Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 7 News List

UN decides on extension to rights council deadline

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , UNITED NATIONS

The UN on Friday extended by a week its deadline for seeking approval of a new human rights council opposed by the US but backed by rights groups and a vast majority of the 191 member-states.

Simultaneously, the Human Rights Commission, which the council is supposed to replace, agreed to postpone by a week the opening of its annual session that was to start tomorrow in Geneva.

The actions came after human rights organizations mounted a lobbying effort in support of the proposed council and the EU sent Washington a pledge that its members would keep objectionable candidates off the new panel.

The commission has long been an embarrassment to the UN because its members included some of the world's most notorious rights violators. The council was proposed a year ago by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with terms that would bar membership to rights abusers, but in the version that emerged this month those guarantees were watered down.

The US was the only country to declare it would call for a vote and vote no.

John Bolton, the US ambassador, said the measure should be renegotiated, but Jan Eliasson of Sweden, the General Assembly president, said that reopening the delicately balanced text would expose it to a "Pandora's box" of amendments from opponents and doom the whole project.

Gerhard Pfanzelter, ambassador of Austria, which occupies the EU presidency, said the EU effort could calm US concerns because the number of countries joining the Europeans in pledging to ban abusers from membership could end up approaching the 96 needed to approve candidates for the panel.

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