Sustained applause greeted the announcement of the 170 to 4 vote with 3 abstentions. Joining the United States in a "no" vote were Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau.

Abstaining were: Belarus, Iran and Venezuela.

The new 47-seat UN Human Rights Council would replace the 53-country Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission, which in recent years has included some of the world's most abysmal rights violators.

As the preeminent international rights watchdog, the council will aim to expose human rights abusers and help nations draw up rights legislation.

Weak rules

John Bolton, the US Ambassador, told the assembly the rules for the new council were not strong enough to prevent rights violators from getting a seat. But he said the United States would cooperate with the body.

John Bolton: The US did not have
sufficient confidence in the text

"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.

"That said the United States will work cooperatively with other member states to make the council as strong and effective as it can be," Bolton said.

Cuba, which had distributed four amendments, voted in favour, although it stated a list of objections and called the council a creation of the West.

Many nations, including Canada and members of the European Union, as well as major human rights groups share American misgivings.

But they rejected Bolton's earlier proposal to postpone or renegotiate the council, fearing the final result would doom the entire effort.

Reforms

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan first proposed the new council last year as part of sweeping reforms of the world body. But his blueprint was watered down in the resolution.

Jan Eliasson, the Assembly President, who negotiated the text over many months called the new council "a body that would advance the founding principles that were initiated by the General Assembly with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Kofi Annan first proposed the
new council

"The establishment of the Human Rights Council is a decision whose time has come," he said.

Members in the new council will be elected by secret ballot in the General Assembly by a majority vote of all members, not just those present and voting. Currently, they are approved in the Economic and Social Council according to a slate by regional groups.

The council is to conduct periodic reviews of the human rights records of all UN members, beginning with those elected to the council. A systematic violator of human rights could be suspended from the council by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. There is no such review now.

The seats would be distributed among regional groups: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean and seven for a block of mainly Western countries, including the United States and Canada.