- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2012

The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee joined international civil rights groups in denouncing the election of nations with oppressive regimes to seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that the United States, re-elected to a second three-year term, received fewer votes from the U.N. General Assembly than Pakistan and Venezuela — countries widely accused of violating human rights.

The Cuba-born Florida Republican also criticized the council for allowing communist Cuba to continue serving on the panel that is supposed to be an advocate for human rights among the 193 members of the United Nations.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council once again illustrates the abyss and hypocrisy at the center of the U.N.’s human rights system by previously allowing Cuba and now Venezuela to have a seat on the council,” she said, after the vote last week.

Ambassador Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, insisted that U.S. participation on the council is showing “its value,” although Washington realizes that the council has its “flaws.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said the continued inclusion of human-rights abusers undermines President Obama’s policy of joining the council to work from within to improve the 47-member group.

Former President George W. Bush refused to support the council because it included so many members from repressive governments and routinely levels its fiercest criticism against Israel.

“The Obama administration’s policy of engagement has failed to reform the United Nations, including the council, which continues to be dominated by oppressive regimes,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

She noted that the “tyrannical regime” of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Pakistan, with a record of religious intolerance, got more votes than the United States. Pakistan got 171 votes, Venezuela 154 and the United States 131.

Civil rights advocates also criticized the election of oppressive regimes, as well as an undemocratic practices among all regional groups, except the West. African, Asian, East European and Latin American countries agreed on slates of candidates before the General Assembly vote, guaranteeing no competition among nations in their region.

“To call the vote in the General Assembly an ‘election’ gives the process way too much credit,” said Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch. “Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality.”

Hassan Shire of the Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project noted that a nation with a human-rights record as bad as Ethiopia’s won a seat on the council only because the African nations limit competition for their bloc of seats.

“Injecting a healthy dose of competition into the elections would make for a stronger membership and a more effective Human Rights Council,” he said.

accidental tweet

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren quickly corrected an erroneous Internet message that claimed Israel is willing to negotiate with Hamas, the terrorist group that has been raining missiles on Israeli towns and cities from its stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli Embassy staffer accidentally posted a message on the ambassador’s Twitter account Saturday night after Mr. Oren told CNN that his country is willing to negotiate with the Palestinian people, not Hamas, which he called a “genocidal” organization dedicated to destroying Israel and all Jews throughout the world.

The Tweet said: “Just appeared on the set of #CNN: #Israel willing to sit down with #Hamas — if they stop shooting at us.”

Mr. Oren later wrote: “Correction: the earlier tweet about my CNN interview was sent erroneously by a staffer.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.