by Hilary White

NEW YORK, June 21, 2006 ( – At the inaugural meeting of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo called on the newly formed body to uphold human dignity by defending the right to life.

The new 47-member council was formed after the UN’s previous body, the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission, was disbanded amidst criticism for its frequent election of members from countries with poor human rights records, such as Sudan.

The United States has opposed the establishment of the Council. Ambassador to the UN, David Bolton, said the US wanted stronger assurances that countries known for human rights violations would be barred. Since its inception, the UN General Assembly has elected China and Saudi Arabia to sit on the new Human Rights Council, both countries well known as gross violators of human rights.

Without naming China’s well-documented record of forced abortion and sterilization, Lajolo said pointedly that examples of human rights violations by certain countries include, “imposing birth control, denying the right to life in certain circumstances.”The Archbishop also identified, “trying to control the conscience of citizens and their access to information,” as human rights violations.

The Council’s member states are elected directly by the 191-member General Assembly and are understood to be judged on their previous human rights records. Many pro-life observers, however, have treated with scepticism the idea that the UN could adequately judge issues of human rights when it accepts abortion as a de facto right and has lobbied to have it formally established as such.

Archbishop Lajolo reiterated that the foundation of human rights is the right to life. The first human right, he said, is “the right to life from the first moment of human existence, that is, from the moment of conception.”