PRESS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

15 March 2006

PRESS CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

15 March 2006
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press conference ON HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL by GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

By adopting a resolution on the transition from the Commission on Human Rights to the Human Rights Council, the Assembly had proven that it could establish an effective human rights body in “these days of turmoil in the world”, send a message that universal values were shared by Member States, and that the Organization could reform itself, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden) told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Flanked by one of the co—Chairs of the plenary consultations that negotiated the draft -- Ambassador Arias of Panama -- and members of his staff, President Eliasson recalled that “The first verse of the Charter is ‘We the peoples ...’.  If we forget at the United Nations that ‘we the peoples’ are at the centre, then the United Nations is in trouble.  And we are trying to prove now that the human rights dimension is there at the United Nations”, he said.

As the leaders had acknowledged in September 2005, the three pillars of the United Nations -- development, peace and security, and human rights -- were interlinked, and the Assembly had strengthened the latter today, he continued.  Today’s decision had shown that nations could unite for that goal.  The world needed a strong Human Rights Council, just as it needed to achieve strong results in the other areas of Summit follow-up and reform, with which world leaders had entrusted the international community.

He would have preferred unanimous action on the draft, Mr. Eliasson continued, but the feelings on the matter were very strong.  Action on the text had been delayed in the hope of achieving consensus.  While the road to today’s action had been “a bumpy ride”, he respected the convictions of all Member States and appreciated the fact that they had “lifted themselves” from the national perspective to the international one, creating a body that had legitimacy.  Today’s achievement had demonstrated that human rights were not a “North-South issue”, but were embraced by all.

Of course, some countries had doubts, as they had shown in their votes on the draft, but he was extremely gratified for the support expressed by Member States for his proposal on the Council at “this historic moment for human rights”.  The draft was the culmination of five months of negotiations, representing the outcome of common effort, intellect and aspirations.

Now that the work on the Human Rights Council had been concluded, the Assembly could devote its time and energy to other important issues, including development, terrorism, Secretariat and management reform and other important tasks ahead, he said.

Stressing the significance of today’s decision, Mr. Arias added that different positions had been presented by countries during the long negotiating process and trying to unite them had been a difficult task.  Today, a new possibility for improving the protection of human rights had been created.  In the end, everything would depend on what Member States did with the new instrument, which would serve as a framework for future work.  Not only the adoption of the resolution, but also the whole debate that had taken place at the United Nations, had emphasized the importance of human rights.  The negotiations on the Human Rights Council had been open, transparent and inclusive.  He hoped that work on the other areas of reform could proceed in the same manner.

To a question about United States reservations, Mr. Eliasson said that he had been assured that that country would work with the Council and seek to support and strengthen it, when it could.  He had been in personal contact with the Secretary of State as late as this morning, as well as with Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, and he saw “much good will”.  He expected the United States to work with the new body.  The country of Eleanor Roosevelt and the Bill of Rights belonged with the United Nations in its work on human rights.

He believed that the Council would prove itself, and Member States would see that it was, indeed, the body they wanted.  Written into the resolution was a review of the status and the methods of work within five years, as well as periodic reviews of countries.

Asked about his contacts with Member States, he said that he had been in contact with “innumerable governments” since the beginning of February, when the co-Chairs had asked him to conduct final consultations on the matter.  He also confirmed that he had been in contact with the Foreign Minister of Cuba, as well as other members of that Government.   Cuba had serious reservations on the text, and there was always an issue of the degree to which amendments would be coming up.  He appreciated the fact that Cuba had not raised those amendments during the discussion today, because that could have led to “the unravelling of the text”, undermining the outcome of careful negotiations.  He also expressed gratitude to two other countries that had refrained from bringing up amendments.

To a question about the impact that the establishment of the Human Rights Council could have on the human rights situation worldwide, he said that every country was to be reviewed on its human rights record during its term on that body.  That would certainly have an effect on the human rights situation.  It was also a great achievement that preventive action was now envisioned in cases of human rights emergencies.  Pledges and commitments in the area of human rights were also expected in connection with the elections, which, he hoped, would be translated into realities on the ground.

Whether countries would change their constitutions was up to them, he said in response to another question.  However, the establishment of the Council had sent a very strong message.  In the history of the United Nations, he did not think that such strong language had been placed at the foundation of any other organ.  He was grateful that Member States had “gone that far”.  For instance, they accepted that a country committing grave violations of human rights could be suspended by the General Assembly.  The Assembly was, in fact, setting a moral high standard in that regard.

About plans for the future, he added that he was glad that he could now send the good news to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, which had suspended its session to let the Assembly finish its negotiations.  The first meeting of the new Human Rights Council would hopefully take place on 19 June.  The elections were scheduled for 9 May.

On Ambassador Bolton’s “list of countries that the United States does not want to see on the Council”, he said that it was, of course, an expression of that country’s views on human rights violations, but it was not up to him to comment on that list.

Regarding Security Council reform, Mr. Eliasson said that it was an important part of the overall reform effort, indeed.  It was part of the Summit Outcome, and he was in contact with the countries concerned.  He was guided by the views of Member States on that issue.  To move forward, the President of the Assembly needed to have wide support.

To a question about the Secretariat and management reform, he said that, on the one hand, it was necessary to find effective international solutions.  On the other, there was deep suspicion and mistrust, both in the world and inside the Organization.  The Assembly now had the mission of achieving reform, despite the turmoil.  It was important to achieve a balance between a strong Secretary-General and Secretariat and the accountability vis-à-vis Member States.  He hoped that the Assembly would be able to build bridges to tackle that challenge.  He would defend the status, responsibilities and powers of the General Assembly, including the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).  At the same time, there were instructions on policy issues from the world leaders.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.