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UN rights commission annual session overshadowed by debate over new council

[JURIST] The 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights [official website] is set to start its yearly and probably last six-week session [UN backgrounder] in Geneva on Monday, but may not follow its customary agenda due to ongoing controversy over the formation of a new UN Human Rights Council [JURIST news archive] intended to replace it as part of an ongoing series of UN reforms. Proponents of the Council had hoped to pass a UN General Assembly resolution [JURIST document] establishing the new body by the time of the first meeting of the Commission scheduled for March 13, but that became an official impossibility Friday when UN General Assembly President Jan Eliasson postponed the General Assembly's approval meeting [JURIST report] after a disagreement with the United States over the shape of the new Council could not be quickly resolved. He said, however, that he would reschedule the approval meeting for next week, raising the prospect of the Commission postponing or downscaling its own proceedings in anticipation of a structural change. UN Human Rights Commission spokesman Jose Dias told reporters:

You have heard some reports about what was being envisaged for the opening of the session. That option, namely the suspension of the session, is still in the cards… For the Commission to take a decision as a Commission, it will have to open... So, it will have to meet, even if it is to say 'we are closing.' So, there will be an opening.
The Commission has scheduled a press conference for midday Monday.

The United States, a sharp critic of the old Commission, is pushing for stronger membership barriers to the new Council for nations that abuse human rights, arguing that the world's worst violators should not sit in judgment on others. The US is, however, diplomatically isolated on the issue as UN officials along with most other governments and human rights organizations say that reopening the Council's proposal text could lead to its defeat. Voice of America has more.

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