UN moves to create stronger human rights body

24th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

NEW YORK, Feb 23, 2006 (AFP) - The United Nations moved Thursday to create a human rights body that would be more credible than its current commission, but less ambitious than that sought by UN chief Kofi Annan, diplomats said.

NEW YORK, Feb 23, 2006 (AFP) - The United Nations moved Thursday to create a human rights body that would be more credible than its current commission, but less ambitious than that sought by UN chief Kofi Annan, diplomats said.

Swedish diplomat Jan Eliasson, the current president of the UN General Assembly, presented to the 191 member states a draft proposal for a 47-state Human Rights Council elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority. It would meet three times a year for a minimum of 10 weeks.

The new council would be based in Geneva and replace the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, heavily criticized for taking years to pursue abuse cases and allowing nations with less-than-stellar human rights records to sit in judgment.

Under the draft proposal, membership criteria would tighten and the council could suspend members whose human rights record were deemed unacceptable.

Annan called for the text's adoption "within the next few days."

"Obviously the proposal isn't everything I asked for in my report," the secretary general told reporters.

"But I think it is a credible basis to move ahead. There are enough new elements in it for us to be able to build on I don't think anyone can claim this is old wine in a new bottle."

But the United States expressed reservations.

"We don't think it meets the standards set by the secretary general," US ambassador John Bolton told reporters. He refused to say whether the US would back the plan, signalling that Washington might seek to reopen negotiations.

Annan, in what appeared to be an oblique reply to Bolton's comments, declared: "The member states have had enough time to discuss. The issues are known and now is the time for a decision."

The creation of a Human Rights Council, a key element in a sweeping reform under way at the world body, was approved in principle by world leaders at a summit at UN headquarters in New York last September.

But definition of its scope and operations has been the subject of fierce debate.

Eliasson, who oversaw the negotiations, said the text marks a compromise on all controversial points, such as the size of the future council, criteria for admission, and the frequency of its meetings.

The plan calls for nation candidates for a council seat to be elected by the General Assembly by an absolute majority, currently 97 votes.

Annan and Western countries had wanted election by a two-thirds majority. But a number of Third World countries, members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, pushed for a majority of the ballots cast on the day of a vote.

The proposal also claims a right for universal review, which would mean that all countries, including the most powerful such as the US and China, could be called to defend their human rights record.

The number of council members — 47 against 53 of the current commission — was also a compromise. The majority of members wanted the number to remain at 53, while Western nations sought a more restricted body of some 38 members.

And the number of meetings — 10 weeks minimum with the possibility of an emergency session — is more than the six weeks of meetings held by the current commission.

Annan and Western nations had sought a permanent body.

France "will study the text very closely," said French ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière.

"My first reaction is that it's not an ideal text, but that it is a real progress compared to the Human Rights Commission. This body will be more active, more reactive, and more compelling for its members."

Non-governmental organizations urged swift adoption of the proposal, despite some shortcomings.

Human Rights Watch said that although the text "falls short of the vision" that Annan presented in his 2005 reform report, "governments should swiftly approve" the draft resolution.

"The UN's ability to protect human rights — and its credibility — will depend on governments' willingness to make the council a strong and effective body," the New York-based group said.

Amnesty International called for its adoption "without delay".

"Governments must now show the political will to make the Council an effective human rights body," said Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International's UN representative.

"This is an historic opportunity that governments must not squander for selfish political interests."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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