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UN Creates New Human Rights Council Despite US Opposition

By Peter Heinlein
United Nations

15 March 2006


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The U.N. General Assembly has ignored U.S. objections and voted overwhelmingly to create a new Human Rights Council. The United States was one of four countries voting against the body.

The vote of the 191-member General Assembly was nearly unanimous. Only Israel and two Pacific island nations, Palau and the Marshall Islands, joined the United States in opposition. Three countries Iran, Venezuela and Belarus -- abstained.

When Assembly President Jan Eliasson announced the vote, the hall erupted in sustained applause. "The result of the vote is as follows: in favor 170, opposed, four. Abstention three. Draft resolution A/60/L48 is adopted."

The resolution creates a Human Rights Council to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which has had some of the world's most notorious rights abusers among its members.

Assembly President Eliasson hailed the creation of the new Human Rights Council as an opportunity for a fresh start. "Today, we stand ready to witness a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human rights. By adopting this draft resolution, we would establish a body which would be based on dialogue and cooperation, and would be principled, effective and fair. A body whose members would uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights," he said.

John Bolton and the US delegation listen to applause from members of the UN General Assembly

After casting his "no" vote, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States is not convinced that the Council would be any better than the Commission it will replace."The U.S. believes we can and should do more. We had a historic opportunity to create a primary human rights organization in the United Nations poised to help those most in need, and offer a hand to governments to build what the charter called 'fundamental freedoms.' 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.

Ambassador Bolton indicated the United States would work with the new Council, but did not indicate whether Washington would seek membership in the body.

French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere welcomed the near-consensus in the assembly, and said he was encouraged that the United States appears willing to cooperate with the new Council. "The U.S. has voted "no" and did not support the Council. But the explanation of their vote by John Bolton showed that the U.S. is ready to cooperate with the new institution," he said.

After Wednesday's vote, several ambassadors admitted that their governments share many of the U.S. concerns about the newly created council. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov said Moscow had put aside strong reservations to cast its "yes" vote."My delegation has a taste of dissatisfaction with certain provisions of the resolution, but the positive part prevails. We now have to work with new body, and it is in our hands, and it depends on our efforts to make it more effective than its predecessor," he said.

The United States and many others wanted to exclude rights abusers by sharply reducing the size of the Council and requiring candidates to win a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly to win a seat on the Council. The compromise approved Wednesday creates a 47-member body to replace the old 53-member Commission, and requires candidate countries to win support of an absolute majority of the General Assembly, or 96 members.

Even so, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry hailed the new body as a "substantial improvement" over the current commission. "It will ensure an improvement in human rights on the ground in the General Assembly, and it will do that by trying to work cooperatively with countries. But where countries are in breach, or they transgress human rights, we expect the council to be vigilant and take these countries forward to stand scrutiny by the Council itself," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Bolton told reporters afterward that he was 'disappointed' in the outcome, but not surprised. He said he would have more to say Thursday when he goes to Capitol Hill to testify before the House international Relations committee on the progress of efforts to reform the U.N.


Source: Voice of America www.voanew.com

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