Friday, April 07, 2006

US decides not to run for new UN rights body

US decides not to run for new UN rights body
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, its own human rights record under attack, said on Thursday it would not run for a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council.

The decision drew mixed reaction from the U.S. Congress with a senior Democrat expressing outrage while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised the decision.

Some human rights experts said U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and its treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba may have made it hard for Washington to win a seat in the May 9 election in the U.N. General Assembly.

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged that the United States was concerned it might not have won a seat on the council.

"Our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

The United States would probably seek a seat on the council next year, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Washington had voted against the council's creation, arguing there were not enough barriers to human rights abusers winning seats. But the United States would support the council financially and encourage it to address human rights abuses in Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea, he said.


Rep. Tom Lantos of California, senior Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, called the decision "a major retrenchment in America's long struggle to advance the cause of human rights around the world.

"It is a profound signal of U.S. isolation at a time when we need to work cooperatively with our Security Council partners," he said in a statement.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said it was "childish" for Washington not to run for a seat, even though it risked the embarrassment of possible failure.

"It's unfortunate that the Bush administration's disturbing human rights record means that the United States would hardly have been a shoo-in for election to the council. Today's decision not to run seems like an effort to make a virtue of necessity," Roth added.

At U.N. headquarters, U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was disappointed but hoped Washington would run for a seat next year.

Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is considering running for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, said President George W. Bush made a courageous decision that would deny the council unwarranted legitimacy.

The 191-member U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on March 15 to create the new human rights body to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, whose current members include Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have poor rights records.

So far 35 nations have submitted their candidacies for three-year terms including Cuba and Iran as well as U.S. allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France.

Council members must be elected by an absolute majority of the 191 U.N. states, or 96 countries, as compared to the former practice of voting for regional slates.

(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff at the United Nations)