Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

US stands aside as UN votes to set up new rights council

APPROVED Despite US opposition, the UN will scrap the Human Rights Commission and replace it with a council whose members will be elected


With the US in virtually lone opposition, the UN overwhelmingly approved a new Human Rights Council on Wednesday to replace the widely discredited Human Rights Commission.

The vote in the 191-nation General Assembly was 170-4 with three abstentions.

Joining the US in opposing the resolution were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Abstaining were Belarus, Iran and Venezuela.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who first proposed the council a year ago, hailed the decision, saying, "This gives the United Nations the chance -- a much-needed chance -- to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world."

But the US' UN Ambassador John Bolton said the proposed council was "not sufficiently improved" over the commission, which has been faulted for permitting rights abusers to join.

"We must not let the victims of human rights abuses throughout the world think that UN member states were willing to settle for `good enough,'" Bolton said in a statement after the vote. "We must not let history remember us as the architects of a council that was a `compromise' and merely `the best we could do' rather than one that ensured doing `all we could do' to promote human rights."

He said that the US would "work cooperatively" to strengthen the council and looked forward to reviewing its effectiveness in addressing rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Myanmar.

He did not say whether the US would be a candidate to serve on the council, a critical consideration for the its future.

The resolution calls for the election of new council members on May 9 and a first meeting of the council on June 19. The commission will be abolished on June 16.

The new council will have 47 members, as opposed to the commission's 53; the means to make timely interventions in crises; and a year-round presence, with three meetings a year at its Geneva base lasting a total of at least 10 weeks. The commission has traditionally met for six weeks, once a year.

Under terms meant to restrict rights abusers from membership, candidates for the council will be voted on individually rather than as a regional group, their rights records will be subject to mandatory periodic review and they will be subject to suspension if found guilty of committing abuses themselves.

But the final text had a weakened version of the crucial restriction in Annan's original plan, which required new members to be elected by two-thirds of those voting. Instead, council members will be elected by an absolute majority of member states.

Major rights organizations and a number of US allies in the UN -- who had all lobbied Washington to reconsider its opposition -- argued that the terms were far better than existing ones and would keep major abusers off the council. But Bolton disagreed and singled out the compromise as a reason the US could not back the council.

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