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Annan urges global action on human rights, rule of law as UN session opens

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official website] Tuesday urged global action to combat three challenges facing humanity - human rights and the rule of law, security, and development - as the UN General Assembly [official website] opened its 61st session [UN materials]. In his speech [PDF text; recorded video], Annan reflected on his 10-year tenure as secretary-general due to end this year, noting that "the events of the last ten years have not resolved, but sharpened, the three great challenges I spoke of - an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law." Annan noted that progress has been made in advancing human rights, but expressed concern that the war on terror has dealt a blow to rights and lamented the situation in Darfur [JURIST news archive]:

But what about the third great challenge facing humanity - the challenge of the rule of law, and our rights and dignity as human beings? Here, too, there has been significant progress.

More rights have been enshrined in international treaties - and this Assembly is now about to codify the rights of a group who particularly need it: people who suffer from handicaps and disabilities.

More governments today are elected by, and accountable to, those whom they govern.

Humanity has actually brought to justice some of those who committed the most heinous crimes against it.

And this Assembly, meeting a year ago at the highest level, has solemnly proclaimed the responsibility - of each individual State in the first instance, but ultimately of the whole international community, acting through the United Nations - to "protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity".

And yet. And yet.

Every day, reports reach us of new laws broken; of new bestial crimes to which individuals and minority groups are subjected.

Even the necessary and legitimate struggle around the world against terrorism is used as a pretext to abridge or abrogate fundamental human rights, thereby ceding moral ground to the terrorists and helping them find new recruits.

Sadly, once again the biggest challenge comes from Africa - from Darfur, where the continued spectacle of men, women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and the burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses.
Annan said the "widespread contempt for human rights and the rule of law," among other factors, has created "a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community, upon which this institution stands" and called on "all peoples," including non-state actors to "play their part in a true multilateral world order, with a renewed, dynamic United Nations at its centre." AP has more. The UN News Service has additional coverage.

Also addressing the General Assembly [statement and webcast index] Tuesday were several heads of state, including US President George W. Bush. Referencing a principle described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text] - that "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world" - Bush declared that a "bright future [is beginning] to take root in the broader Middle East." In his speech [PDF text; recorded video] he pledged continued help for Iraqi democracy and promised to assist Afghanistan defeat extremists. He also warned Iranians:
The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.
In addition to delivering messages to the people of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine, Bush also directed comments to the people of Darfur [Reuters report]:
You have suffered unspeakable violence, and my nation has called these atrocities what they are -- genocide. For the last two years, America joined with the international community to provide emergency food aid and support for an African Union peacekeeping force. Yet your suffering continues. The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid -- and we must strengthen the African Union force that has done good work, but is not strong enough to protect you. The Security Council has approved a resolution that would transform the African Union force into a blue-helmeted force that is larger and more robust. To increase its strength and effectiveness, NATO nations should provide logistics and other support. The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act. Your lives and the credibility of the United Nations is at stake. So today I'm announcing that I'm naming a Presidential Special Envoy -- former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios -- to lead America's efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to your land.
AP has more. The UN News Service has additional coverage.

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