Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Eleanor Roosevelt surely must be turning over in her grave today"

U.S. won't seek seat on U.N. rights council
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it would not seek a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council, saying it was not a "credible body," a decision that immediately drew harsh criticism from a veteran Congressman.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would retain its observer status on the 47-member council, created last year over objections from the United States that rules were not strong enough to prevent rights violators from getting a seat.

"We believe that the Human Rights Council has thus far not proved itself to be a credible body in the mission that it has been charged with," McCormack told reporters. "Our decision is that we do not plan to run (for a seat)."

The announcement came on the day that the State Department issued its 2006 report on human rights worldwide.

McCormack said Washington supported the promotion of human rights globally and would "remain a forceful advocate in the promotion of human rights."

He complained there had been a "nearly singular focus" by the council on issues related to Israel to the exclusion of other areas, such as rights abuses in Myanmar or North Korea.

"We hope over time this body will expand its focus and become a more credible institution," said McCormack.

Last November, outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also criticized the council for focusing too much on Israel and neglecting other parts of the world such as Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, which had what he termed "graver" crises.

But he as well as human rights groups have lobbied to have the United States join the council.

On Tuesday, Congressman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, called the decision "an act of unparalleled defeatism" by letting "a cabal of military juntas, single-party states and tin-pot dictators retain their death grip on the world's human rights machinery."

"This is the worst possible time for a U.S. retreat from its rightful role as the world's champion of human rights," Lantos said in a statement.

"At a time when we are attempting to marshal the civilized world to stand up to extremism and terror, a retreat from Geneva sends exactly the wrong signal to those who are trying to defeat us," Lantos said. "It is particularly appalling that the administration would select the day it is releasing the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices to announce this decision."

"Eleanor Roosevelt surely must be turning over in her grave today," he said.

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the body's first chair and the main author of the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.