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latimes.com

U.S. retains hotly contested seat on U.N. Human Rights Council

By Carol J. Williams

10:56 AM PST, November 12, 2012

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Somewhat surprisingly, the United States won re-election Monday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in the only competitive race for the 47-seat body it has been striving to reform.

Four other regional slates of candidates included the same number of candidate nations as the region was allowed to elect, a fact lamented by the U.N. Watch rights advocacy group as a "scandalous" failure to offer a range of ideas and platforms.

The new Human Rights Council was created six years ago to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which then-President George W. Bush boycotted in protest of the body's focus on criticizing Israel for rights abuses. President Obama backed a U.S. return to the Geneva-based council after his inauguration in 2009, pledging to work to improve the highly politicized group from within.

"The United States is pleased to have been elected by the United Nations General Assembly to a second term on the Human Rights Council," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement after the vote. "While much hard work remains to be done, especially ending the Council’s disproportionate and biased focus on Israel, we look forward to cooperating with other Council members to continue to address human rights concerns and to ensure that the Council fully realizes its promise."

The Western group put forward five nations in competition for its three seats. Germany and Ireland also won election to the top rights body, while Greece and Sweden trailed in the vote. All five Western candidate nations had been rated "qualified" by human rights groups.

Doubts persist about the commitment to or consistency in defending human rights of other nations on the council: Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela were among the nations earning seats on the council despite rights groups' criticism of their human rights records.

African, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American regional groups each had put forward the same number of candidates as seats they were allotted, leaving the 193-member General Assembly with no choice but to rubber-stamp their representatives.

Other nations winning new or subsequent three-year terms Monday were Argentina, Brazil, Estonia, Japan, Kenya, Montenegro, South Korea, Sierra Leone and United Arab Emirates.

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