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US Rejects Proposed UN Human Rights Council

The United States has announced its intention to vote against a proposal for a new U.N. Human Rights Council, calling it "unacceptable." A resolution creating the council could come to a vote in the General Assembly within days.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Monday the United States will oppose creation of a new human rights body unless what he called "deficiencies" are corrected.

"We are very disappointed with the draft that was produced last Thursday," he said. "We don't think it's acceptable. My instructions are to reopen the negotiations and to try and correct the manifold deficiencies in the text of the resolution or alternatively to push off consideration of the resolution for several months to give us more time. My understanding is that the president of the General Assembly intends to bring this matter to the floor of the General Assembly within a day or two for a vote. If he continues on that course, we will call for a vote and vote no."

After months of difficult negotiations among U.N. member states, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson last week unveiled his proposal for a new body to replace the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights. The 53-member commission's reputation has been hurt in recent years as nations with poor rights records have become members. The Eliasson proposal calls for a 47-member council, with members elected by a majority of all 191 members of the General Assembly.

The United States, however, has pushed for a still smaller body with tougher admission standards.

The Eliasson proposal has won lukewarm support from many countries and human rights groups, as well as Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who have said it represents a step forward.

After hearing Bolton's comments Monday, Eliasson said he still hopes to bring the draft to a vote this week.

"I have done my best to present a text that I think would be a good basis, very good basis for work on human rights," he said. "It's now up to the member states to decide whether they are ready to go to action, and I said I would hope that would be done as soon as possible, preferably this week, and that's still my preference."

General Assembly spokesperson Pragati Pascal told reporters Eliasson believes reopening negotiations could result in a further weakening of the council.

"The president continues to feel…that reopening negotiations is not likely to produce a better outcome, and that there is nothing to be gained by waiting," he said.

A U.N. spokesman Monday confirmed that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called Secretary-General Annan Sunday to discuss the human rights council. A U.S. mission spokesman said Rice had urged a postponement of the vote to allow for further negotiations.

But speaking in Geneva Monday, the secretary-general said he hoped the United States would join what he called "the vast majority of member governments" in accepting the new council. U.N. diplomats say a vote could come as early as Wednesday.