The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to set up a new human rights council, despite strong opposition by the United States. The new council will replace the UN Human Rights Commission, which will cease to exist on June 16. The representatives of 170 nations including Russia voted in favor of the creation of the new council. Israel, Marshall Islands, and Palau joined the United States in voting against the plan. Belarus, Venezuela, and Iran abstained.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had proposed to replace the UN Human Rights Commission last year. The commission was heavily criticized for having countries with poor human rights records as members, which would often “supported and protected” one another from condemnation. The situation resulted in a “lack of trust that discredited the United Nations system as a whole,” said Annan in his statement. Various international human rights organizations were especially unhappy that the commission in recent years has included such countries as Cuba, Libya and Sudan, which used it merely to “protect themselves from international criticism or criticize others.”
The new human rights council will be an auxiliary body of the General Assembly. The council’s members will be elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority of the General Assembly. East European countries will have 6 seats on the council; Asia and Africa will have 13 seats, Latin America will have 8 seats while West European countries, the United States, Canada, and Israel will have 7 seats on the council. Therefore, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council will replace the 53-member UN Human Rights Commission. The membership in the new body will be three years, and member states will not be eligible for direct membership extension after two consecutive three-year terms.
The Bush Administration was opposed to the plan from the very beginning. The U.S. wanted a two-thirds majority vote and a ban for countries subject to UN trade and economic sanctions due to human rights violations and acts of terrorism. “We did not have sufficient confidence in this text to be able to say that the Human Rights Council will be better than its predecessor,” said John Bolton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, in a statement on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Russia expressed hope that the creation of the Human Rights Council would be used as a basis for significant improvement of the work of the United Nations in the area of human rights around the world. The new body should help the UN to “get rid of double standards, selectivity, and politicizing,” said Andrei Denisov, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, shortly after the vote at a plenary meeting of the General Assembly. The Russian diplomat stressed the importance of the document. “The resolution is far from being perfect yet it is the result of a very complex compromise,” said Denisov.
The Russian ambassador drew attention to ambiguity of certain provision of the resolution including those limiting membership in the council by two consecutive terms. Russia believes the condition is in contradiction to the UN Charter’s “principle of universality for every member state of the Organization to be eligible for membership in any UN body.” The Russian ambassador expressed hope that the council would “possibly specify details of its functioning” while working cooperatively with the General Assembly during the formation stage. The election of the first members of the new organization is slated for May 9, 2006. The first session should be held on June 19, 2006.
One of the main surprises was that Cuba voted in favor of the creation of a new human rights watchdog. The Cuban representative said that the “nations from the North” unjustly criticized developing countries and held sway over the UN units.
“The U.S. Administration’s attacks on the current text of the resolution clearly indicate their haughtiness and arrogance,” said the Cuban Ambassador to the UN Rodrigo Malmierca.
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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