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US Opposition Forces Delay of UN Human Rights Council Vote

The United States has forced a delay of a U.N. General Assembly vote to create a new Human Rights Council. Washington's ambassador is demanding that the new body be strengthened.

U.N. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson had said Monday he was hoping the business of creating a new Human Rights Council would be completed by the end of the week. But a day later, he conceded that U.S. objections to his draft resolution had forced a delay.

"I will try still to move to action, but of course, I need to take into account this reaction from the United States, which you are well aware of," he said. "That requires continued consultations."

Eliasson said several other countries had also voiced concern about the Council. But he declined to name them.

World leaders at last September's U.N. summit ordered creation of a new body to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The 53-member Geneva-based commission has in recent years included as members such rights abusers as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Libya.

An original proposal offered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan would have required a country to receive a two-thirds vote of the 191 U.N. members to win a seat on the new Council. But in the face of objections from scores of countries, the standard for admission was lowered to a majority of the membership.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton complained that the lower admission standards, and other changes would have made the new body no better, and possibly worse than the current commission. He said the negotiating process had led to what he called a "failed resolution".

"If you have a discredited mechanism in place now, which is what the Human Rights Commission is, why should you settle for a new body that is at best marginally better than the old body?" said Bolton. "Why not continue the struggle over a longer period of time to achieve real reform? Why settle for less than what your standards are?"

General Assembly President Eliasson said he would take U.S. concerns into consideration. But he said a clear majority of member states favor the current resolution, and noted that many countries worry reopening negotiations could result in weakening the text.

"We have tried to find a formula which is also a cooperative mechanism that could bring about the majority of the member States," said Eliasson. "This is a fair and balanced text in my view, and my feeling is that most of the member States are now leaning in the direction of accepting this rather than opening up the negotiations where they will come back with their original negotiating positions."

Eliasson, a Swedish diplomat, says he still hopes to have a vote on the new Council before the next session of the discredited Commission on Human Rights convenes what could be its final session March 13.