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UN Expects New Human Rights Council to Start Working by September


The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, says he hopes a new U.N. Human Rights Council will be up and running by next September. He says negotiations are intensifying to replace the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission with a more effective and just system.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson says negotiations on the shape of the U.N. Human Rights Council have to be completed by the end of this year, to have the new body functioning by September.

He calls the task ahead complex and difficult. And, he acknowledges that member states have agreed on very little, with the exception of some basic principles to uphold human rights and the mode of operations.

"I think there is general agreement that the new council has to meet more often than the present council and that it should be ready to have meetings also on an emergency basis," said Mr. Eliasson.

The current U.N. Human Rights Commission has 53 member states. It has been criticized for having among its members some of the world's worst violators of human rights. The presence of such controversial countries as Zimbabwe, Cuba and Libya has tarnished the commission's reputation and called into question its ability to promote human rights, around the world.

Mr. Eliasson says the size, composition and membership of the new Human Rights Council need to be settled. He notes some states would like to see a smaller, more efficient council of 30 members, whereas others would like to see it expanded to 80. He says negotiators are divided on whether membership should be based on geographical distribution or the contribution of member states to the promotion and protection of human rights.

Mr. Eliasson says he recognizes a number of countries would like to weaken, not strengthen the new body.

"I hope that this will not be an exercise where you search for the lowest common denominator, but where you search for quality consensus, as I call it, that it will stand up the test of the universal declaration and the U.N. Charter," he added. "And, that the member states take their responsibilities, that we have to put human rights and the search for individuals high up on the agenda."

General Assembly President Eliasson admits the existing Human Rights Commission has been discredited in many ways. But, he says it has done good work, over the years. He says the positive contributions made by the commission must be retained. In establishing a new council, he says members must not, as he calls it, throw out the baby with the bath water.

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