U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the new U.N. Human Rights Council to break with the past and become a strong voice for silent victims of abuse. Mr. Annan was addressing the inaugural session of the council, which was created after diplomats dismissed the previous U.N. human-rights body as ineffective.
"I, thus, today, have the great honor and immense privilege to declare open the very first meeting of the first session of the Human Rights Council," said U.N. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, one of the driving forces behind the new Human Rights Council.
Eliasson called the meeting a historic occasion and a new chapter in U.N. work on human rights.
"In the days and weeks to come, the world will closely follow and scrutinize this council's work and its commitment to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration," he said. "Today, the world is behind you, the new members, supporting you and urging you to live up to this commitment."
U.N. Secretary-General Annan said the council marked a new era in the human-rights work of the United Nations. But, he cautioned that the council must mark a clean break from the past, if it is to live up to expectations.
"Never allow the Council to become caught up in political point-scoring or petty maneuver," he said. "Think always of those whose rights are denied, whether those rights are civil and political, or economic and social and cultural, whether those people are perishing from brutal treatment by arbitrary rulers, or from ignorance, hunger and disease."
The U.N. Council replaces the discredited 53-member U.N. Commission for Human Rights, which allowed some of the world's worst violators of human rights to sit in judgment on others. In recent years, its members included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.
The new 47-member council has elected several countries with checkered human rights records, such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China. But, other abusive nations either failed to win seats or did not run.
The U.N. secretary-general implored governments not to let the opportunity offered by the new council to be squandered.