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The UNís new-look Human Rights Council - donít hold your breath

By Patrick Goodenough - posted Friday, 24 March 2006


As the dust clears after last week’s UN vote creating a Human Rights Council, attention will swing quickly to the likely make-up of the new body, whose predecessor was disgraced by the presence and disruptive antics of serial rights violators.

The US stood virtually alone against the resolution creating the new council, not because it wanted to retain the discredited commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) - it was, indeed, one of its severest critics - but because it said the replacement failed to fix the problems.

In the end, the US and just three allies, Israel and two small Pacific island nations, voted against the resolution and the council was duly born.

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Critics of the Bush administration greeted the vote count as evidence of America’s deepening isolation, and on the ineffectiveness of the diplomacy practiced by John Bolton, US Ambassador to the UN.

Just wait, though, for May 9. That’s the day the General Assembly is due to elect the members of the new council to sit in Geneva.

There will be 47 of them, just six fewer than the number of seats in the UNCHR, whose ranks in recent years included such unsavoury regimes as Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Bolton had pressed for a much smaller body - around 20 initially, although he said earlier in the negotiations that the US was willing, as a compromise, to accept up to 30.

But, as was the case on so many other points, the US saw that proposal relegated to the garbage bin during the months of wheeling and dealing, co-ordinated by two UN “facilitators” under the oversight of General Assembly president Jan Eliasson.

So the UN’s 191 member states will vote for roughly one-quarter of their number to take seats on the council.

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In order for an individual nation to get the nod, it will require the support of 96 of those 191 members. (Bolton wanted a two-thirds threshold, or 128 countries, but there again the US position was thrown out.)

And the resolution also says that if a council member fails to uphold high human rights standards, it can be suspended by a two-thirds majority vote, or 128 members. (Bolton wanted a one-third vote, or 64 members, but - well, you get the picture.)

Turning matters on their heads, the UN therefore made it easier for a rights violator to get onto the council, and harder for it to be kicked off.

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About the Author

Patrick Goodenough is a Pacific Rim-based correspondent for an American online news service, CNSNews.com.

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