[JURIST] AP is reporting that the UN General Assembly [official website] has approved a resolution [JURIST document] creating a new Human Rights Council by a 170-4 vote, despite US opposition. The new rights body will replace the widely criticized Commission on Human Rights [official website].
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson's proposal [JURIST report] reflected months of negotiations between UN member countries, but the US quickly rejected the proposal [JURIST report] and had hoped to block passage of the resolution [NYT report] unless additional amendments were made. AP has more.
3:11 PM – Joining the US in voting against the resolution were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Venezuela, Iran and Belarus abstained. Calling the vote "historic," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the new Human Rights Council:
gives the United Nations the chance – a much-needed chance – to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world. … No country will be wholly satisfied with every paragraph in the resolution, but such is the nature of international negotiations. It preserves important strengths of the Commission on Human Rights, such as the system of special procedures and the participation of NGOs, while also setting forth important innovations to address the Commission's weaknesses. Taken as a whole, the resolution gives us a solid foundation, on which all who are truly committed to the cause of human rights must now build. I believe they will succeed in building a framework within which governments from all parts of the world can work together to promote human rights, more effectively than ever before.
Read Annan's full statement. Election of the Council's 47 members is scheduled for May 9th, with the first meeting due to take place on June 19. The UN has a summary of Wednesday's General Assembly session. The UN News Centre has more.
4:47 PM ET – Explaining the US vote, US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton [official profile] said:
The Secretary-General … proposed that the Council elect its members by a two-thirds majority. This proposal is not included in the resolution before us today, and it should be. The higher hurdle for membership would have made it harder for countries that are not demonstrably committed to human rights to win seats on the Council. It would have helped to prevent the election of countries that only seek to undermine the new body from within.
The United States also proposed an exclusionary criteria to keep gross abusers of human rights off the Council. This proposal would have excluded Member States against which measures are in effect under Chapter VII of the UN Charter related to human rights abuses or acts of terrorism. We also expressed a willingness to consider alternatives to satisfy the need for a strong mechanism to exclude the worst human rights violators.
Sadly, these suggestions were not included in the new text. The resolution before us merely requires Member States to "take into account" a candidate's human rights record when voting. And the provision for the General Assembly to suspend an elected member of the Council requires a two-thirds vote, a standard higher than that for electing members.
Our position on the need for a strong, credible membership is one of principle…
We had a historic opportunity to create a primary human rights organ in the UN poised to help those most in need and offer a hand to governments to build what the Charter calls "fundamental freedoms." The Council that is created will be our legacy. We must not let the victims of human rights abuses throughout the world think that UN Member States were willing to settle for "good enough". We must not let history remember us as the architects of a Council that was a "compromise" and merely "the best we could do" rather than one that ensured doing "all we could do" to promote human rights.
Mr. President, absent stronger mechanisms for maintaining credible membership, the United States could not join consensus on this resolution. We did not have sufficient confidence in this text to be able to say that the HRC would be better than its predecessor.
Read the full text of Bolton's statement in the General Assembly.