Commission halts amid human rights deadlock

The future of a new human rights council remains unclear Keystone

The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission has suspended its annual session for a week to allow further talks on a new global watchdog.

This content was published on March 13, 2006 - 11:19

Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros, the commission's president, obtained the postponement on Monday in the hope that a decision can be reached shortly on the proposed Human Rights Council.

Cuadros cited the "extraordinary situation" brought about by ongoing talks in New York over the council, which stems from a Swiss initiative. Negotiations have been deadlocked for weeks following opposition from the United States.

Washington says the latest draft for the body, which would replace the commission, contains major deficiencies. Its main gripe is that states which seriously violate human rights could win a seat on the council, repeating a key flaw of the widely criticised commission.

Jan Eliasson, president of the UN General Assembly, who has been leading negotiations on what form the new council should take, wants more time to obtain "the strongest possible support".

According to reports, Eliasson, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will hold last-ditch talks this week to try to find a solution to the impasse.

Compromise

Switzerland has made it clear that the current draft is the best possible compromise – a view shared by the European Union, Latin America and leading non-governmental organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has warned that if the text has to be renegotiated, as Washington demands, there is a real risk that the council could be shelved.

Failure to agree on the council would also leave the task of policing human rights in the hands of the commission, whose 53 members currently include Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Nepal.

According to the text, the commission would be replaced by a 47-member council elected by an absolute majority of the 191-member General Assembly. The US wants members to be elected by a two-thirds majority to keep abusers out.

The new body would meet three times a year for a total of ten weeks, with the possibility of holding emergency sessions. Members found guilty of gross human rights violations could be kicked off the council by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont and Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

The idea for a UN Human Rights Council was put forward by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey in March 2004. It is a key pillar of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's reform programme.

It would replace the Human Rights Commission, which was created in 1946 and holds meetings annually over six weeks in Geneva.

The 62nd session of the commission was opened and adjourned on Monday for a week to allow further talks on the council, elements of which are opposed by the US.

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