UNITED NATIONS — The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution March 15 establishing a new Human Rights Council that will replace the UN’s old, largely discredited Human Rights Commission.

While nearly every country worked toward consensus, the United States, by refusing to compromise on its positions, forced a vote that ultimately led to its isolation. The vote was 170-4, with only the U.S., Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau voting against the measure. Iran, Venezuela and Belarus abstained.

The new council will have 47 seats divided proportionally among the world’s regions. Each country seeking a position on the council will be voted on individually. Council members will have their own human rights record reviewed periodically and will be subject to recall by a two-thirds vote of those present at a meeting of the General Assembly. Cuba expressed concern that a minority of the assembly could conceivably suspend a country from the council.

The council will begin its work June 19. Virtually all countries said the council is far from perfect, but nonetheless a step forward.

The U.S. announced early on March 15 that it would call for a vote and would vote against the proposed council. Knowing it would not be able to win a majority, the U.S. hoped to open a process where each country would introduce its own amendments to the resolution. This “would have come to an unraveling of the text,” said General Assembly President Jan Elliason of Sweden later that day.

Peter Maurer, representing Switzerland, told the body, “All too often, high ambitions are cover-ups for less noble aims and oriented, not at improving the United Nations, but at belittling and weakening it.”

Cuba told the meeting the U.S. was still getting much of what it wanted. “If they protest today, it is because they intend to get new concessions,” said Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Cuba’s representative.

The vote was preceded by months of negotiations. During that time, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN, rarely appeared. Other U.S. officials showed up more often, but the U.S. seat was often empty. Bolton’s main criticism, that countries be selected by a two-thirds and not a simple majority, was only voiced after a general consensus had already been reached. Many said that the U.S. aim was to wreck the proceedings.

The U.S. had hoped for a permanent seat on the council, leading Bolton to argue against the proposed term limit of three years.

Le Luong Minh, Vietnam’s representative, called the resolution a “balanced compromise draft” and said his country’s support for the measure flowed from its consistent policy of promoting human rights.

Minh, along with Sabelo Sivuyile Maqungo of South Africa, among others, voiced hope that the new council would not become “politicized,” referring to situations where Western powers, in order to justify some aggressive actions towards a smaller nation, used the old Human Rights Commission to justify their actions. Zhang Yishan of China noted that this politicization came in the form of country-specific resolutions.

Cuba’s Diaz openly questioned how the U.S. could demand a seat on the council, given that “the Bush administration claimed the right to practice torture as a counterterrorism instrument, arbitrarily detaining people and denying their fundamental rights — all on the basis of mere suspicion of some link with terrorism — spying on their own citizens, and bombing citizens in the name of freedom and democracy.”

Diaz predicted the new council will be a place of continuing struggle between the world’s peoples and imperialist interests.

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