Annan says negotiations over Human Rights Council could cause serious problem

27 February 2006

Calling the most-recent draft of a Human Rights Council “a solid basis to move forward,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan cautioned today against “line-by-line negotiations” over the blueprint for a new body to replace the much-criticized Commission on Human Rights.

“If at this stage we get into line-by-line negotiations or discussions, I am afraid it will lead to major delays and can cause a serious problem. I would appeal to Member States to understand that it is not a perfect world,” Mr. Annan told reporters in Geneva, urging approval of the text put forward by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.

“I think overall, we do have a solid basis to move forward. As you know, I have recommended the approval of the President's package and so has the High Commissioner for Human Rights, whom I'll be meeting later this afternoon.”

Mr. Annan said that he hoped Member States would approve the proposal for the Human Rights Council this week, “adding that the longer you let this sort of thing slide, the more precarious it gets.”

“There are enough good elements in the proposal of the President for all of us to be able to say: this is not old wine in [a]new bottle. There are enough positive elements for us to move with it and I hope the Americans will look at it in this spirit and join the vast majority of governments who seem ready to accept the Chairman's proposal.”

At a press briefing in New York today, a spokeswoman for Mr. Annan said that the Secretary-General’s position on the Council had not changed, despite a statement from U.S. Ambassador John Bolton that the United States would vote against the proposed text.

Mr. Eliasson unveiled the draft blueprint for the Council last Thursday, envisioning a body with higher status and greater accountability than the Commission that meets yearly in Geneva.

“While we will build on the positive achievements and best practices of the Commission, some of the elements we are considering will make the Human Rights Council a truly new and different body – a fresh start,” the President of the General Assembly said in introducing the draft resolution for the body, which was called for by world leaders at a September 2005 summit in New York.

According to Mr. Eliasson, a major improvement of the proposed Council is the requirement that its members, elected individually by the Assembly, would be judged on their human rights records with the proviso that they can be suspended if they themselves commit gross and systematic violations.

Mr. Eliasson also said that the new Council would have a higher standing as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, would meet year round as opposed to the six-week annual session of the Commission, and conduct a “universal, periodic review” of all States’ adherence to human rights norms, starting by scrutinizing its members.

In addition, Mr. Eliasson said that the latest text took heed of the violence over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by including a preambular paragraph on the need for dialogue and understanding among civilizations, cultures and religions.

Speaking last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also called for speedy approval of the Council, warning that failure by the General Assembly to do this could immeasurably damage the cause of human rights, and saying that there was no reason to believe that further negotiations would produce a better mechanism.

“The text submitted to the General Assembly by its President has the features to allow the future Council to deal more objectively, and credibly, with human rights violations worldwide,” she said.