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U.N. Establishes New Human Rights Council
General Assembly votes 170 in favor of 47-state member body; U.S. votes against
Roberto Spiezio (seong)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-16 15:39 (KST)   
The long-standing struggle against human rights violations has added a new chapter to its history. On March 15, the U.N. General Assembly voted 170 in favor, with three abstentions (Iran, Belarus and Venezuela) and four opposed, to set up a new 47-state member body to replace the 53-country Human Rights Commission (HRC).

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The latter was often criticized because of the presence of some countries like China, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Cuba, which were accused of massive human rights violations.

Remarkable was the opposition of the United States, which voted against -- along with Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to United Nations, explained the U.S. was not satisfied with the final text. "We did not have sufficient confidence in this text to be able to say that the HRC would be better than its predecessor," he said.

Nevertheless, he added, "The United States will work cooperatively with other member states to make the Council as strong and effective as it can be ... We remain committed to support the U.N.'s historic mission to promote and protect the basic human rights of all the world's citizens."

The main worry of the United States was the mechanism of membership, which it judged not strict enough. The approved text requires an absolute majority to admit a new member to the Council, after "taking into account" the candidate state's human rights record. Bolton highlighted that a two-thirds majority would have been necessary to ensure a tighter control over the admission of countries "Not demonstrably committed to human rights."

This, he said, "Would have helped to prevent the election of countries that only seek to undermine the new body from within."

Another reason for the U.S. dissent was the rule that virtually makes every U.N. member state eligible for a seat at the Council. Bolton reminded the Assembly that his country had proposed to ban from the new body the countries currently subjected to sanctions for gross human rights violations. (See Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter)

Speaking on March 15 in Antananarivo, Madagascar, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the resolution, "Today, by this historic resolution, the General Assembly has established the new Human Rights Council that world leaders resolved to create at the summit last September. 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."

"The true test of the council's credibility will be the use that member states make of it. If, in the weeks and months ahead, they act on the commitments they have given in this resolution, I am confident that the council will breathe new life into all our work for human rights, and thereby help to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world," Annan concluded.

The Human Rights Council: What Does It Do?

The new Council replaces the Human Rights Commission. Among other tasks, the Council will :

1. Make recommendations to the General Assembly for the further development of international law in the field of human rights.

2. Promote the full implementation of human rights obligations undertaken by States and follow-up to the goals and commitments related to the promotion and protection of human rights emanating from United Nations conferences and summits.

3. Undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.

4. Contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies.

5. Work in close cooperation in the field of human rights with Governments, regional organizations, national human rights institutions and civil society.

6. Make recommendations with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights.

The Council will meet regularly throughout the year and schedule not fewer than three sessions per year, including a main session.

The election of the first members of the Council is due on May 9, 2006. The first meeting of the Council will take place on June 19.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Roberto Spiezio

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