Human Rights Council Essential to U.N. Reform, Bolton Says

U.S. ambassador says composition of membership is the pivotal issue

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Reform of the United Nations' discredited human rights activities is key to overall U.N. reform and key to the more effective promotion and protection of human rights, says U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton.

"The United States supports the creation of a U.N. Human Rights Council to replace the CHR [U.N. Commission on Human Rights]," Bolton said in a letter to representatives of all 191 member nations of the United Nations August 30. He has written a series of letters to ambassadors to detail long-held U.S. positions on each of seven issues.

Representatives are currently negotiating changes to a key document that will deal with aid for the developing world, terrorism, disarmament and nonproliferation, protection from genocide, a peace-building commission, replacement of the Human Rights Commission, and management changes at the United Nations.

More than 170 presidents and prime ministers will sign the document, known as the "Outcome Document," at the conclusion of the three-day 2005 Summit in mid-September. The 60th U.N.

General Assembly opens in New York September 13 and the summit will be held September 14 to 16. (See The United Nations at 60.)

Ambassadors from 35 nations are meeting with current U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping of Gabon to resolve differences on various parts of the document. Bolton told reporters August 31 that he expects the talks will succeed.

On the Human Rights Council proposal, Bolton said the United Nations should be equipped with the machinery that can "more effectively enhance U.N. member states' ability to implement their human rights commitments, both by providing cooperation, assistance, and support to member states and by addressing urgent or continuous serious human rights violations with appropriate consideration."

A significant reform long promoted by the United States, which agrees with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's perspective, is for a council smaller than the commission. Bolton said a smaller council would be more effective and efficient in reacting to serious human-rights situations that require swift responses.

The United States would like to see a council with no more than 30 members, he said. The commission has 53 members.

Another key component, Bolton said, is that membership should be based on a "society of [the] committed" whose members "should have a solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards."

He said that without improving the quality of membership in the new council, it would face many of the same problems experienced by the commission.

Bolton cited remarks by Secretary-General Annan, who has said, "States have sought membership [in] the Commission not to strengthen human rights, but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others. As a result, a credibility deficit has developed, which casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."

Bolton said determining the makeup of the council is at the heart of reform efforts.

"It follows that states deemed to be a threat to international peace and security and thus subject to UNSC [U.N. Security Council] sanctions are not in a position to make recommendations to the international community about human rights issues," he said.

The pivotal issue of determining which nations will become members of the proposed council may be settled through a peer review process.

"We favor a guaranteed peer review for all states elected onto the Council, unless they have undergone a review very recently," he said.

And the peer-review process supported by the United States would not duplicate existing U.N. activities or consume or distract the new council, he said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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