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Jurists' body highlights NGOs' role in human rights session

The International Commssion of Jurists denounces human rights abuses around the world (picture: ICJ)

Non-governmental organisations, such as the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, play a crucial role in the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission, by giving first-hand accounts of abuses around the world.

"Our huge advantage is that we are obviously non-political. Our only agenda is human rights implementation," says the ICJ's new Swiss secretary general, Louise Doswald-Beck.

"We can offer help, advice and expertise which countries around the world can trust as being impartial," she told swissinfo.

Doswald-Beck, who holds dual Swiss-British nationality, took up the reins at the ICJ at the start of this month, becoming the first woman to head the organisation. She was previously head of the judicial department of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"This session is a learning experience for me. This will give me a better idea of the ICJ's strengths and weaknesses and where I want to take it in future," she said.

The ICJ is one of many Geneva-based NGOs that fight for human rights around the world, and several will be intervening during the UN Human Rights Commission session which got underway last Monday.

The ICJ intends to make statements on an optional protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on the creation of a working party on the Convention on Disappearances, which is currently in draft form. It will also intervene in a number of debates on individual countries.

"These will be countries where we have been active and we have a certain amount of information on. It doesn't mean their record is worse than those countries on which we don't make statements," Doswald-Beck explains.

She is not alone in feeling frustrated by the Human Rights Commission's lack of teeth. It was that inability to fight effectively against human rights abuses which led to the High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, to step down earlier this week.

Doswald-Beck says there are two major limitations with the High Commission: "Many countries that are on the commission are not devoted to ensuring that human rights standards are implemented, and that politicises its work."

"The other problem is that the Human Rights Centre is horribly under-funded. When one considers the UN budget as a whole, the amount of money given to the centre is minute. That's an unfortunate reflection of the lack of devotion of governments to human rights," she says.

The main purpose of the ICJ, founded in 1952, is to advance the principles of justice and promote the implementation of human rights standards. It focuses specifically on the judiciary, encouraging lawyers and judges to act in an independent and non-corrupt way.

It achieves this by lobbying governments and international organisations, organising fact-finding missions and teaching jurists about human rights.

by Roy Probert


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