Amnesty International is mobilizing its members in the United States of America and around the world, calling on the U.S. government to support the formation of an effective new UN Human Rights Council.
"The U.S. administration should not jeopardize the best chance in decades to establish a more effective UN human rights body, " said Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan. "This historic opportunity must not be squandered, otherwise victims of human rights around the world will continue to suffer."
The UN General Assembly could act on a draft UN resolution that would establish the Human Rights Council as early as this week. However U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who says he wants "improvements" in the draft resolution, has called for a renegotiation of the text or postponement of its consideration for a few months.
If the draft is reopened for negotiation, Amnesty International believes that there is a high risk that the text will be further weakened and result in a far less effective Council. If its adoption is postponed, negotiations could be indefinitely delayed or collapse altogether.
There is overwhelming support throughout the UN membership for the current draft resolution, most recently by the European Union. That text, which is the result of long and difficult negotiations, offers the best chance to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a new body better able to react swiftly to grave and chronic human rights violations. It also promises to ensure the election to the Council of a membership more committed to the promotion and protection of human rights than that of the Commission on Human Rights.
"The text is not perfect; it does not meet all the criteria we wanted, but it offers long-lasting and positive opportunities for better human rights protection. Calling for changes and threatening to put the resolution to a vote as the U.S. government has done just offers a few spoilers who don’t want a stronger human rights system an opportunity to weaken the new body," said Ms Khan.
Amnesty International is calling on all governments to adopt the draft resolution without delay, thus realizing the commitment made by world leaders at the 2005 World Summit, including President Bush, to strengthen the United Nations’ human rights machinery.
The Commission on Human Rights has major achievements to its credit, however power politics and double standards have prevented the Commission from addressing widespread or serious human rights violations in many countries – leading to charges of selectivity and bias. This has led the UN Secretary-General and many other informed observers to conclude that the Commission suffers a "credibility deficit".
The draft resolution now before the General Assembly seeks to establish a new Human Rights Council better equipped to address urgent, chronic and other human rights situations than the current Commission.
The Commission only meets once a year for six weeks, while the new Council would meet at least three times a year for at least ten weeks and can more easily convene special sessions when needed, e.g. to address emerging human rights crises. In electing members, the General Assembly must take into account candidates’ human rights records, and all members of the Council must have their human rights record reviewed in a new system of universal review applicable to all countries. Ninety-six affirmative votes are required to be elected to the Council, whereas many Commission members were elected as members of a regional bloc without facing individual votes. Serious human rights violators can be suspended from Council membership. The draft resolution also preserves key strengths of the Commission, including its unique system of independent experts known as Special Procedures, as well as the important arrangements and practices for NGO participation in its work.
The Council to be established by the draft resolution will not be as strong as Amnesty International had hoped. Many governments failed to follow through on commitments made in the 2005 World Summit to create a Council that would strengthen the UN’s human rights machinery. Nonetheless, Amnesty International believes that the adoption of the draft resolution is a first and crucial step to create a stronger and more authoritative body than the Commission on Human Rights. The draft resolution must not be further diluted and must now be adopted.
PEASE READ FURTHER FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE PETITION AND URGENT ACTION:
The USA is jeopardising the establishment of the proposed UN Human Rights Council, which promises to be more effective at protecting human rights than the existing Commission on Human Rights. The President of the UN General Assembly has put forward a draft resolution to establish the Council, but the US ambassador the UN, John Bolton, has threatened to put the draft to a vote. Action on the draft is likely to take place by Friday 10 March.
Stating that he wants to make “improvements” to the text for the new Council, Ambassador Bolton has announced that the USA wants to renegotiate the draft resolution, failing which he will call for a vote on the resolution as it stands and and vote against it. Any further negotiations on the resolution would take us back many months. This is likely to lead to further weakening of the text, which has already been diluted during earlier negotiations. It is also possible that negotiations may collapse altogether and there will be no new Human Rights Council at all. This would mean that victims of human rights violations around the world would be denied the help of a truly effective UN body, and many people would suffer serious harm.
Before Ambassador Bolton’s statement, the vast majority of UN member states had expressed their support for the draft resolution. Support remains strong and was reaffirmed most recently by the European Union. The President of the General Assembly has stressed that he would like to see the resolution adopted before the Commission on Human Rights starts its final session, on 13 March. Pushing the text to a vote, as the US has threatened to do, would offer a few countries that do not want any improvement in the current human rights system a major opportunity to further weaken the new Council. Postponing action on the draft for a few months as the US has also suggested could delay negotiations indefinitely. If that happens, there is a risk that the new Council will never come into being.
The new Human Rights Council would offer far-reaching, long-lasting and positive opportunities to further human rights protection by providing a UN political body with better members and better tools for the timely protection of human rights.
Background information The existing Commission on Human Rights has not been able to address widespread or serious human rights violations in many countries, because powerful countries have prevented action against themselves or their friends.
The Human Rights Council, as proposed in the draft resolution now before the General Assembly, would be better equipped to address both urgent and long-running human rights situations, whenever they occur. The Commission only meets once a year, for six weeks; the Council will meet at least three times a year and can more easily convene special sessions when needed, e.g. to address emerging human rights crises. In electing members, the General Assembly will be able to consider candidates’ human rights records, and all members of the Council will have their human rights records reviewed in a new system that will apply equally to all countries rather than the handful selected by the Commision. Candidates must secure the votes of a majority of the 191 UN member states to be elected to the Council, rather than through uncontested appointment by acclam
ation to the Commission, and serious human rights violators can be suspended from membership.
The draft resolution also preserves key strengths of the Commission, including its unique system of independent experts and the important practice of NGO participation in its work.
The Council will not be as strong as Amnesty International had hoped. Many governments failed to follow through on commitments made in the run-up to the 2005 World Summit to create a Council that would strengthen the UN’s human rights machinery. Nonetheless, Amnesty International believes that the adoption of the draft resolution is a first and crucial step to create a stronger and more authoritative body than the Commission on Human Rights.
Recommended action: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language:
* pointing out that the USA has historically played an important role in shaping key UN institutions for human rights protection;
* urging the government of the USA to accept the adoption of the draft resolution to establish a Human Rights Council in its present form;
* emphasizing that the draft resolution provides a sound basis on which to create a better body than the Commission on Human Rights;
* making it clear that the draft resolution provides the USA with a historic opportunity to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in the United Nations system;
* urging the authorities to ensure that the draft resolution to establish a Human Rights Council is adopted in its present form.
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
Fax: +1 202 261 8577 / +1 202 647 2283
Salutation: Your Excellency
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr
. Fax: +1 202 224 0139
Email: [email protected]
Senator Richard G. Lugar
Fax: +1 202 228 0360
Email: [email protected]
Congressman Tom Lantos
Fax: +1 202 226 4183
Congressman Henry Hyde
Fax: +1 202 225 1166
and to diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.