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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 19:49 GMT
UN creates new human rights body
Darfur refugees
Sudan, accused of rights abuses, could be excluded from new body
The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to create a new human rights organisation for the world body, despite United States criticism.

The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council will replace the current 53-country UN Human Rights Commission.

The existing body has been heavily criticised for having countries with poor human rights records as members.

The US voted against the plan, saying the reforms did not go far enough, but pledged to work with the new council.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed what he called an "historic resolution... that gives the United Nations a much-needed chance to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world".

He had proposed the changes last year to replace the discredited commission, which has in recent years included countries accused of gross human rights violations such as Sudan, China, Cuba and Zimbabwe.

Tighter rules

The resolution, which had been negotiated over many months by Assembly President Jan Eliasson, was approved by 170 members of the 191-nation assembly.

Three nations abstained. Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau joined the US in voting against the plan.

Every UN member state eligible to join
Elected by secret ballot, needs absolute Assembly majority
Each member serves for three-year term
All UN members will eventually have rights record reviewed
Systematic violators of human rights could be suspended

Members of the assembly burst into applause when the result was announced.

The new council will comprise members who are elected by secret ballot by an absolute majority of the General Assembly.

There will be periodic reviews of membership, and any state accused of systematic human rights violations could be suspended.

The US had wanted a smaller body to be created, with members chosen primarily for their commitment to human rights.

It wanted a two-thirds majority vote, and a ban for countries subject to UN sanctions because of rights violations.

"We did not have sufficient confidence in this text to be able to say that the Human Rights Council will be better than its predecessor," said John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, explaining the reason for voting no.

"That said, the United States will work co-operatively with other member states to make the council as strong and effective as it can be," he added.

How the body will be set up

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