The US has found itself isolated in its opposition to a proposal to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, and its pledge to vote against adoption of the plan has thrown the UN into turmoil.
Many delegations say they share US misgivings about the proposal but fear that postponing or renegotiating it -- the two options put forward by John Bolton, the US ambassador -- would doom the effort to produce a more credible rights body.
"If we reopen it to negotiations, there will be chaos, and if we postpone it, it will be a negative signal for the priority that human rights should have at the UN," Heraldo Munoz, the Chilean ambassador, said on Friday.
Munoz, a promoter of democracy who was held as a political prisoner under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, said, "This is clearly a compromise and not what some countries would like, but we perceive that aside from the US, there are very few countries who oppose the text."
Human rights groups are lobbying actively for adoption of the proposal, galvanized by the prospect of US rejection and by suspicion of Bolton's motives in objecting to it.
"It's an open question whether Bolton's throwing all the cards up in the air is meant to improve the council or to prove that the UN can't reform itself and therefore should be abandoned," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Yvonne Terlingen, the UN representative for Amnesty International, warned, "If the US insists on revising the text, it will be aiding and abetting those whose purpose is to wreck the council, not to make it stronger."
In an interview on Friday, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, the General Assembly president, who wrote the final text, said: "I definitely don't want to have an isolation process vis-a-vis the US. This is the country of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Bill of Rights. The US belongs on this council, and I want the US on board."
The current rights commission has been faulted for allowing notorious rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe to become members. Producing an effective substitute for it has been seen as a test of whether the UN can meet widespread demands for fundamental change.
Eliasson said he had set a goal of resolving the matter by next week because the existing commission is scheduled to begin its annual meeting in Geneva on March 13.
This week, Bolton dismissed the importance of that deadline, saying, "It might be worthwhile having the commission meet again to remind everybody it is so bad that we can get on the track of real reform."
Asked for comment on the impasse, Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for Bolton, said there was nothing to add to what the ambassador had already said.
Eliasson put the forward the proposal for a new Human Rights Council on Feb. 23.