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US causes delay in UN vote on new rights council

Written by: Staff

United Nations, Mar 1: United States (US) opposition to a draft resolution on a new United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council led to a delay of a General Assembly vote this week and intense consultations on whether to reopen the text.

Jan Eliasson, President of the 191-member General Assembly, who drew up the resolution, said a majority of UN members supported the draft and warned new talks might endanger the entire effort.

"A re-negotiation," he said, "Most probably would lead to a result which is far below what we already have achieved." He told reporters yesterday he had wanted a vote as soon as possible, preferably this week "but we now have a situation where we have a clear message about going ahead and for that I need to continue my consultations." US Ambassador John Bolton announced on Monday that Eliasson's resolution, circulated last week, had 'manifold deficiencies' and did not ensure that major human rights violators would be banned from the new rights council.

Bolton said he was under instructions from Washington to reopen talks or postpone a decision for several months on a new rights body, which is to expose abusers and help nations draw up human rights legislation.

Eliasson and leading rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, fear reopening talks would lead to line by line negotiations, with amendments from nations opposed to a strong rights council.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with line by line negotiations," Bolton told reporters yesterday.

He also said he was concerned about a provision saying nations could only serve two consecutive three-year terms, then take a break before running again.

"My concern now with the term limits is that America would go off, and I think that would be to the detriment of the process," Bolton said.

"Why should you settle for a new body which is at best marginally better than the old body? Why not continue the struggle over a longer period of time to achieve real reform?" he asked.

Replace Geneva-based Human Rights Commission: The new council would replace the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, faulted for allowing some of the worst rights violators on the council, where they protect each other from condemnation. In recent years, commission members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

The closest US allies, the European Union nations, had in general supported Eliasson's charter resolution but apparently do not want a vote in the face of US opposition.

Greek UN Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis said, "Because of the US stance Europeans have to see what is best for the UN human rights machinery." Eliasson, a Swede, who describes himself as a human rights advocate, defended the text. He pointed to a requirement that an absolute majority of the 191 General Assembly members was needed to elect members, the possibility of suspending member states, "he fact that you are supposed to uphold the highest standards of human rights" and other provisions.

A new rights council was a key demand of world leaders at a UN summit in September, with an original draft stronger than Eliasson's compromise resolution. But this was watered down after Bolton submitted hundreds of amendments.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the United States and others had wanted a two-thirds majority to make it easier to keep countries with poor rights records off the council. Bolton also wanted to exclude nations under Security Council sanctions.


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