Support grows for new UN Human Rights Council

A dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates joined the growing support for a proposed new UN Human Rights Council but the United States reiterated its disappointment and raised the possibility that new negotiations were needed. The council would replace the widely criticized and highly politicized Human Rights Commission which has been attacked for allowing some of the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation or to criticize others. In recent years, commission members have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba. But replacing the commission, which was first recommended by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in March 2005, has divided the 191-member UN General Assembly and sparked months of contentious negotiations. On Thursday, assembly president Jan Eliasson presented his final proposal and called for a vote next week, saying the draft did not give any country everything it wanted, but would strengthen human rights and toughen the criteria for membership on the new council. Key human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch immediately announced their support. But US Ambassador John Bolton questioned whether the draft resolution would keep human rights abusers off the new council - a key US goal - and said it was time to consider starting negotiations among nations, not with Eliasson as a "facilitator."