- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

NEW YORK The U.N. Human Rights Commission opens its six-week session today, meeting for the first time in 58 years without a U.S. representative on board.
However, the United States will return to the Geneva-based commission next year, after the withdrawal last week of two European competitors for the available seats.
Washington was voted off the 53-member commission last year, a humiliating defeat that corroded an already damaged U.S.-U.N. relationship.
American lawmakers infuriated that Libya, China and Sudan were voted onto the prestigious body while the United States was left off had tried to attach an amendment to a U.N. dues package that would withhold payment of some outstanding funds until the United States returned.
But after Italy and Spain withdrew from consideration last week, the United States formally put forward its candidacy for an election, unchallenged from any other quarter.
The election, at the end of April, still won't put an American on the commission for the upcoming session which promises a spirited debate on numerous issues.
Many diplomats expect close scrutiny of U.S. actions in the war on terrorism, from the high-altitude war that killed non-combatants in Afghanistan to the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Other criticisms could include the detention of immigrants, predominantly Asian and Arab, on unspecified charges related to the September 11 attacks.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has criticized these policies, and has earned broad support from Arab, European and many Asian nations.
The United States may also have to defend its application of the death penalty, which human rights advocates charge is meted out excessively to the poor and the minorities.
Perennial complaints of human rights abuses in Chechnya, the Balkans and the Palestinian territories are back on the agenda.
With Israel usually coming in for extended criticism, the agenda this year already includes items on the occupied territories, the Golan Heights and the government's treatment of Lebanese detainees.
Although the United States will not have a vote in Geneva, its representatives will make speeches and will lobby and observe, diplomats said. They can also help draft resolutions that member states can sponsor.
American lawmakers last week urged the Bush administration to keep up pressure on China. A letter signed by 18 congressmen and senators from both parties said such resolutions had an impact on human rights.


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