February 28, 2006

US causes delay in UN vote on new rights council

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. opposition to a draft
resolution on a new U.N. Human Rights Council led to a delay of
a General Assembly vote this week and intense consultations on
Tuesday on whether to reopen the text.

Jan Eliasson, president of the 191-member General Assembly,
who drew up the resolution, said a majority of U.N. members
supported the draft and warned new talks might endanger the
entire effort.

A renegotiation, he said, "most probably would lead to a
result which is far below what we already have achieved."

He told reporters he had wanted a vote as soon as possible,
preferably this week "but we now have a situation where we have
a clear message about going ahead and for that I need to
continue my consultations."

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton announced on Monday that
Eliasson's resolution, circulated last week, had "manifold
deficiencies" and did not ensure that major human rights
violators would be banned from the new rights council.

Bolton said he was under instructions from Washington to
reopen talks or postpone a decision for several months on a new
rights body, which is to expose abusers and help nations draw
up human rights legislation.

Eliasson and leading rights groups, such as Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch, fear reopening talks
would lead to line by line negotiations, with amendments from
nations opposed to a strong rights council.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with line by line
negotiations," Bolton told reporters on Tuesday.

He also said he was concerned about a provision saying
nations could only serve two consecutive three-year terms, then
take a break before running again.

"My concern now with the term limits is that America would
go off, and I think that would be to the detriment of the
process," Bolton said.

"Why should you settle for a new body which is at best
marginally better than the old body? Why not continue the
struggle over a longer period of time to achieve real reform?"
he asked.


The new council would replace the Geneva-based Human Rights
Commission, faulted for allowing some of the worst rights
violators on the council, where they protect each other from
condemnation. In recent years, commission members have included
Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

The closest U.S. allies, the European Union nations, had in
general supported Eliasson's charter resolution but apparently
do not want a vote in the face of U.S. opposition.

Greek U.N. Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis said because of
the U.S. stance Europeans "have to see what is best for the
U.N. human rights machinery."

Eliasson, a Swede, who describes himself as a human rights
advocate, defended the text. He pointed to a requirement that
an absolute majority of the 191 General Assembly members was
needed to elect members, the possibility of suspending member
states, "the fact that you are supposed to uphold the highest
standards of human rights" and other provisions.

A new rights council was a key demand of world leaders at a
U.N. summit in September, with an original draft stronger than
Eliasson's compromise resolution. But this was watered down
after Bolton submitted hundreds of amendments.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the United States and
others had wanted a two-thirds majority to make it easier to
keep countries with poor rights records off the council. Bolton
also wanted to exclude nations under Security Council