Global Policy Forum

EU Backs Proposal for New UN Human

Associated Press
March 2, 2006

The European Union gave its backing Wednesday night to a compromise proposal to create a U.N. Human Rights Council, a move that leaves the United States isolated from some of its closest allies.

U.S. opposition to the new body, which would replace the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, delayed quick approval and sparked intense consultation on the pros and cons of reopening negotiations. It also put the United States on a collision course with supporters of the proposal including many U.N. member states, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, key human rights groups, and a dozen Nobel peace laureates.

The brief EU statement, obtained from a European diplomat, said the 25-nation body considers last week's proposal by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson to meet "the basic requirements for the establishment of a Human Rights Council." "The EU could therefore accept this text as a compromise," the statement said. Eliasson told The Associated Press he had been informed of the EU's support. "That's very good news. I'm very grateful for this support, and I hope we will move closer to taking a decision on this important matter," he said.

Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, reiterated the U.S. opposition to the proposal. "The United States made its decision not to support the current draft based on the principle that we should not compromise when talking about human rights," he said.

The Human Rights Commission has been criticized for allowing some of the worst rights-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation, or to criticize others. In recent years, commission members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

The United States announced Monday that it would vote against the council unless Eliasson's draft was renegotiated to correct what it views as serious deficiencies, especially the chance that countries abusing human rights could become members.

Eliasson said earlier Wednesday that most U.N. member states had warned him against changing the proposal. "I never heard the world Pandora's Box being so repeated," he said. The assembly president said he is in the midst of consultations and is still hoping to unite all 191 U.N. member states behind a resolution that would establish the new council before the Human Rights Commission meets in Geneva on March 13. "I can see grave difficulties with renegotiation, and I can see grave difficulties with changing the text, and therefore I would hope we will come to closure on this before the Human Rights Commission begins," Eliasson said.

But how Eliasson can achieve consensus without reopening the text remains an unanswered question _ at least for the moment. He again defended his proposal, saying "it constitutes the best basis for the continued work of human rights which ... is the soul of the United Nations." He has argued that it would strengthen the U.N.'s human rights machinery and toughen criteria for membership.

The United States had lobbied for a permanent Human Rights Council of 30 members chosen primarily for their commitment to human rights by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly, to try to keep countries abusing human rights off. Under the new proposal, the 53-member Human Rights Commission would be replaced by a 47-member Human Rights Council that would be elected by an absolute majority of the 191-member General Assembly -96 members.

But Eliasson stressed that the draft would require every council member to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" and have their human rights record reviewed during their three-year term. Eventually, all 191 U.N. member state would face such scrutiny. The proposal also contains provisions to allow one-third of the council's member to call special sessions to deal with human rights emergencies _ and to suspend a member for "gross and systematic" rights violations by a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly.

Bolton said his reading of the mood on Wednesday was that "there is not much interest at this point in renegotiating. So I suppose the choices are pushing the whole thing off for several months or seeing if there's a vote." In the event of a vote, the United States will vote no, he said. Bolton reiterated the U.S. call for members to be elected by a two-thirds vote, and U.S. opposition to a two-term limit for a country to serve on the council. The United States is also unhappy with the two-thirds vote required to remove council members.

European diplomats - speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations on the EU statement were private and the statement had not been released by the Austrian presidency - said the British were the last to come on board. Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters earlier Wednesday that the EU strongly favors adoption of a text by consensus. "It also recognizes that adopting that text without United States support isn't good for human rights and not particularly good for the council," he said. "And that's the dilemma the president of the General Assembly has, and we will give him whatever help we can as he decides now how to go forward."

The EU statement didn't mention the United States but backed efforts to increase support. "The EU fully supports the president of the General Assembly's efforts to secure the broadest possible backing for the early establishment of the Human Rights Council," it said.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on the Human Rights Council
More Information on UN Reform Topics
More Information on the US, UN and International Law


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.