US threat of ‘No’ vote on rights council

The US, which has expressed strong reservations over a proposed draft resolution for the creation of a new Human Rights Council (HRC), is heading for a collision course with the highest policy-making body at the United Nations, the General Assembly.

US Ambassador John Bolton says he is “very disappointed” with the draft resolution, and is threatening to vote against it in the General Assembly if there are no amendments. Bolton, who has been seeking to block “habitual human rights violators” wants members to the new Council elected by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. Since this move was opposed by most developing nations, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who crafted the draft resolution, opted for a compromise: an “absolute majority” — meaning 96 votes in a General Assembly.

Bolton wants a smaller Council which is expected to have 47 members. A smaller Council, however, is more vulnerable to political manipulation. Asked if Bolt-on’s demand for renegotiation was “a dangerous move that would bring the whole house down”, UN secretary general on Monday said: “I think we have gone through intensive months of negotiations. If at this stage we get into line-by-line negotiations or discussions, it may lead to major delays and can cause a serious problem.” Annan said that Eliasson had concluded that after months of talks, he had put forward a document which takes into consideration the views of all concerned.

Bolton was at the centre of a heated controversy following his decision to hold a debate last week on a UN audit focusing on management and corruption in the Secretariat. The two major coalitions at the United Nations — the 132-member Group of 77 and the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement — protested Bolton’s decision, arguing that management is within the purview of the General Assembly, not the Security Council. Bolton now seems heading for a second showdown, this time with the General Assembly and its president, over the new Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, the draft resolution is also being supported by several human rights organisations. Although the text presented by Eliasson “falls short of the vision” that Annan set out in his reform report of last year, “governments should approve the resolution without watering it down”, says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Roth said the new Council “is better than the old, discredited, Commission on Human Rights, but it is less than we had hoped for”. Roth said that HRW was disappointed that the text dropped the requirement for members of the new Council to be elected by a two-thirds majority of UN member states, “as this would have created a high obstacle to the election of the worst abuser states to the new body”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to weigh in and force Amb. Bolton to sign on to the plan. The proposed new Council will have 47 members compared with 53 in the outgoing Human Rights Commission. All members, who will have term limits, will serve for three years but will not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms. The General Assembly may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Human Rights Council that commits gross and systematic violations of rights. — IPS