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Support for Proposed New UN Human Rights Body Waning in Face of US Opposition


Washington's ambassador to the United Nations says a growing number of member nations favor delaying the creation of a new U.N. Human Rights Council. The president of the General Assembly wants the new council approved before March 13, when the next session of the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights opens in Geneva. Intense U.S. opposition has weakened support for the new body.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said Wednesday he is continuing to push ahead for speedy adoption of a draft text on a new Human Rights Council.

"The beginning of the work of the Human Rights Commission is a crucial date the 13th of March," he said. "And as President of the General Assembly, I would also hope that we would move to action and have a consensus decision on this very crucial matter. What is at stake is the establishment of a Human Rights Council within the body of the United Nations."

A solid majority of the 191 U.N. member states had earlier expressed support for the draft, but objections by Washington this week upset Eliasson's hopes for a consensus.

The Eliasson draft proposal is the product of five months of negotiations. It calls for a 47-member body to replace the 53-member Commission on Human Rights. The Council would have tougher admission standards than the current body, and provisions for expelling members with poor rights records.

In rejecting the draft, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton called the proposed changes "cosmetic". He said the United States would settle for nothing less than a complete revamp of the U.N. human rights machinery.

Bolton told reporters Wednesday there is a growing feeling among members that it would be better to delay consideration of the draft for several months rather than reopen negotiations.

"Our consultations indicate most people are not willing to reopen the text of it, they prefer as between options of renegotiate or defer further consideration, I read the predominant view to be defer consideration for several months," he said.

U.N. diplomats say the key to the future of the Eliasson proposal is whether it wins support of European countries. The European Union has been unable to reach a unified position, and Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry Wednesday suggested U.S. support is essential for the success of the Human Rights Council.

"Adopting that text without United States support isn't good for human rights and it's not particularly good for the Council. That's the dilemma the president of the General Assembly has," he said.

Eliasson Wednesday acknowledged he is under severe pressure to reopen negotiations in an attempt to strengthen the proposed new Council. But he warned that the renegotiation process could result in a weaker document.

"I can see grave difficulties with renegotiation, and I can see grave difficulties with changing the text. And therefore I would hope that we would come to closure on this before the Human Rights Commission begins," Eliasson said.

Ambassador Bolton, however, said he would have, in his words, "no trouble at all" pushing negotiations beyond the March 13 opening of the Commission's annual session. He said the United States will continue to insist on a two-thirds vote requirement for membership, as opposed to the majority vote in the Eliasson proposal.

Bolton told reporters he found it an anomaly that under the current draft, a country would need only a majority vote to win membership on the commission, but a two-thirds vote to be kicked off.