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Urgent Human Rights Council Action Required
Kia ora!

Kofi Annan suggested a series of reforms some months ago to overhaul the much maligned United Nations Commission for Human Rights. The Commission, the body originally responsible for drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has been tainted by the frequent election of members with dismal human rights records, such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. Annan requested that members of a new Human Rights Council be selected primarily on their human rights credentials. Pesky diplomatic clauses that hindered the old Commission, like that which required 'equitable geographic distribution' of member states, were to become secondary concerns. This was to be a Council of countries that led by example - one that addressed emerging human rights crises aggressively and ensured catastrophes like the 1994 Rwandan Genocide were prevented. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other leading human rights organisations supported these reforms.

Annan's reforms have since been through a steady cycle of UN negotiations and have emerged somewhat diluted. Many parties - most prominently the U.S - are disappointed with the weakened draft resolution that will (potentially) form the basis of the new Human Rights Council. Amnesty International has also expressed disappointment at the changes made to Annan's original reforms. However, we believe that the new draft resolution remains a significant improvement on the Commission for Human Rights. We would like the new resolution to be implemented so that a leaner, tougher Human Rights Council replaces the current Commission.

But the process of implementing the new resolution has met opposition – largely through the reservations of the U.S Government as presented by John Bolton, America’s ambassador to the United Nations: "I say this really more in sorrow than in anger, but we're very disappointed with the draft that was produced last Thursday. We don't think it is acceptable. My understanding is that the President of the General Assembly intends to bring this matter to vote. If he continues on that course, we will call for a vote and vote no."

Amnesty International, along with Kofi Annan, the European Union and a host of individual countries, believes that renegotiations may lead to a weaker resolution or undermine past and current negotiations to the extent that the new Council is dismissed altogether. Renegotiations will certainly set the process of creating an effective UN human rights institution back many months. We need your help to commit the General Assembly to accepting the draft resolution for a Human Rights Council as it stands.

Note that time is critical. The General Assembly will most likely go to vote within the next day or two. Please send the message attached below by email or fax to U.S Ambassador William McCormick. Include Ambassador McCormick's name in the subject line of all emails.

Kind regards,
Ced Simpson
Executive Director
Amnesty International New Zealand

Ambassador William McCormick
U.S Embassy
Facsimile: +64 4 4723537
Email: public.affairs@actrix.gen.nz

Excellency,

    I wish to raise my concern regarding the proposed U.S decision to vote against the draft resolution for the UN Human Rights Council.

    The resolution for the new UN Human Rights Council is imperfect. But if implemented in its current form, the text relating to the proposed Council will create a body that is vastly more effective than the existing Commission on Human Rights.

    Renegotiations may lead to a weaker resolution or undermine past and current negotiations to the extent that the new Council is dismissed altogether. Renegotiations will certainly set the process of creating an effective UN human rights institution back many months.

    Please work to ensure that the draft resolution is accepted in its present form.

Amnesty members petition U.S.A. to support
new UN Human Rights Council
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.

Available for interview:

    Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General, London
    Contact: Katy Cronin +44 (0) 207 413 5729 +44 (0)7788 710 789

    Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International UN representative, New York
    Contact: Office + 1 212 867 8878 Mobile + 1 917 406 1185

    Peter Splinter, Amnesty International UN representative, Geneva
    Contact: Office +41 (0) 22 906 94 83 // 6137 Mobile +41 79 352 8302

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

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 UNs 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.

The UN Commission on Human Rights
The 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva
© AP Graphics Bank

The Commission on Human Rights is the principal inter-governmental human rights body of the UN. It is mandated to address gross violations in any part of the world; yet all too often it remains silent. At a time when human rights are under attack like never before, the Commission needs to be an effective, fair and principled guardian of human rights. It must be willing and able to speak up wherever violations of human rights occur and whoever the perpetrator. Each time it does not perform this role its credibility is further eroded.

As the 61st Session of the UN Commission Human Rights drew to a close on 22 April 2005, member states demonstrated that they can rise above national and regional interests to address constructively some serious human rights situations.

Constructive resolutions were adopted by the Commission on the human rights situations in Nepal and Sudan and on human rights and counter-terrorism.

The positive developments at the 61st session, however, fall far short of correcting the Commission's 'credibility deficit' identified by the UN Secretary-General.

The selectivity and double standards that have characterized the Commission’s approach to addressing specific human rights situations, however, once again shielded from scrutiny countries such as China, Iraq, the Russian Federation (Chechnya), Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe.

The 61st Session of the Commission is over. Work on the reform of the UN human rights machinery must start in earnest

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff