UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. gave a green light Wednesday night to abolish the discredited Human Rights Commission on June 16, clearing the way for the new Human Rights Council to become the U.N.'s main rights watchdog.
Last week, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to replace the highly politicized and often criticized commission with a new human rights body. The assembly ignored U.S. objections that not enough was done to prevent abusive countries from becoming members.
The Economic and Social Council, which coordinates the U.N.'s work in those fields, approved a resolution abolishing the Human Rights Commission without a vote.
The commission will be replaced by a new 47-member Human Rights Council, which will be elected on May 9 and hold its first meeting on June 19. Like the commission, the council will be based in Geneva.
The commission came to be discredited in recent years because some countries with terrible human rights records used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.
After voting against the new council, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told the General Assembly its "real test" will be "whether it takes effective action to address serious human rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Burma."
Despite Washington's opposition, Bolton said the United States will work with other member states "to make the council as strong and effective as it can be." But he said no decision has been made on whether the United States will seek a seat.
The United States wanted the new council elected by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly to keep rights abusers from winning seats, and it wanted countries subject to U.N. sanctions related to human rights abuses or acts of terrorism barred from membership.
The General Assembly resolution setting it up calls for election by an absolute majority — 96 members — and does not ban any country from membership.
While the commission has been strongly criticized in recent years, it did play a major role in setting up much of the global legal framework for protecting individual rights — including the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948 after it was written by the commission under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.