WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (RNS)--As the world prepared to mark Human Rights Day Sunday, a new report released Thursday by an international human rights group says global institutions such as the United Nations are ill-equipped to handle the issue of human rights worldwide.

"The world doesn't have global institutions with the muscle to adequately address the most urgent human rights issues of our time," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, in a statement. "We urgently need to remedy these institutional failings."

The group's Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, a survey of human rights developments within the past year in 70 countries, found that "a disturbing institutional void frequently leaves human rights standards unenforced," and singled out the World Trade Organization for emphasizing global trade sometimes at the expense of international human rights norms.

"Stronger institutions are needed to insist that governments and corporations respect human rights in their global dealings," the report said, noting that "except in extraordinary circumstances," organizations such as the United Nations and the International Labor Organization can do little to promote human rights except "encourage treaty ratification and condemn abusive conduct."

The report chided the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for maintaining that human rights were a "political" issue separate from economic matters, and proposed that global financial agencies demand "progressive improvement in respect for rights as part of loan packages."

In Washington, President Clinton commemorated Human Rights Day by awarding the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi for her efforts to replace military rule in Myanmar (Burma) with democracy.

Suu Kyi's son accepted the award on behalf of his mother, who has been under house arrest in Myanmar since September.

Clinton also bestowed the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights on five U.S. citizens, including the Most Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick, newly appointed archbishop of Washington, D.C., who is an advocate for immigrants and debt relief for poor nations.

McCarrick's fellow recipients were civil rights attorneys Elaine R. Jones and Norman Dorsen; Frederick Charles Cuny, a humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped and murdered in Chechnya in 1995; and Tillie Black Bear, an advocate of rights for Native Americans, women and victims of domestic violence.

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