Bolton Plans to Restart Stalled Efforts to Restructure U.N.

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 2, 2006

UNITED NATIONS -- John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he will start the new year by reinvigorating stalled efforts to restructure management of the world body, beginning with a controversial push to seek assurances that the Security Council's five major powers will be guaranteed posts on a new Human Rights Council.

Bolton said in an interview that the Bush administration wants to ensure that the United States is never again denied membership in the United Nations' principal human rights body, as it was in 2001, when Austria, France and Sweden defeated a U.S. bid for membership in the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission. But his initiative would also boost efforts by China and Russia, two permanent council members with troubled rights records, to gain membership in the new body.

The proposal is part of a broader drive by Bolton to place the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- at the center of U.N. decision making. But an official involved in the negotiations warned that creating fresh privileges for the council's most powerful states "would turn off a large chunk of the membership."

Bolton said one of his main priorities for 2006 will be rallying council support for new initiatives to combat terrorism and the spread of the world's deadliest weapons. Last month, he helped secure permanent posts for the "P-5" countries on a new U.N. peace-building commission that was established to oversee post-conflict reconstruction efforts worldwide.

"It's called the perm 5 convention. It's not written down anywhere -- it's not a treaty or anything like that," Bolton said. "It has been a convention operating also from the beginning of the United Nations that the perm 5 serve on all standing bodies of the U.N. that they want to serve on, in exchange for the perm 5 almost never seeking chairmanships of any bodies."

Bolton said that convention should apply to membership in the new Human Rights Council, which he hopes will block the worst human rights violators from using posts on the council to deflect or prevent criticism of their rights records.

The new council would replace the existing 53-member Human Rights Commission, which drafted the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Eleanor Roosevelt's leadership but which now routinely grants membership to governments with abysmal human rights records, including Cuba, Libya, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The Bush administration favors a requirement that most members of the new council be selected by a two-thirds vote from the 191-member U.N. General Assembly, diminishing the prospects for rights violators. Candidates for the Human Rights Commission are now selected by a system of regional rotation that makes no distinction between rights advocates and abusers.

Bolton said the new rights body would not necessarily need to enshrine the membership privileges of the United States and other major council powers in its charter. But he indicated he would seek some informal "understanding" that they be granted automatic membership if they chose to serve. "Any U.N. body without the perm 5 is just not going to be as effective as a U.N. body with the perm 5, and that is reality," he said.

Bolton's initiative was criticized by some U.N. diplomats, human rights advocates and others who said it would reward China and Russia, which are often criticized for rights abuses.

If that is the only way to ensure the United States can be on the human rights council, "is that the kind of organization we want to be committed to?" said Joseph Loconte, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "I'm dubious."

Others worried Bolton's comments would roil sensitive diplomatic talks scheduled to resume next week on how to create a new rights council.

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