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As the UN Commission on Human Rights begins its annual session in Geneva this week, it faces growing criticism that its ability to take action against violating states is being weakened. Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) are among many non-governmental organisations that are calling for urgent reform.

Human Rights Watch says the Commission's 53 member countries include governments like Sudan that are responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur. Sudan was re-elected to the Commission in 2004 despite being criticised by Human Rights Watch for gross abuses of human rights (See:

In recent years, the membership of the Commission has changed significantly, says Human Rights Watch. A growing number of countries with poor human rights records have gained seats on the body and used their votes to thwart resolutions that condemn their records.

Human Rights Watch says the Commission must rid its membership of the worst human rights violators and insist that countries wishing to join must make commitments to improve human rights (Read its report here:

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) is calling attention to the fact that 70 of the 99 imprisoned journalists world-wide are located in countries that belong to the Commission. They include China, Cuba, Eritrea and Nepal. "The [Commission] continues to discredit itself. We do not understand how the UN's leaders, tolerate this," says RSF.

The IFEX member also singles out Iran for criticism, noting that for the past two years, government has ignored recommendations from two UN experts that it improve its record on freedom of expression and end arbitrary detention. The country is the leading jailer of journalists and cyber-dissidents in the Middle East, with 13 behind bars, says RSF (see:

Meanwhile, International PEN and the International Publishers Association (IPA) have expressed concerns about the state of free expression in Tunisia. They say Tunisia, which will host the World Summit on the Information Society in November 2005, is far from meeting its commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Laws have been amended in the past two years to "drastically restrict freedom of expression," say IPA and International PEN. Other causes of concern include the blocking of websites, harassment of critical media and the use of torture by security agents.

The IFEX members have urged the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, to remind Tunisian authorities of their obligations under the ICCPR (Read their report here:

The Commission on Human Rights runs from 14 March to 22 April 2005.

Visit these links:

- UN Commission on Human Rights:
- International Herald Tribune:
- IPA:
- International PEN:
- Campaign for a UN Democracy Caucus:

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