15 March 2006 Culminating months of intensive negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly today voted overwhelmingly on a resolution setting up a new Human Rights Council to replace the much-criticized Human Rights Commission – prompting Secretary-General Kofi Annan to hail this as an “historic” development which will help improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Welcoming the vote, which was greeted by prolonged applause, Mr. Annan, who first suggested the creation of the new Council in a report to the General Assembly one year ago, said it gave the UN “a much needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world.”
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 170 in favour with 4 against – the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau – with Venezuela, Iran and Belarus abstaining.
In opening remarks to the Assembly before the vote, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who led the often contentious negotiations on the issue, called today’s session a “decisive moment” not only for human rights but for the standing of the UN as a whole.
Highlighting several elements that would make the Council a “significant improvement” over the much-maligned Commission, he noted the Council’s higher status as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, its increased number of meetings throughout the year, equitable geographical representation and also the voting rights associated with membership.
“Members of the Council would be elected by the majority of the members of the General Assembly, in other words by an absolute majority. Each candidate would be voted on individually and directly and would have to obtain at least ninety-six votes of support in a secret ballot,” Mr. Eliasson said.
“The General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting, could suspend the rights of membership of a Council member who commits gross and systematic violations of human rights,” he added.
The new Council will have 47 members. The first elections are planned for 9 May and the first session will take place on 19 June, according to the resolution.
In a statement, Mr. Annan, who is travelling in Africa, thanked the Assembly President for his efforts in bringing this “sensitive matter to a conclusion,” but acknowledged that this was “only the first step in a process of change,” adding that “now the real work begins.”
“The true test of the Council’s credibility will be the use that Member States make of it. If, in the weeks and months ahead, they act on the commitments they have given in this resolution, I am confident that the Council will breathe new life into all our work for human rights, and thereby help to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world,” Mr. Annan noted.
He went on to say that while the resolution “gives us a solid foundation, on which all who are truly committed to the cause of human rights must now build,” no country would be wholly satisfied with every paragraph, although such was “the nature of international negotiations.”