UN Circulates Draft Proposal for New Human Rights Council
Thursday, February 16, 2006 5:05 PM

A draft resolution for the establishment of a new U.N. Human Rights Council circulated among the 191 U.N. member states earlier this month. The Human Rights Council is intended to replace the Human Rights Commission, whose members have included some of the worst human rights violators, including Sudan and Libya. Under the current draft, 45 member countries from all regions would be elected onto the council for three-year terms. Members could serve no more than two consecutive terms at a time, but would be permitted to reapply for membership after one year. Unlike the Human Rights Commission, which meets six times a year, the Council would meet year-round. Unlike the Security Council, the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain would not have permanent seats on the Human Rights Council. Under the current version, members of the new Human Rights Council would be elected by the General Assembly on May 9th, replacing the Human Rights Commission on June 16th.

The draft strikes a balance between the proposals submitted by the United States, which advocates a 30 member council elected by a two-thirds majority, and developing nations, which support a 53 member-council elected by a majority of votes. It has not yet been established whether member states would be elected onto the council following a simple majority or two-thirds vote. Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for Human Rights Watch argues that “without the two-thirds vote, the risk is that the worst abusers will continue to be elected.” While the draft states that membership should be open to all countries, it also directs member states to “take into consideration the candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and…whether there are any situations that constitute systematic and gross violations of human rights” in that country.

Members would be required to abide by human rights standards and are charged with the duty to respond quickly to abuses worldwide. While member states are subject to review of their human rights records while serving on the council, the draft also requires “universal periodic review” of every country’s human rights obligations.

Compiled from: Edith M. Lederer, “New Draft for U.N. Rights Panel Circulates,” Forbes/Associated Press, 2 February 2006; Warren Hoge, “With its Human Rights Oversight Under Fire, U.N. Submits a Plan for a Strengthened Agency,” New York Times, 3 February, 2006.