Assembly President hails vote on Human Rights Council as marker of UN reform

15 March 2006 –

United Nations General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said today’s establishment of a new Human Rights Council to replace the much-criticized Human Rights Commission sends a message that despite prevailing tumultuous environment, all countries share universal values of human rights and the world body can reform itself.

Speaking to reporters after the Assembly voted by 170 to 4 for the Council, a visibly relieved Mr. Eliasson said that “above all human rights goes to the heart of the United Nations,” and thanked Member States for “lifting themselves from the national perspective to the international.”

Calling human rights “the soul of the United Nations,” he said it was a key pillar along with peace and development. “Today we strengthened that third pillar,” he said.

“I would hope that the fact that we could come to this decision, even if it was not a decision without a vote, is a sign that this General Assembly can take decisions and can accept responsibility,” he added.

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.

Addressing the Assembly after voting against the resolution, United States Ambassador John Bolton said the Secretary-General had established “ambitious but appropriate goals” to reform the Commission on Human Rights, but he said that the current text was not sufficiently improved.

However Ambassador Bolton pledged that his country “will work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as strong and effective as it can be,” adding: “We remain committed to support the UN’s historic mission to promote and protect the basic human rights of all the world’s citizens.”

Acknowledging the US reservations, Mr. Eliasson nevertheless said that he saw “much goodwill” from the US voiced strong hope that Washington would be on board.

“I was assured that the United States will work with the Council, seek to support it when it can, and to strengthen it and certainly not do anything to harm it. This was also stated publicly,” he said.

In opening remarks to the Assembly before the vote, Mr. Eliasson, who led the often contentious negotiations on the Council, highlighted several elements that would make it a “significant improvement” over the much-maligned Commission.

In particular, 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.

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.

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