directly by the General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority, and that "those elected to the council should undertake to abide by the highest human rights standards."

Annan also called for more funding and staff for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying that member states' commitment to protection against abuses must be matched by providing more resources.

"The secretary-general's blueprint is a promising step forward for human rights in the United Nations system," Diaz said. "It recognizes the centrality of human rights to development and security, as well as the value in its own right of promoting human dignity."