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Human Rights Council negotiations may wind up soon

Assembly president says Human Rights Council negotiations could wind up next month

United Nations General Assembly President Jan Eliasson today expressed the hope that consultations on a new and strengthened human rights body, proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and authorized by the World Summit in September, will be wound up by the end of next month to allow a seamless transition from the existing Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Eliasson, who came to Geneva with the negotiation co-chairs to meet with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and other members of the human rights community, told a news conference that his team had received some interesting input from yesterday's consultations.

They would spend the weekend in New York working on these ideas so as to present them to the 191 Member States in intensive negotiations. Starting next Wednesday, the co-chairs, from Panama and South Africa, would meet government representatives every second day and work from 9 a.m. until the evening to iron out difficulties, he said.

"Those consultations I hope will be finalized by the end of the year so that we can produce a document, hopefully in consensus, which reflects what our leaders wanted and, I think, what the world wants when it comes to human rights," he said, adding that some countries believed the Council should have around 30 members, while others suggested up to 70 or 80 members.

There were also different views on how the members would be elected, whether by a two-thirds majority or just a simple majority vote, but there was general agreement that the Council should meet more often than the Commission's annual six-week period and occasional special sessions, and that it should be prepared to hold emergency meetings, Mr. Eliasson said.

"Everybody realizes that there has to be continued attention over a year. How this is divided up, whether it is three or four segments with some regularity every second month or so, I cannot tell you. It is going to be decided later on. The main principle is that it is going to be an exercise which requires our continuous attention," he said.

The Human Rights Commission had produced some very good results and practices, which should be retained, while other aspects had been criticized, he added.

The Commission has 53 Member States, elected by region for three-year terms, and it concluded its work on the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The reasons to move quickly in the Council negotiations was not only to have a smooth and effective transition, but also to put the proposed financing into the UN's biennium budget, which is scheduled to be decided in December, Mr. Eliasson said.

"I think we are facing a test of multilateralism. I think the next few years are absolutely decisive, whether we will move in the direction of multilateralism or not. There are different other methods in dealing with world problems – unilaterally, or in smaller groups against other groups – and there is so much mistrust in this world. We now have to prove that multilateralism works," he said.

"With this reform effort, with our leaders sending us this message that they want to reform the United Nations, deal with development more effectively, deal with security more effectively, deal with human rights more effectively. We are now challenged to produce multilateral solutions. And if we do not pass that test of multilateralism, I think we are facing a very bleak future," Mr. Eliasson stated.

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