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Proposed New UN Human Rights Body Gets Cool Reception

Two top U.N. officials have urged speedy adoption of a proposal to create a new body to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights. But, the United States sharply criticized the proposal, and suggested it may call for further negotiations.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson and Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday joined in endorsing a plan to promptly establish a new U.N. Human Rights Council. At the same time, both admitted that efforts to improve on the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights had failed to meet their expectations.

After months of trying to find a consensus among the 191 U.N. member countries, Eliasson said the talks were going "around in circles". He called the proposal the best he could do under difficult circumstances.

"This is the result of our best attempt, my best attempt," said Jan Eliasson. "I hope they will consider it a good text. It's now in the hands of the member states. To me the alternatives are very bad. "

Heads of State meeting at last September's U.N. summit ordered a complete overhaul of the Commission, which has often included chronic rights abusers among its members. Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe are among those currently holding seats on the 53-member body.

Secretary-General Annan last year outlined a proposal for a robust Council with tough membership requirements. Thursday he acknowledged that the Eliasson proposal does not contain everything he asked for. But he called it a credible basis for moving ahead.

"Mr. Eliasson is a very patient person, and I think he only puts his proposal on table as demanded of him by the heads of states when he came to the conclusion that negotiations and discussions have been exhausted," said Kofi Annan. "I think he really did whatever he can, and I would suggest that the member states have had enough time to discuss this, the issues are known, and now is the time for a decision."

These lukewarm endorsement was met with a mixed reaction from diplomats. One prominent west Asian ambassador who asked not to be identified called the proposal "problematic".

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton indicated the United States might call for international negotiations on ways to strengthen the body.

"We don't think at first review that it meets the standards set by the secretary-general himself when this process began," said John Bolton. "We'll be examining it closely, and it's time to consider that since the facilitation process is finally over, whether it's time to begin real international negotiations on this text."

Human rights groups also expressed disappointment with the draft. But most concluded that it would be better than nothing. Amnesty International issued a statement urging that the Eliasson proposal be adopted without delay. But Amnesty spokesperson Yvonne Terlingen said while it contains some good elements, "it is impossible to tell" at this stage whether the proposed Council would be an improvement over the current body.