June 17, 2007 / 1:37 PM / 12 years ago

New U.N. human rights body faces moment of truth

GENEVA (Reuters) - The chairman of the United Nations new human rights watchdog on Sunday presented members with “take-it-or-leave-it” rules of working to include periodic scrutiny of all states, even those on the Security Council.

The 47-state Human Rights Council, launched in 2006 to replace its discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, has until Monday night to complete year-long negotiations on how it will operate.

The plan by council chairman Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico preserves the watchdog’s right to appoint special investigators for countries whose human rights’ records are of particular concern, something which many developing states opposed.

But as expected, Cuba and Belarus, both of which are accused of abuse, particularly of political rights, will escape further immediate scrutiny as they do not appear on the list of special mandates to be carried forward from the commission.

De Alba told member states at a special session on Sunday that there was no further room for negotiation on the draft text. He warned that any decision to change particular aspects would force him to withdraw the plan.

“If the council should be faced with such a decision...I would be forced to withdraw the text completely,” he said. “In order to be viable, the text must preserve its integrality.”

Diplomats said that the plan appeared to have a good chance of winning consensus, even if all could find something to object to. The big question was what stance China would take.

The Chinese have been insisting that any future decision to appoint investigators to probe alleged abuse in a country should require a special two-thirds’ vote rather than the simple majority usually applied in council business.

But the Europeans — the United States is not a council member — are equally adamant that current practice must apply.

Washington, which can expect scrutiny in the future over its handling of the so-called war on terrorism, particularly the Guantanamo prison camp, did not seek election to the council because it says it is no improvement over its heavily politicized predecessor.

But activist groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with European countries, see retention of the right to appoint special rapporteurs for individual countries as a key test of the council’s credibility.

Developing countries have traditionally been suspicious of finger-pointing, noting that it is mainly the poorer and less politically powerful states that are singled out.

It was to avoid suggestions of unfairness that the General Assembly decided when setting up the new body that all U.N. states should be subject to periodic review regardless of their records, although it left it up to the council to decide on how and when.

“If we end up tomorrow with what de Alba proposes, then the council will really not be too bad. Not perfect, but not bad,” said one European diplomat who asked not to be named.

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