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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

23 February 2006

United States Questions Rights Council Draft Resolution

John Bolton, U.S. envoy to United Nations, wants more negotiations

United Nations -- The final design of the new Human Rights Council presented by General Assembly negotiators "does not live up to the standards" set by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and governments should consider more negotiations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said February 23.

"We don't think at first review that it meets the standards set by the secretary-general himself when this process began," Bolton told journalists soon after General Assembly President Jan Eliasson presented a draft resolution based on two months of talks between his office and the 191 U.N. member states.

"What we have been looking for is a substantial reform of the existing human rights decision-making machinery in the U.N. and the question still before us is whether this amounts to substantial reform," the ambassador said.

While not getting into specifics, the U.S. ambassador expressed dissatisfaction with the text and said that the United States "will be examining it closely."  He added that "it is now time to consider that since the facilitation process is finally over whether it is time to begin real international negotiations on this text."

The four-page draft resolution was completed by Eliasson and the ambassadors of South Africa and Panama, who acted as so-called "facilitators," talking with delegations and then drafting and revising the text based on those talks.

Bolton said that he will be consulting with other governments on the possibility of direct negotiations -- "sitting across the table from one another" to discuss the text "and mark it up."

The United States has said it wants a Human Rights Council with no more than 30 members. Any country under Security Council sanctions for human rights violations or terrorism would be excluded from membership and members should be elected by two-thirds of the General Assembly.  In addition, Bolton has said, the new council should have regular periodic meetings throughout the year as well as a trigger mechanism to call for additional sessions as needed.  (See related article.)

The draft resolution presented would establish a Human Rights Council, based in Geneva to replace the current Commission on Human Rights. The council would address all human rights situations.  A subsidiary of the General Assembly, it would meet regularly, scheduling no fewer than three 10-week sessions annually.  It would be able to hold special sessions if needed.

The council would be made up of 47 members based on regional distribution and elected directly by secret ballot by a majority of the General Assembly taking into account each country's human rights record.  Every new member would be required to undergo a human rights review.   It also provides that a sitting member who commits gross human rights violations would be suspended.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that "the proposal isn't everything I asked for but it is a credible basis to move ahead.  There are enough new elements for us to be able to build on.  I don't think anyone can claim this is old wine in a new bottle."

Annan said that member states have had enough time to discuss the resolution, "the issues are known and now it is time for a decision."

Presenting the resolution to the General Assembly, Eliasson urged governments to adopt the "balanced, strong, and workable" text on "the most delicate of issues and during turbulent times."

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch encouraged governments to adopt the draft resolution even though both human rights organizations also said that it falls far short of Annan's vision and the council would be weaker than hoped for.  Nevertheless, they said, the new council would be better than the old, discredited Commission on Human Rights.

"Given the death-by-a-thousand-cuts tactics of abusive governments during these deliberations, there is no reason to believe that more negotiations will yield improvement," Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said.

For additional information, see United States and U.N. Reform.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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