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Kofi Annan: Despite flaws, UN Human Rights Council can bring progress

As Human Rights Day 2011 approaches, skeptics say the new UN Human Rights Council has not lived up to its mandate. Some suggest democratic nations should abandon it. At a time when we should be making it stronger, forsaking the Council is the wrong way to advance human rights.

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Five years ago, the United Nations replaced the much-maligned Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council, a historic move that I hoped would mark a new era for the UN’s work in safeguarding the rights of millions of people around the world. The Human Rights Council recently concluded its first review, and it is clear that as a result of robust engagement by its members, the Council has made important progress in promoting and protecting human rights around the world.

Still, many believe the review did not result in the fundamental changes they had hoped for. Some critics have even suggested that Western and democratic states should walk away from the Council. But at a moment when we should be making it stronger, forsaking the Council is the wrong way to advance human rights.

Recent events in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere once again demonstrate that we must have a credible, balanced, and preeminent global body to expose human rights abuses and take actions to alleviate them. Human rights are universal and must be universally upheld. Therefore, to be effective, this body must be accountable to all countries – not only to a few – and also be broadly representative. The Human Rights Council is both.

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