General Assembly OKs Human Rights Council

U.N. member states ignored U.S. opposition and overwhelmingly approved a new Human Rights Council on Wednesday, attempting to strengthen the world body's machinery to deal with major human rights offenders.

The vote in the 191-member General Assembly was 170 in favor, 4 against, and 3 abstentions.

The Bush administration refused to back the new council, saying it was not the radical reform Washington wanted to ensure that countries like Cuba, Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe — known as rights abusers — are barred from membership.

But U.S. officials said Washington nonetheless will give its financial backing and seek a seat on the new council.

A year ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed replacing the widely criticized and highly politicized U.N. Human Rights Commission, which has allowed some of the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect one another from condemnation or to criticize others.

Under the resolution adopted Wednesday, the commission will be abolished June 16 and the new council will convene three days later.

The resolution was drafted by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson after months of contentious negotiations. He said it did not give any country everything it wanted but would strengthen human rights protections and toughen the criteria for council membership.