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UN General Assembly Approves New Human Rights Council Despite US Objections

  • Bill Rodgers

Members of the United Nations General Assembly have voted overwhelmingly to establish a new Human Rights Council, despite opposition by the United States which cast one of four votes against the resolution.

The UN action is aimed at strengthening the world body's oversight of human rights offenders by creating a 47-member organization to replace the Human Rights Commission.

The existing Geneva-based Human Rights Commission was roundly criticized by the United States and others for allowing Cuba, Zimbabwe and other notorious human rights violators to become members.

These nations used their membership to protect each other from condemnation, or to block investigations. In negotiations to replace the commission, the United States argued strongly for a mechanism to prevent such countries from becoming
members of the new Council.

Among other things, it wanted Council members to be elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. U.S. ambassador John Bolton: "We feel that any country that's under Security Council sanctions for gross abuses of human rights or support for terrorism ought to be per se ineligible to serve on the human rights commission."

But U.S. objections were swept away Wednesday, when the General Assembly voted to create the Human Rights Council and allow membership to be decided by a majority of UN member states. The vote was overwhelming: "The result of the vote is as follows: in favor 170, opposed four, abstention three. Draft resolution A/60/L-48 is
adopted (applause) ..."

Despite US objections, Linda Jamison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies does not believe the membership provisions will doom the Council: "It doesn't mean that this Council will fail from the beginning. What it means is that now there is a different kind of box in which human rights is going to be negotiated, and again it really has to do with the kinds of positions the US takes, the EU takes, some of the Asian countries take and the Security Council takes, on the dialogue around human rights violations. That really will determine how the Council functions."

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who met with former South African president Nelson Mandela Wednesday, expressed confidence the new Council will be able to work with the United States: "I think in a normal democratic process, if you can get unanimity, well and good. But if you can't, and an overwhelming majority of the members go for something, I think it should work. My understanding is that the United States, even though they may not be able to vote for the Council as it is now currently proposed, will be able to work with the Council."

Mr. Annan added he expects the Council will work better than the Commission. Under Wednesday's resolution, the 47-member Human Rights Council will replace the Commission in June.

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