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Switzerland elected to new UN human rights body

The UN General Assembly elected Switzerland to the new human rights body Keystone

Switzerland has been elected to the new Human Rights Council by the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

This content was published on May 10, 2006 - 08:34

The council, which stems from a Swiss initiative, is to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission and will meet for the first time at its seat in Geneva next month.

Switzerland was chosen in the first ballot on Tuesday and won 140 out of 191 votes.

Reacting to the news on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had reason to be "immensely satisfied" with the outcome.

She told Swiss-French radio that the election of countries with poor human rights records, such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China, would not discredit the new council.

She said most important was that the council not be associated in any way with its discredited predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission.

Failed

Switzerland is part of a group of seven western nations, including the Netherlands, Finland and Canada, which won a seat. Greece and Portugal failed to be elected to the new human rights body.

Switzerland's ambassador to the UN, Peter Maurer, told swissinfo the vote was the most important for his country since it joined the UN in 2002.

"I'm very pleased that we got elected to the new Human Rights Council. We achieved the best result behind the big European powers, Britain, Germany and France.

"It is definitely the most important election since Switzerland became a full member of the world body, and it is a key UN activity."

The General Assembly elected 44 of the initial 47 members of the council, including five nations named by rights groups as among the world's worst abusers: Russia, China, Cuba, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The United States, an outspoken critic of the old Human Rights Commission, decided against seeking a seat this year.

It had voted against creating the council, arguing the barriers were still too low to keep rights abusers from winning membership.

Amnesty International has urged all the newly-elected states to fulfil their obligation "to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

Swiss initiative

The Swiss foreign ministry said the election of Switzerland to the council was another success for the country's diplomacy.

"It is a recognition of Switzerland's strong commitment to human rights in general and of its efforts to establish the new council," a statement said.

Ambassador Maurer described the outcome of Tuesday's vote as confirmation that Switzerland's policy was valued within the international community.

"We did a good job lobbying. Everybody knew that we have engaged for months now for the creation of the new council and we have engaged for the compromise which led to the decision of March 15 [by the UN General Assembly to replace the commission]."

Maurer added that it was recognised that Switzerland had taken a clear stance on human rights and tried to reach out to all regions of the world during the negotiations on the new council.

Switzerland launched the proposal for a new human rights body in 2003 and a renowned Swiss expert on humanitarian and international law, Walter Kälin, drew up a blueprint for the council.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser with agencies

Key facts

The new Human Rights Council has 47 members which are elected for a three-year term.
It replaces the discredited Human Rights Commission which was shut down last March.
The council has its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva where it is due to meet for the first time on June 19.

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In brief

The proposal for the new Human Rights Council was launched by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, in Geneva in March 2003.

The renowned Swiss expert, Walter Kälin, drew up a blueprint for the council.

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, put forward his proposal for a new council in March 2005.

In March 2006, the UN General Assembly voted to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission set up 1946.

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