Thursday, April 6, 2006

United States said today that it will not be a candidate for the new Human Rights Council

The New York Times reports today
The United States said today that it will not be a candidate for the new Human Rights Council, which was approved overwhelmingly last month by the United Nations General Assembly with Washington in almost lone opposition.

The United States would sit out the first election in May but support other countries it deemed worthy, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said and "likely" would run a year from now.

The council, which will hold its first meeting in Geneva in June, replaces the human rights commission which had been widely discredited for allowing notorious rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe on the panel.

The election of the 47 new members is scheduled for May 9, and as of today, 34 countries, including Cuba and Iran, had formally said they would run.

The new panel includes added restrictions on membership that its advocates say would keep major violators from membership. The United States has argued that they were not sufficient to do the job.

Principal among the new rules are individual, rather than regional, elections for each country; the need for 96 votes to get elected; mandatory formal reviews of members' rights records, and means for suspending countries found guilty of abuses.

The council was approved on March 15 by a 170 to 4 vote, with Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau joining the United States in opposition. Belarus, Iran and Venezuela abstained.

"This is a major retrenchment in America's long struggle to advance the cause of human rights around the world," said Rep. Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, "and it is a profound signal of U.S. isolation at a time when we need to work cooperatively with our Security Council partners."

The leading Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Mr. Lantos said that the failure to push for the 96 votes needed for acceptance "projects a picture of profound weakness in U.S. diplomacy."

Since American officials had last month approved the budgeting of the council and pledged to support it, today's negative announcement was unexpected.

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