In bid for wider consensus, debate on new Rights Council put off till next week

Assembly President Jan Eliasson

10 March 2006 – In a bid to secure the widest possible consensus for the new United Nations Human Rights Council, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson has postponed from today until early next week a plenary meeting on what Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called an essential element in reforming the world organization.

The United States feels that as proposed the Council, which would replace the much-criticized Commission on Human Rights, does not go far enough and has called for renegotiation, a move that Mr. Annan last week said had “chagrined” him, warning that the new body could “unravel” in renegotiations.

“I believe there is a collective wish to have the strongest possible support for the new Council,” Mr. Eliasson said in a letter sent to all Member States last night. “In search for consensus, I have therefore decided to postpone Friday morning’s meeting.”

The current Commission on Human Rights is widely seen as ineffectual and open to manipulation by rights violators. Mr. Eliasson reiterated that no Member State had achieved all its objectives in the draft he has proposed, but noted that “very many of you have indicated that you could support the text as it is. This is both welcome and essential to the process of consensus-building,” he added.

It was a point Mr. Annan has stressed continually since the text was introduced last month and again reiterated in comments to the press today, saying that the longer a decision is delayed over the Council “the more harmful it is.”

“I think the U.S. that has played a good role in human rights, I am sure will not do anything that will jeopardize the new Council. We will find a way to move forward…I hope to see it established, and with the support of all Member States, we will make it a strong Council, and a better mechanism than the current one.”

Also speaking to reporters today, Mr. Eliasson said he hoped that Member States would now use the delay to “talk to each other about what we expect this Council to do,” and that such discussions would lead to a decision by early next week without a vote.

Referring to the reported objections from the United States, he said there was sympathy from many quarters for some of these but added that proposals put forward by European and other countries, which support the Council, should pave the way for consensus.

The President also spoke about diplomatic efforts by countries to assure the Washington that rights violators will not be elected to the Council, adding that “there is great sympathy for some of the points made by the United States.”

“Here I was very happy to see that the European Union assured the United States, both in Washington and here in New York, that they – European Union countries and associated countries – would not vote in favour of such a country” that violates rights. “And I hear similar messages from others,” he added.

As proposed, the Council would have a higher status and greater accountability than the Commission that meets yearly in Geneva. It would be a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, meet year round as opposed to the six-week annual session of the Commission, and its members would be elected by a majority of all 191 UN Members.

Mr. Annan, in presenting his proposed reforms a year ago, wanted the election to be by a two-thirds majority, an element endorsed by the United States. But in noting that he had been unable to secure this, he has repeatedly said that the Council, as proposed by Mr. Eliasson after months-long consultations with Member States, could be a basis for more effective human rights protection.

Mr. Eliasson has said a major improvement is the requirement that its members, elected individually by the Assembly, would be judged on their human rights records with the proviso that they can be suspended if they themselves commit gross and systematic violations.

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