Global Policy Forum

New Draft for UN Rights Panel Circulates


By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press
February 2, 2006

Countries seeking a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council would have to agree to a review of their own rights records with "gross violations of human rights" taken into account under a new draft circulated Thursday. The latest proposal calls on the U.N. General Assembly to elect a 45-nation body - 15 more than called for by the United States - but leaves unresolved the question of whether the new council should be elected by a simple majority or a two-thirds vote.

Rights groups say only a two-thirds vote will ensure that offending nations will be rejected for membership in the council, which is intended to draw attention to - and help prevent - human rights abuses around the world. "Without the two-thirds vote, the risk is that the worst abusers will continue to be elected," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The council is to replace the current Human Rights Commission, which has been widely criticized as an irrelevant body that is powerless to stamp out abuses because its members include some of the worst offenders and it has no mandate to punish violators. Members in recent years have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton warned last month that the United Nations cannot play a global leadership role unless it establishes a new council that bars countries abusing human rights.

The new draft to create the council calls for the 53-member Human Rights Commission to go out of existence on June 15. The General Assembly would elect members of the new Human Rights Council on May 9 and it would meet for the first time on June 16. The draft also calls for a 45-member council elected for three years from all regions, with countries allowed to serve a maximum of two terms. That means the five permanent Security Council members - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - would not have permanent seats on the council as Bolton proposed last month.

A senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said there is no deadline to adopt the draft and the U.N. is hoping a resolution establishing the council will be adopted by consensus. The document was circulated by the co-chairs of an assembly committee trying to negotiate a text that would be supported by all 191 U.N. member states.

The United States wants a maximum of 30 members chosen primarily for their commitment to human rights by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. Many developing countries want a 53-member council elected by a simple majority.

The draft says membership should be open to all countries but declares that "member states shall take into consideration the candidates' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and ... whether there are any situations that constitute systematic and gross violations of human rights" in the country. Under the proposal, every member elected to the council must fully cooperate with the council and be subject to a review of its human rights record during its three-year term. The draft calls for "a universal periodic review" of every country's human rights obligations.

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