The idea is that the Commission will formally open the session Monday with speeches by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and by the outgoing ad incoming chairs of the Commission, Indonesian Ambassador Makarim
Wibisono and Peruvian Ambassador Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros. Once the opening ceremony is over, the delegates of the 53 countries that currently make up the Commission are expected to suspend the session until Monday, Mar. 20.
With respect to the likelihood of the session being put off, Rodriguez Cuadros said Friday that «I believe we have a broadly agreed position among all of the regional groups that will very likely lead to decisions that will
be announced Monday».
Last September, the U.N. General Assembly decided to replace the Commission - the highest international body on human rights, which was created in 1946 - with a new Human Rights Council. Since then, U.N. members have been haggling over the draft resolution authorising the new council.
The president of the U.N. General Assembly, Jan Eliasson of Sweden, had announced that a plenary session of the 191-member body would be held on Friday to discuss the draft resolution, which is broadly supported but
opposed by the United States. But on Thursday he said the meeting had been postponed until early next week.
A Latin American diplomat commented to IPS that his country’s mission in New York told him that a decision on the draft was expected at the U.N. headquarters there at any time. «I have delayed the meeting until the early part of next week in order to enhance the chances of achieving consensus on the draft resolution», Eliasson told a news briefing. The negotiations continue, but only between three officials : U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Eliasson. «No one else knows what’s going on», confided the diplomat.
While Eliasson’s draft provides for a 47-member Human Rights Council to be elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority in the General Assembly, Washington wants the Council to be reduced to 30 members, who would be
elected by two-thirds of the 191-member General Assembly.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based monitoring group that agrees with the U.S. objections to Eliasson’s draft, said that
only by requiring a two-thirds vote could habitual human rights violators be blocked from being elected to the Council. But most leading human rights organisations, such as the London-based Amnesty International, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, and the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), support Eliasson’s draft. These organisations agree with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey’s assertion that opening up the draft again to debate, as the United States is pushing for, would seriously endanger the successful conclusion of the entire negotiating process.
A diplomat who took part in Thursday’s meeting of the Commission bureau in Geneva said that opening up the debate would not only allow the United States to set forth its demands for the Human Rights Council, but would also
allow other countries, which might be seeking to weaken the new body, to do so as well. «The debate would thus drag on, to the detriment of the entire international human rights system», said the source, who asked not to be named.
Alejandro Teitelbaum, the permanent representative of the American Association of Jurists (AAJ) to the U.N. in Geneva pointed to «U.S.-inspired attempts at running various U.N. bodies (including the Commission) with totally unacceptable methods worthy of a semi-colony.» Teitelbaum also questioned the Commission bureau’s decision to propose a
one-week suspension of the 62nd session under the argument that the General Assembly is about to approve a draft resolution on the Human Rights Council. «That is a false pretext, because at no time has the General Assembly set
any conditions on the normal functioning of the ommission’s 62nd period of sessions», Teitelbaum told IPS. Eliasson’s draft itself recommends that the U.N. Economic and Social Council instruct the Commission to complete its session and proceed to abolish the Commission on Jun. 16, said the lawyer.
«The present aim is to make the Commission on Human Rights disappear as soon as possible», which is not strange, because the human rights body, through its special rapporteurs and other experts, has increasingly found itself in a position where it is forced to take a stance on the magnitude of the human rights abuses committed by the United States, said Teitelbaum.
One of the reasons the Commission has lost credibility has been its failure in the last three periods of sessions to consider resolutions on the situation of the more than 500 detainees being held at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba, without trial or legal representation. The presence of rights violators like China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran or Saudi
Arabia as active members of the Commission has also contributed to undermining its prestige.