- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

From combined dispatches

NEW YORK The United States regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission yesterday, a year after losing it for the first time since the commission was established in 1947.

The vote in May to drop the United States from the top U.N. human rights body was a humiliating defeat that caused an outcry in Washington, worsened U.S.-U.N. relations and led to intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Bush administration to get back on the panel.

In March, Italy and Spain pulled out of the running for seats on the commission. That cleared the way for the United States to announce its candidacy for a seat as part of an uncontested slate.

The U.S. return to the commission was then virtually assured, and yesterday the 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council approved an uncontested slate of candidates from Western nations that included the United States.

"We are very pleased that we are back on the Commission on Human Rights," Sichan Siv, U.S. ambassador to the Economic and Social Council, said after the results were announced.

"Human rights is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. We have spoken, and we continue to speak on the issue, whether we are on the commission or not. But now that we are back on the commission, we look forward very much to working to continue to promote this very important issue," he said.

At the recent Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva, the United States was an observer.

On April 22, the commission voted 20-19 against censuring Iran for executions and torture, discrimination against minorities, and stifling press freedom.

As a full member again, Mr. Siv said, the United States will be able to introduce resolutions, which it was unable to do as an observer. The United States has traditionally introduced a resolution condemning Cuba's human rights record.

In the search for blame after last year's vote, fingers were pointed at a plethora of European candidates, the absence then of a permanent ambassador, U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto climate change treaty, U.S. plans to build a national missile-defense system and U.S. refusal to ratify the treaty creating an international criminal court.

The Human Rights Commission makes studies and recommendations for the protection and promotion of human rights, either on its own initiative or at the request of the General Assembly or the Security Council.

Under U.N. rules, regional groups decide who fills seats on U.N. bodies. The United States is one of 29 countries in the West European and Others Group, also known as WEOG.

Last year, WEOG had four candidates for three seats on the commission. In a secret ballot by the 54 nations on the U.N. Economic and Social Council the commission's parent body France, Austria and Sweden won seats and the United States suffered a stunning loss.

Mr. Siv said the United States was "pleased and grateful" that Spain and Italy dropped out of the running so there was an uncontested WEOG slate.

Joanna Weschler, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, said the U.S. vote alone would not make a difference, but she encouraged Washington to rescue the panel from "abuser solidarity" by getting seriously engaged.

Miss Weschler said too many countries that may be targets of the commission had banded together to shield themselves from scrutiny and the publicizing of abuses. "Otherwise, the commission is going to sink into irrelevance," Miss Weschler added.

Several countries accused of violations in the past have seats on the commission. Those countries include China, Cuba, Congo, Libya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and now Zimbabwe.

The United States, as well as Russia and India, had served on the commission since its inception in 1947. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the commission's first chairman and the main author of its 1948 landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In yesterday's election, there were four candidates for four WEOG seats: Australia, Germany, Ireland and the United States.

The African and Latin American seats were also uncontested, giving Burkina Faso, Gabon, Swaziland and Zimbabwe seats on the commission along with Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Among Asian states, there were four candidates for three seats, and China, Japan and Sri Lanka won over the United Arab Emirates.

Ukraine defeated Hungary 28-26 to win the Eastern European seat.

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