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Hopes raised over human-rights council

Switzerland is hoping Geneva will host the UN Human Rights Council Keystone

Swiss officials say they are relatively optimistic that a new United Nations Human Rights Council will be based in Geneva.

This content was published on June 8, 2005 - 18:45

The council, a permanent body of the UN, would replace the organisation’s discredited Human Rights Commission.

"We haven’t reached a consensus yet, but we are progressing," said Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Blaise Godet.

Representatives from 60 nations, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, met in Lausanne on Tuesday for the second time to discuss the creation of the council.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in March that he wanted to improve efficiency, transparency and coordination within the UN.

A provisional plan, presented last week, includes the Swiss suggestion of creating a permanent human-rights council, which would replace the current commission.

Annan has vigorously supported the idea of reforming the commission, which he believes is undermining the UN’s credibility.

Launched 60 years ago, it is the UN’s main mechanism for monitoring respect for human rights around the world. But critics say its inability to act firmly in the face of clear cases of abuse has eroded its authority.

"Switzerland is fairly optimistic about the outcome of the talks," said Eric Mayoraz of the Swiss foreign ministry.

"We were already very satisfied that Kofi Annan retained [Swiss human-rights expert] Walter Kälin’s recommendations on UN reforms. We are also very pleased with the plan presented last week by the president of the UN’s General Assembly."

Geneva

The plan calls for the proposed council to be based in Geneva, which is where the Human Rights Commission currently meets for its annual six-week session.

According to Godet, the countries taking part in the informal talks seemed to agree that all states should be allowed to have elected representatives on the council. Switzerland intends to put forward a candidate of its own if the council is created.

There would be no criteria to become a council member other than a country’s commitment to human rights. Talks have also focused on the need to carry out regular evaluation of the human-rights situation in all member states.

The council will probably be the same size as the current commission, made up of 53 nations chosen every three years. "A smaller body is not the preferred option," said Godet.

The next round of informal discussions is scheduled for June 21 in New York.

If the general assembly accepts the creation of the council as part of a wider package of reforms in September, the details should be ironed out some time next year and the new council would start functioning in 2007.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Human Rights Commission was established in 1946 and is made up of representatives from 53 countries nominated by regional groupings.

It meets every year for a six-week session to assess the human-rights situation around the world.

The commission has recently come in for heavy criticism, particularly in a report on reform of the United Nations commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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