U.S. unable to block U.N. rights council

March 16, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States stood nearly alone yesterday as it voted against the creation of a new U.N. Human Rights Council, saying the reform did not go far enough to exclude abusers.

However, U.S. officials did not carry through on a threat to block the new body's funding, and they pledged to work with other nations to make the council "as strong as it can be."

Jan Eliasson, president of the General Assembly, called the vote "a historic moment" as 170 member states backed the new council. Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau joined the U.S. in voting against it; Iran, Venezuela and Belarus abstained.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the diplomats had missed a historic opportunity to help those most in need.

"We must not let the victims of human rights abuses throughout the world think that U.N. member states were willing to settle for `good enough,'" Bolton said. "We must not let history remember us as the architects of a council that was a `compromise.'"

Bolton said later that Washington had not decided whether to seek a seat on the new council.

The new council is meant to replace the 53-member Commission on Human Rights founded in 1946 to censure countries that abuse their own citizens.

Membership on that commission was allocated by region, allowing countries with poor human rights records to gain seats and use them to head off criticism.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed the new council last year, saying that the commission's declining credibility "casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole." But months of negotiations culminated in the watered-down compromise presented yesterday to the General Assembly.

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