UNITED NATIONS, Mar 19, 2001 ( – The United Nations is facing more controversy today over the way it handles human rights abuses and a report accusing the international body of giving financial kickbacks to accused war criminals appearing before the UN tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

The commission in charge of the UN’s annual review of human rights abuses opens in Geneva today. Ironically, however, it is packed with countries that are major human rights offenders, charge critics including the Freedom House, a New York-based think-tank, which publishes a “freedom index” of political rights and civil liberties. The Geneva meeting is billed as the most important human rights event on the UN calendar, yet Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based monitoring organization, says, “having these governments on the commission is like having foxes guarding the chicken coop. Governments eager to serve on the Commission on Human Rights must be willing to live up to the responsibilities of membership.”

In other news, a new report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s corruption watchdog, charges that lawyers paid by the UN at the Rwanda tribunal have given clients gifts, including computers, radios, video equipment and, in one case, a gold watch. The UN pays for lawyers for those who cannot afford to pay their own legal fees. The international agency “also pays the wages of investigators for impoverished defendants,” reports the National Post. “All the defendants brought before the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have claimed to be penniless. But one detainee arrived with $375,000 in his bank account, the report says. Another was dressed in an “expensive designer suit” when he met OIOS investigators.”

For more on these stories, see