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UN Rights Commission suspends work for week pending talks on new Council

UN Rights Commission suspends work for week pending talks on new Council

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights opened its 62nd session in Geneva today and then almost immediately suspended its work for one week as diplomats at UN Headquarters in New York continued to seek wider consensus on a new stronger Human Rights Council to replace the much criticized body.

Ambassador Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros of Peru, chairman of the session, said the Commission was facing an “extraordinary situation,” particularly because of the ongoing negotiations to create the Council which they understand would “strengthen the capacities of the United Nations human rights system.”

The Commission decided by consensus to suspend its work until Monday, 20 March at 10 a.m.

Mr. Rodriguez Cuadros said he expected a decision on the new Council to come on Wednesday and that the Commission would convene next Monday for its regular session whatever the result – whether the new body is established or no agreement is reached. If the Council is established, it will create a new “exceptional” situation. If not, the Commission would be obliged to hold its session under its rules.

As proposed, the new Council would have a higher status and greater accountability than the Commission that meets yearly in Geneva. It would be a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, meet year round as opposed to the six-week annual session of the Commission, and its members would be elected by a majority of all 191 UN Members.

On Friday, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson postponed until early this week a plenary meeting on the Council, which the United States opposes in its current proposed form, in a bid to secure wider consensus on what Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called an essential element in UN reform.

The US feels that as proposed the new body does not go far enough and has called for renegotiation, a move that Mr. Annan has said “chagrined” him, warning that renegotiations could “unravel” the whole mechanism.

Mr. Eliasson has said there is sympathy from many quarters for some of the US objections, adding that proposals put forward by European and other countries, which support the Council, should pave the way for consensus.

Mr. Annan, in presenting his reforms a year ago, wanted elections to the Council to be by a two-thirds majority, and the proposed draft’s failure to require this is among the main US objections.

But in noting that he had been unable to secure his goal on this point, Mr. Annan has repeatedly said that the Council, as proposed by Mr. Eliasson after months-long consultations, could be a basis for more effective human rights protection.