- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Facing sharp questioning from congressional Republicans, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday strongly defended America’s membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council, despite its perceived anti-Israel bias and its roster of repressive nations.

Susan Rice faced biting criticism from Republicans on a House panel about U.S. involvement in the 47-nation, Geneva-based council as well as membership in the United Nations itself. House GOP lawmakers, emboldened by their newfound majority, are determined to limit the U.S. role in the world body, arguing that American tax dollars shouldn’t be wasted on an organization in desperate need of reform.

Much of the congressional fury centers on the Human Rights Council, whose current membership includes China, Cuba, Russia and most recently, Libya.

President George W. Bush’s administration avoided the council, citing its bias against Israel and the scores of human rights violations that were ignored. The Obama administration said it would be better to be a member than to remain on the sidelines, and won a seat on the council. The administration said last week it would seek a new term.

“We’re supposed to pretend that it’s normal, it’s OK that we have a council on human rights made up of some of the most egregious human rights violators on the planet and we’re supposed to send hard-earned taxpayer money,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, complained to Ms. Rice.

“We’re not pretending anything. We’re very clear,” she answered. “We’d rather be in there and call foul when that is appropriate and stand up for the principles and values that Americans hold dear and make important progress where progress can be made.”

As a council member, Ms. Rice said, the U.S. pressed the body to deal with human rights emergencies in the Ivory Coast, ensured a special expert for Sudan, pressed for Libya’s suspension and forced Iran to withdraw its candidacy.

“All that has happened in the last two years with U.S. participation and U.S. leadership,” she told the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.

Mr. Diaz-Balart suggested the U.S. walk away from the United Nations and try to strengthen other pro-democracy organizations. House Republicans cut the budget request for the U.N. from $1.6 billion to $1.52 billion in the current fiscal year, and likely will target Mr. Obama’s request for next year’s budget as well.