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New council opposed by unusual duo US and Cuba

Posted on Mon, Mar. 13, 2006

New council opposed by unusual duo: U.S. and Cuba
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U.S. Ambassador John Bolton was not the first to oppose a draft
resolution establishing a new U.N. Human Rights Council — Cuba beat him
to it.

The parameters of the resolution proposed by Jan Eliasson, of
the General Assembly, were already well-known in the diplomatic
community after months of negotiations. Cuba denounced the proposal on
the eve of its release. In a statement by its United Nations Mission on
Feb. 20, Cuba warned that it ‘will neither be an accomplice to nor will
it remain a silent spectator over the obvious attempt to impose the
creation of the Human Rights Council under the United States and its
main allies’ conditions.”

Cuba went on to denounce ‘the strong pressure exerted in the last few
weeks to force, in an untimely and inopportune manner, a decision
allowing the creation of the Human Rights Council by the imperialistic
interests proclaimed in the so-called `Project for the New American
Century’, which is the Washington hawks’ plans to rule the world.”

Within minutes of the release on Feb. 23 of the text of the proposal
establishing a Human Rights Council, Ambassador Bolton signaled U.S.
opposition, stating, “It’s now time to consider whether it’s time to
begin real international negotiations on the text.”

Again, however, Cuba was first off the mark. On Feb. 24, the Cubans
circulated to all U.N. members seven proposed amendments to weaken the
text, including to increase the size of the Council; lower the threshold
required for election; remove the human-rights standards for members and
the clause allowing their suspension; shorten the time for Council
meetings; and make it more difficult for the Council to adopt
resolutions condemning rights violations in specific countries.

Next at bat was again the United States, with Ambassador Bolton
announcing formal U.S. opposition to the proposed Council on February
27, based on unspecified ”deficiencies” in the draft. Asked at his
press appearances on both Feb. 27 and 28 to name any of those
deficiencies, the ambassador finally identified one at his second
appearance: the modest term-limits proposal that would bar countries
from serving more than six years out of seven. ”One problem we had is
the provision in there now for term limits,” Bolton said. “My concern
now, given the term limits, is that America will go off, and that will
be to the detriment of the Commission.”

A salutary effect of the U.S. opposition to the text is that it may
increase the willingness of countries that were not very happy with some
of its stronger provisions to accept the proposal. Cuba might even
forego its amendments, pleased to allow the United States to isolate
itself and make Cuba look like a champion of human rights.

On the other hand, should U.S. opposition force the proposal to a vote,
all sorts of weakening amendments are expected from countries, including
Cuba, who find the Council proposal far too strong. Further, the
Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has signaled that its
member states could accept the text as-is, including only the mild
preambular provision urging the promotion of tolerance and respect for
of religion and belief, will instead press to incorporate
language that restricts freedom of .

Having fought against Cuban positions for many years at the Commission
on Human Rights, we would not like to see the very damaging amendments
threatened by Cuba introduced against the proposed Human Rights Council
proposal in the General Assembly.

The United States has no serious chance to improve the text through its
effort to re-open the negotiations, but can state its reservations about
the proposal on the floor of the General Assembly without blocking the
consensus to adopt it. If the U.S. delegation calls for a vote, this
will only open the door to changes that would make the Council weaker.

The proposed Council represents a major improvement over the existing
Commission through improved membership standards, election procedures,
suspension provision, meeting schedule and universal periodic review of
all countries. We would hate to see these advances put at risk by the
United States recklessly and unilaterally putting the proposal up for
amendments by Cuba and others in the General Assembly .

Lawrence C. Moss is special counsel for U.N. Reform at Human Rights Watch.

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