- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly today elected 15 new members to 3-year terms on its Human Rights Council, an often-criticized panel based in Geneva.

Twenty countries from five regions were vying for the 15 seats.

Sri Lanka widely denounced by human rights advocates was defeated for an Asian seat by South Korea, Japan, Bahrain and Pakistan.

France and Britain narrowly defeated Spain for the open European seats, a race that was something of a toss-up for the gentleness of the campaigns and nearly indistinguishable voting records.
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Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine won over the Czech Republic for the three available seats reserved for Eastern Europe.

To the chagrin of rights advocates and the United States, who maintain that all members should be elected by the 192-member world body, the African and Latin American regions nominated only as many candidate countries as they had seats to fill.

This means Africa will be represented by Zambia, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Ghana; Latin America and the Caribbean by Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Despite the defeat of Sri Lanka, human rights advocates denounced the election results.

“Today’s elections … reduced the number of fully free democracies on the Council already in the minority,” said Anne Bayefsky, senior editor of a newsletter called EYE on the UN. “Human rights abusers will therefore continue to dominate the UN’s primary human rights body.”

The 3-year-old Human Rights Council replaces an earlier body that had become largely coopted by non- or nominal democracies, many of them widely perceived as rights abusers by the West.

The assembly agreed to impose stricter election standards than before and require all members to submit to a periodic public review of their own records on civil and political rights. These measures were designed to stock the 47-member rights commission with more upstanding nations.

With the re-election of Pakistan and the inclusion of dictatorships and family-dominated enterprises, the council is still not the beacon that many hoped for. Among the members routinely criticized by the non-governmental, non-partisan Freedom House: Saudi Arabia, China, Libya, Gabon and Zambia.

The United States, long a critic of the independent U.N. body, has refused to seek election to what Washington sees as a compromised institution unworthy of America’s participation.