The UN General Assembly adopted by a vote today the proposal to replace the much-maligned Commission on Human Rights with the more streamlined and possibly more effective Human Rights Council. The only countries that voted against were the United States (which originally proposed the Council, ironically), Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
Given how ineffective the Commission on Human Rights has become as a tool for promoting and defending human rights, almost anything is better at this point. Let’s hope the Council gets off to a good start with some solid members with proven track records as human rights defenders, rather than the parade of despots who have come to dominate the Commission.
From the UN Press Release:
Welcoming the vote, which was greeted by prolonged applause, Mr. Annan, who first suggested the creation of the new Council in a report to the General Assembly one year ago, said it gave the UN “a much needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world.”
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 170 in favour with 4 against – the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau – with Venezuela, Iran and Belarus abstaining.
In opening remarks to the Assembly before the vote, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who led the often contentious negotiations on the issue, called today’s session a “decisive moment” not only for human rights but for the standing of the UN as a whole.
Highlighting several elements that would make the Council a “significant improvement” over the much-maligned Commission, he noted the Council’s higher status as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, its increased number of meetings throughout the year, equitable geographical representation and also the voting rights associated with membership.
“Members of the Council would be elected by the majority of the members of the General Assembly, in other words by an absolute majority. Each candidate would be voted on individually and directly and would have to obtain at least ninety-six votes of support in a secret ballot,” Mr. Eliasson said.
“The General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting, could suspend the rights of membership of a Council member who commits gross and systematic violations of human rights,” he added.
The new Council will have 47 members. The first elections are planned for 9 May and the first session will take place on 19 June, according to the resolution.