- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | The United States ended three years of estrangement from the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, joining the body that often is criticized for giving voice to nations with a history of abusing their citizens, such as Libya, Zimbabwe and China.

Washington ran unopposed for the seat, one of seven representing Western Europe and other democracies in the industrial world.

“Were gratified by the strong showing of encouragement for the United States to again play a meaningful leadership role in multilateral organizations, including the U.N., on the very vitally important set of issues relating to human rights and democracy,” Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after the vote.

“Obviously there will always be some countries whose respect and record on human rights is subpar. We have not been perfect ourselves,” Ms. Rice said.

She said Washington’s goal is to improve the council by working from within the organization.

The Geneva-based council is the United Nations’ most important body for the promotion of cultural, civil and political rights.

Its 47 members are responsible for the review of all governments’ records. The council accepts and gives voice to reports from more than a dozen experts, who examine freedom of religion, the right to development, use of torture and other internal issues.

The council’s reluctance to criticize the world’s worst human rights abusers - many of whom are actually members - has repulsed U.S. officials for years.

“I don’t think the U.S. election to the [Human Rights Council] will change anything,” said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bolton was instrumental in shaping the new council, which was intended to replace its discredited predecessor. He was also instrumental in the U.S. decision to withdraw from the council.

“Our participation legitimizes a fundamentally illegitimate body,” he said of Tuesday’s election.

The U.S. was one of 18 nations chosen for new three-year terms on the council. Others included China, Jordan, Hungary, Russia, Cuba, Mexico, Norway and Kenya.

Paula Schriefer, head of advocacy for Freedom House, said the Obama administration “has chosen to seek a seat now because they want to take advantage of the Obama global honeymoon.”

She said the election will allow Washington to weigh in during the council’s periodic review of the United States’ rights record in 2010 and during the review of the council itself the following year.

As a member, Ms. Schriefer said, Washington can, and should, throw its weight around.

For example, she said that some countries vote with China out of concern that if they don’t do what China wants, there will be retribution.

“The U.S. has to make it clear that it can do the same thing. It has to make it clear that [Washington] will act favorably with countries that vote with it.”

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