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47 countries in UN Human Rights


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At least they kept Iran out?




47 nations gain seats on U.N.'s rights council

New body manages to keep worst abusers from even daring to run in the election


Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times


Wednesday, May 10, 2006



United Nations -- U.N. members elected 47 countries to a new Human Rights Council on Tuesday, choosing several that have been criticized for their poor records but keeping off others that rights groups said are the worst offenders.


Cuba, China, Russia, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia were among countries winning seats that human rights advocates say do not merit places because of their poor record of protection of freedoms.


But Iran and Venezuela, which were identified by rights groups as having dismal rights records, did not get on the council, and the new body's higher standards kept the worst violators off the ballot.


"The big improvement happened before voting even started," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, which analyzed every country's rights record. "The new architecture made it so that the truly bad guys didn't dare to run. This time, countries like Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe were not vying to undermine the new council."


The United States decided not to run for a seat after voting against creation of the council because it believed the body needed stronger barriers to keep human rights abusers from gaining a place.


Critics have suggested that the United States might not have won a seat at all in a year when it is under investigation by the U.N. body for its treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. But Washington has pledged to support the new council and to work from outside to help shape it in its crucial first year.


"It's about the result we expected even though a number of countries that are themselves gross abusers of human rights got elected," said U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.


The new council replaces the much-criticized Human Rights Commission, which had become a symbol of U.N. dysfunction after human rights violators such as Sudan and Zimbabwe gained seats on the body and used their positions to block censure of their policies. Candidates for the new council were required to pledge to uphold human rights standards, and the newly elected members will undergo a review of their performance in upholding freedoms.


"This is an innovation, and it is important that we have established this principle, that all members of the council are to have their human rights record reviewed," said the President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson of Sweden.


Most of the countries elected Tuesday won votes from more than two-thirds of the General Assembly's 191 members.


The result challenged one of the United States' key arguments during negotiations, that winners should be required to get a two-thirds margin rather than a simple majority in order to make it harder for abusers to get on the council.


Elected to the council were 13 African nations, 13 Asian states, six from Eastern Europe, eight from Latin America and the Caribbean and seven from the United Nations' "Western Europe and other states" regional bloc that includes the United States.


The council will meet for the first time on June 19.

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