Nations vote for creation of human rights watchdog

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The Independent US

The United Nations will soon have a re-minted human rights body to monitor abuses worldwide after the full membership voted in favour of its creation yesterday, ignoring the United States which, once more putting itself out on a limb, voted against it.

In an atmosphere of high tension at the UN headquarters, the 191 members of the General Assembly approved the establishment of the new Human Rights Council. The vote, greeted by a burst of applause, was 170 in favour, with four against, including the United States, and three abstentions. It will be convened for the first time on 16 June.

The notion of a reformed council was proposed by Kofi Annan, the secretary general, last year and endorsed by the UN's 60th anniversary summit in September. It will replace the Human Rights Commission, which had been discredited, partly because its membership sometimes included countries with the world's worst human rights records.

Washington had signalled its dissatisfaction with the proposal for the new body, negotiated over several months, on the grounds that it still would not sufficiently protect against rogue states gaining seats on it.

The US wanted members selected by a two-thirds majority in the general assembly. Under the blueprint agreed yesterday, members will be chosen by a simple majority of countries voting.

However, many allies of the US, including the European Union, had urged the US to drop its objections. Human rights groups also argued that, by demanding a reopening of negotiations, the US was opening the possibility that the entire effort to reform the body would collapse.

Other no-votes were cast by Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The three nations that abstained were Venezuela, Iran and Belarus. In spite of seeing its position overridden, the US said it would give financial support to the body and seek membership. It will have 47 members, as opposed to the 53 members on the existing commission, and convene three times a year instead of once a year.

Mr Annan, visiting South Africa, said he was confident the US would co-operate fully with the council. "Even if the US is not able to vote for the council, it will be able to work with the council," he said, shortly before the vote was taken.