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United Nations

JH, NE, RN. Group 4

The reading begins by discussing the problematic topic of enforcement in the realm of human rights. Serious questions are raised about the feasibility of consistent enforcement of human rights norms. It is relatively clear that some international enforcement is inevitable, regardless of it’s agreed upon desirability. However, the reading asserts that the degree of enforcement will vary depending on countries’ perspective of world order. Debates about state sovereignty and the effectiveness of local versus international implementation of rights make it difficult to establish a concrete method of enforcement. Only the Security Council, as per the UN charter, has the power to enforce its decisions. Status quo methods of enforcing international law include economic or other sanctions, and armed force. The international attempt to liberate ethnic minorities in Kosovo and East Timor highlights the use of force as a means of enforcing human rights. When small countries are in crisis, it seems that the global community can functionally enforce international law. In the current system are powerful nations accountable for their actions? Is there an underlying assumption in the structure of the UN that egregious violations of international law do not occur, or cannot be remedied in the ‘developed’ world?

The second part of the reading discusses the many institutions that make up the United Nations. The UN Charter in its text mandates the existence of specific enforcement organs. Treaties can also form organs to monitor the compliance of party states. Charter-organs are specifically discussed in the reading. The International Court of Justice, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission of the Status of Women, and the Commission of Human Rights along with the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Right are all examples of charter-organs. These organs presumably, have the ability to promote and enforce the protection of human rights, because they represent the collective views of the General Assembly. The Assembly is composed of all UN member states, each of which has one vote regardless of population, wealth or other factors (Steiner and Alston 600). The Secretary-General leads the Secretariat, and has the principal authority over human rights followed closely by the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The U.N. Commission uses three different procedures to address violations:

a) The 1503 Procedure: A group that seeks to examine communications pertaining to possible human rights violations. Communications must follow the U.N. charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It prioritizes a series of violations over individual incidents. The entire procedures are maintained in the strictest of confidence between the committee and the relevant parties. This leads to the question of whether this impedes the work of the commission in gathering relevant information. Also, if the public is not aware of the accusations being brought against the country, how does it affect accountability?
b) The 1235 Procedure: The Commission makes a thorough study of situations which reveal a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights. This is done in a public debate and also involves investigation of particular complaints. Is this procedure more fair than 1503?
c) UN special rapporteurs that engage in specific fact finding in countries accused of human rights violations. The overall quality of the reports has been strong.

The last section describes the examination of Chinese human rights violations. It seems that through lobbying and bargaining, China has avoided a thorough investigation and accountability for its actions. Resolutions urging China to improve its human rights practices and criticism of ongoing violations of international standards floundered because of a lack of support from nations who wished to maintain cordial economic relationships. What justifies the prioritization of trade and economic gains over Human Rights abuses? The Chinese ambassador argued that because Western nations were also guilty of human rights violations, their accusations are unjustified. The question then becomes, does one country’s violations exempt it from the possibility for holding others accountable for similar violations?

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