US decides to avoid losing fight for a seat on the new UN HR Council

U.S. decides to avoid potentially losing fight for a seat on the new U.N.
Human Rights Council

AP Worldstream; Apr 07, 2006
EDITH M. LEDERER

The United States has decided to avoid a potentially losing fight for
a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council this year, but 42
countries have announced their candidacy, including Cuba and Iran.

The four other veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council _ Russia, China, Britain and France _ are among those seeking
seats on the 47-nation council.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday the United
States would not be a candidate in the May 9 election though it will
support and finance the new council, and will likely seek a seat next
year.

The United States was virtually alone in voting against the
establishment of the council to replace the highly politicized and
often criticized Human Rights Commission, arguing that the new body
was only marginally better and wouldn’t prevent rights-abusing
countries from sitting on the council.

The 53-member commission was discredited in recent years because some
countries with terrible human rights records used their membership to
protect one another from condemnation. Commission members in recent
years included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

A key sticking point during the negotiations was U.S. insistence that
members be elected by two-thirds of the 191-nation General Assembly _
a step aimed at keeping out rights abusers. The U.S. effort failed,
and members of the new council must be elected only by an absolute
majority _ 96 member states.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the United States concluded that
since the council has “fundamental flaws” Washington would skip this
year’s election and concentrate on other priorities including the
overhaul of U.N. management.

But he indicated that the United States was also concerned about
whether it could win a contested election.

President George W. Bush’s administration has been strongly criticized
in many countries for invading Iraq and for the U.S. treatment of
prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

During a U.S. National Security Council meeting earlier this week,
U.S. officials had raised the possibility of U.S. defeat, said one
person who was at the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorized to speak about the closed session.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Bolton recalled the U.S. defeat for
a seat on the Human Rights Commission in a contested election in 2001
and said the United States would face another contested election if it
ran this year.

“I think that a decision by us to run had to be a decision that we
were going to win, and that would mean either defeating other Western
candidates or getting some of the rest of them to withdraw,” Bolton
said. “I think our leverage this year in terms of trying to get the
right kind of council, flawed as we think it is, is greater by not
running … but considering it next year.” Some human rights groups
and members of the U.S. Congress were dismayed at the U.S. decision.

Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations
Committee, called it “a major retrenchment in America’s long struggle
to advance the cause of human rights around the world.” Kenneth Roth,
executive director of Human Rights Watch, said “it’s unfortunate that
the Bush administration’s disturbing human rights record means that
the United States would hardly have been a shoe-in for election to the
council. Today’s decision not to run seems like an effort to make a
virtue of necessity.”

The council was endorsed by key human rights groups, a dozen Nobel
Peace Prize winners including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and
170 countries who voted “yes” on the resolution creating it _
including a surprise endorsement from Cuba.

Under the rules for the new council, any U.N. member can announce its
candidacy any time until the vote is completed. Countries can serve a
maximum of two three-year terms and must leave the council before
running again.

To ensure global representation, Africa and Asia would have 13 seats
each; Latin America and the Caribbean eight seats; Western nations,
seven seats; and Eastern Europe, six seats.

There are already eight candidates for the seven Western seats where
the United States would have to run _ Britain, Canada, Finland,
France, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland.

Nine countries are seeking the eight Latin American and Caribbean
seats _ Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru,
Uruguay and Venezuela.

In a statement appealing for support for its candidacy, Cuba said its
people have made “tremendous achievements” in human rights, most
importantly in exercising the right of self-determination against “the
unilateral policy of hostility, aggression and blockade imposed on it
by the superpower.”

So far, there are three African candidates _ Algeria, Mauritius, and
Morocco. The nine Asian candidates to date are Bangladesh, Bahrain,
China, India, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka.
There are 13 candidates for the six East European seats _ Albania,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia,
Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

McCormack said that “since the credibility of the council depends on
its membership, the United States will actively campaign on behalf of
candidates genuinely committed to the promotion and protection of
human rights and … will also actively campaign against states that
systematically abuse human rights.”

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