Thursday, January 12, 2006

US says UN should bar rights abusers from new body

(Guess the US wants to bar itself!)

US says UN should bar rights abusers from new body

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador John Bolton warned U.N. members on Wednesday that allowing countries that had committed gross human rights abuses to serve on a new rights council would mock the legitimacy of the United Nations itself.

Bolton, speaking at a closed meeting, presented several proposals on how to create the new council that would replace the discredited Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, known for giving seats to such countries as Sudan and Zimbabwe who then make deals to block resolutions against various offenders.

"The current situation is untenable and must not be allowed to continue," Bolton said, according to a copy of his written text. "Membership on the Commission by some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers mocks the legitimacy of the Commission and the United Nations itself."

World leaders at a U.N. summit in September agreed to replace the Geneva commission with a new council as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has suggested. But they left nearly all details to the General Assembly, which still has deep differences in the debate that began on Wednesday.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, one of the key negotiators for the new council, was optimistic and said "there is beginning to be movement" on the size of the council and how members should be chosen.

Bolton spelled out U.S. terms for the new rights council but did not repeat earlier comments that the five Security Council powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- should automatically get seats. If the United States make this a key condition, diplomats said, the reform would be derailed.

"At this stage all are talking about them serving one or two terms and then leaving," Kumalo said. "They are not talking at all about permanent seats."

Still in dispute are the size of the new council, its mandates mandate, and how members should be elected.

On size, Bolton said the United States wanted no more than 30 members. Kumalo said most members want at least 38 seats and many advocated the number stay at 53 nations.

A major dispute is whether the General Assembly, dominated by developing nations, would choose members by a majority or a two-thirds vote. Western nations want a two-thirds vote on grounds this would make it harder for abusers to get a seat.

"Any country under Security Council sanctions for human rights violations or terrorism should be categorically excluded," Bolton said.

On selection of members, Bolton agreed that while they would be chosen primarily on the basis of their commitment to human rights, he conceded there should be a fair distribution of seats among various regions, as is currently the case.

Other negotiators proposed elections had to include more than one candidate from each region so that regional groups would not decide on one candidate only.

But Bolton rejected any reference to the right to development, advocated by most members, and said the focus of the new council should be on "civil and political rights."

And in an oblique reference to criticisms that the United States invoked double standards when its own military had committed torture in Iraq, Bolton said, "When the United States falls short of the high standards we set for ourselves, we move swiftly and decisively to vigorously prosecute offenders who are U.S. citizens in our courts."

Bolton also advocated regular meetings throughout the year instead of the current one six-week session in Geneva.

"As new crises unfold, where there is credible evidence of gross abuses of human rights, the United States does not feel the United Nations can be authoritative if the response is 'do not worry, the Human Rights Council will take up this issues in two to three months when in next reconvenes,'" he said.