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U.S. critics say new U.N. human rights body inadequate

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United Nations has established a new human rights body, but American critics say it falls far short of the reform needed.

The U.N. approved in a 170-4 vote March 15 the creation of the Human Rights Council, thereby replacing the oft-maligned Commission on Human Rights based in Geneva, Switzerland. The United States, concerned that reforms were inadequate, voted against the resolution establishing the new 47-member council.

After the vote, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the body’s General Assembly the resolution marked an improvement over the previous commission but “on too many issues the current text is not sufficiently improved.”

“We did not have sufficient confidence in this text to be able to say that the HRC would be better than its predecessor,” Bolton said. “The real test will be the quality of membership that emerges on this council and whether it takes effective action to address serious human rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Burma.”

The resolution, Bolton said, failed to address adequately a problem that plagued the Commission on Human Rights –- the ability of countries with poor human rights records to gain membership on the body. It takes only a majority vote of the 191-member General Assembly for election to the new council.

Nevertheless, Bolton said the United States would cooperate with other U.N. members in an effort “to make the council as strong and effective as it can be. We will be supportive of efforts to strengthen the council and look forward to a serious review of the council’s structure and work.”

Some human rights advocates inside and outside Congress were even more fervent in their criticism of the new U.N. body.

“The creation of this new human rights council tragically shows that the United Nations is not interested in reform, merely in the appearance of reform,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Instead of championing human rights, which is so needed in the world today, we have a new U.N. monstrosity that reminds any objective observer of nothing quite as much as allowing the fox to guard the hen house, which merely produces fewer hens and fatter foxes.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., chairman of a human rights subcommittee in the House of Representatives, described the new council as a “weak and deeply flawed replacement.”

“To call what the U.N. did today ‘reform’ is Orwellian,” Smith said in a written release. “The victims of human rights abuse around the world deserve better than this new, egregiously flawed council. The hypocrisy and gross ineffectiveness that was the hallmark of the former commission will likely continue unless the American position in favor of sweeping reform is enacted.”

In addition to making it too easy for human rights violators to gain seats on the council, the resolution weakens the influence of the United States and other human rights advocates and does not protect Israel from the injustices that marked the Commission on Human Rights, Smith said.

Smith is chairman of the Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, described the new U.N. body as a “significant improvement.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in a written statement the “vote is only the beginning. We call on all countries to pledge not to vote for governments that systematically repress their people.”

Among the current members of the Commission on Human Rights are such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

In addition to the United States, also voting against the resolution were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

The election of the council will take place in May, and its first meeting will be in June.