UN General Assembly Votes to Create a Reformed Human Rights Council
On March 15, 2006 the UN General Assembly voted to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights with a reformed Human Rights Council.

March 15, 2006

On March 15, 2006 the UN General Assembly voted to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights with a reformed Human Rights Council. The Untied States, virtually isolated, was joined by only three other states in its vote against the Council’s creation. The final vote was 170 in favor; 4 against (the Untied States, Israel, Palau, and Marshall Islands); and 3 abstentions (Iran, Belarus and Venezuela). The vote demonstrates that the United States failed to exercise U.S. leadership on this critical reform effort, and instead isolated itself from its closest democratic allies.

The European Union, Canada, New Zealand and the majority of U.S. allies supported the Council. Although not ideal, the adopted resolution is a positive first step toward an improved body. Nobel Laureates and dozens of human rights and democracy organizations from around the world, including the Open Society Institute, called for the adoption of the resolution to create the Council. Dick Lugar, U.S. Senator for Indiana and many organizations are now issuing statements applauding this as a historic step that offers hope for victims of human rights. See links above and below for statements and letters calling for the Council’s creation.

Beginning with Eleanor Roosevelt, the United States has historically played a decisive leadership role in establishing international mechanisms and forums to advance democracy and human rights. Ambassador Bolton asserted in a statement to the General Assembly that, despite the U.S. vote against the resolution, “the United States will work cooperatively with other Member States to make the Council as strong and effective as it can be.” Indeed, the creation of the Council offers the United States a new opportunity to exercise its leadership to promote human rights and democracy at the United Nations. The Administration should now focus its diplomatic efforts to engage constructively with the Council, ensure the Council’s effective implementation and lead efforts to guarantee elections result in an improved membership.

The new Human Rights Council includes the following provisions that can strengthen the membership and effectiveness of the body:

Improved membership:

  • For the first time, member states must be elected by absolute majority in direct and individual voting.
  • For the first time governments are directed to consider a candidate’s human rights record, pledges and commitments when electing members and must pledge to cooperate with the Council.
  • Also for the first time, members of the Council that commit gross and systematic violations of human rights may be suspended.
  • The U.S. and its allies in the UN Democracy Caucus can use this new mechanism to organize a united front in support of each other’s candidacies and against the worst abusers.

Improved function and capacity

  • Meetings will take place at least three times a year for ten weeks, instead of just one six-week session a year, and additional sessions may be called by one-third of the Council membership enabling the body to address urgent cases of gross violations.
  • A system of universal periodic review offers a new opportunity to hold states accountable to their human rights obligations in a less politicized process.

To view statements supporting the Council’s creation please click links below:

UN Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth supports the new Human Rights Council, March 15, 2006: http://www.unfoundation.org/media_center/press/2006/st_031506.asp

Human Rights Watch: U.N.: New Rights Council Offers Hope for Victims, March 15, 2006: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/03/15/global12991.htm

Citizens for Global Solutions Applauds Creation of U.N. Human Rights Council, March 15, 2006: http://www.globalsolutions.org/press_room/press_room_home.html

UNA-USA Statement on the Formation of the Human Rights Council: http://www.unausa.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKRI8MPJpF&b=260414

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement on the Human Rights Council: http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp

For more information, please see The United States Embarks on a High-Risk Gamble That Could Undermine Critical UN Reform: The UN Human Rights Council


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