|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL PROPOSAL
Following weeks of intense closed-door negotiations, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden, today presented to the world’s nations and members of the press, a draft resolution that, he said, was his “best attempt” to craft a blueprint for a new United Nations Human Rights Council, which would replace the often criticized, Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights.
“I hope this marks the closure of hard negotiations,” Mr. Eliasson told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference earlier today. At the behest of his two chief negotiators on the matter -- Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa and Ricardo Arias of Panama -– Mr. Eliasson took the lead in the talks early in February, and after “innumerable” bilateral meetings with delegations, had come up with a document he hoped found solutions to the “difficult and sensitive” issues.
“To unite the desirable with the workable is a pretty big challenge in this Organization,” he said, and, with the unveiling of his negotiated text, which he believed reflected principles enshrined in United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was now up to Member States to put the matter to a decision.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan had billed the creation of a new, higher profiled human rights organ, as a key priority when he launched his agenda for extensive United Nations reform, early last year. World leaders subsequently backed his call for a more representative, accountable and effective Human Rights Council in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit, this past September.
Mr. Eliasson said he did not believe it was a wise alternative to continue negotiations, while trying to address numerous other challenges, from providing assistance in complex humanitarian emergencies, to keeping and building peace in conflict zones. The Organization faced, at the same time, important decisions on management reform and the programme budget, among others. He hoped a decision could be taken and “we can leave this behind us”, although he knew the matter required discussion in capitals.
Asked about United States Ambassador John Bolton’s comments, made just prior to the press conference, that now was the time for negotiations on the text to begin, Mr. Eliasson said that, while he had not heard those comments, what had been going on for the past few months had been an intergovernmental process. He stressed that intensive intergovernmental negotiations had continued until the two Co-Chairs had said they could go no further, and asked for his assistance.
“It’s up to the Member States if they want to take a decision on this next week. I hope they will,” he said, reiterating that the negotiation process had been “fully inclusive”.
Ambassador Arias, who, along with Ambassador Kumalo, joined Mr. Eliasson today, added that, during the process, which had been based on the Summit Outcome Document, all Member States had also been encouraged to conduct negotiations among themselves. Many countries had participated in the process.
“While we will build on the positive achievements and best practices of the Commission, some of the elements we are considering will make the Human Rights Council a truly new and different body -- a fresh start,” Mr. Eliasson said, noting that the new Council’s work would be guided by dialogue and cooperation, both of which were sorely needed in the challenging times in which we all lived today. Such cooperation was also vital, if Member States wanted to have a sense of ownership in the Council, he added.
A major improvement of the proposed body was the requirement that its members, elected “directly and individually” by the 191-member General Assembly, would be judged on their human rights records, with the provision that they could be suspended if they themselves commit gross and systematic violations.
“We were looking for something that would show muscle in cases of gross violations,” he said of this provision, expressing hope that it would be approved and used wisely by Assembly members. The new Council would have a higher standing as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, would meet year-round, as opposed to the six-week annual session of the Commission, and conduct a “universal periodic review” of all States’ adherence to human rights norms, including by scrutinizing its members.
In addition, Mr. Eliasson said that the latest text took heed of the violence over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by including a preambular paragraph, drawn from a previously agreed resolution, on the need for dialogue and understanding among civilizations, cultures and religions.
Responding to questions about the draft that would establish the Council, Mr. Eliasson said the text must be seen in its totality. He was aware of the risk that some would look at the draft, see that a specific issue had not been included and then consider the entire exercise as unworkable. But, he urged everyone to look deeper to discover elements that addressed the bigger picture.
Indeed, several aspects of the text reflected the concerns of Member States, particularly the call to uphold higher human rights standards, as well as pledges and commitments to human rights. That had not been the case when the Commission had been established.
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