The U.N. General Assembly has backed away from establishing a new human rights body in the face of strong U.S. opposition. The assembly president has asked for more time to search for a compromise.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson Friday put off a scheduled meeting of the 191-member body that was to approve creation of a new Human Rights Council. "I have delayed the meeting till the early part of next week in order to enhance chances of consensus on a draft resolution. As president of the General Assembly, I strive for consensus, particularly on these issue of human rights, the universal declaration should be universally adopted," he said.
The Swedish diplomat admitted that the proposal for a body to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights is not what he and many countries had hoped for. It also falls far short of what Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a year ago.
After weeks of consultations, most countries agreed to put aside their concerns and accept a watered-down proposal. But a small group of countries led by the United States called the draft text unacceptable. They want the text reopened to allow amendments, including tougher membership standards that would ensure chronic human rights abusers are barred from membership.
After meeting Mr. Eliasson Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said he had explained that Washington's position remains firm. He suggested that the United States would demand improvements in the text, but admitted that prospects for compromise seem dim.
"As of now, we've not found very much support for re-opening the text,and therefore the prospect of our amending the text has not made much progress, but we now have a few more days, we're going to continue to work on it, in hopes we can modify the text sufficiently so that we can have a new Human Rights Council that really does represent a substantial advance the discredited Human Rights Commission that we have now," he said.
Eliasson told reporters the last thing he wants is to isolate the United States on the issue of human rights. But he warned that reopening the text would be like opening a "Pandora's Box" of new amendments that could destroy the proposal.
He described the U.S. request for more time as a hopeful development. "The request for a delay came not least from the United States. And if I'm requested to accept a delay, of course the hopes rise with me that this delay will be used for reconsiderations and I hope that this period will be productively used, and we will think about this in this larger perspective of the reform efforts and getting a human rights body when really the time is ripe," he said.
The stalemate has spurred talk in the U.N. of a possible failure of negotiations that could jeopardize broader reform efforts. But Secretary-General Annan Friday predicted a compromise would be found. "We will find a way to move forward, and I don't think we'll see sort of dramatic situation you talked about the Human Rights Council falling apart. It will not fall apart," he said.
Mr. Annan said he was concerned, however, that the longer the delay in finding a compromise, the worse the consequences would be.
Assembly President Eliasson suggested Friday that he would try to bring the matter up for action again next week, but no date was set.