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Despite Record, US Retains Seat on UN Human Rights Council

Human rights groups call election 'more rhetoric than reality'

- Common Dreams staff

Despite previous and ongoing criticism of the United States' "dismal" record on human rights, the United Nations General Assembly on Monday re-elected the US to the UN Human Rights Council.

The US, Germany and Ireland received more votes than competitors Greece and Sweden for only three contested seats representing a Western block.

The Associated Press reports that the five countries were all deemed qualified by the rights groups—less than three weeks after the UN announced it would likely initiate an investigation into civilian deaths caused by the CIA and US military's use of drones and other targeted killing programs.

Still, human rights groups saved their criticism of the "scandalous" election for 15 members elected in uncontested races to represent the rest of the world. Among the new members are Ethiopia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Venezuela.

Philippe Bolopion, a United Nations specialist for Human Rights Watch, said the regional groups that selected their representatives prior to today's vote "pre-cooked this election by offering as many candidates as they have been allotted seats, making a mockery of the standard driven process envisioned by the General Assembly when it created the Human Rights Council. He objected to "questionable candidates" such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates or Venezuela, among others, joining the council "without even having to make the case that they 'uphold the highest standards' of human rights."

“States elected to the Human Rights Council should take real steps to address rights concerns at home before taking up their seats in Geneva next January,” said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). “Pakistan, for one, should show up at the council having demonstrated tangible improvements in the prevention of discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, the protection of human rights defenders and journalists, and ending enforced disappearances.”

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

The entire UN General Assembly voted Monday to fill 183 seats on the 47-member council, formed in 2006 to replace the politicized Human Rights Commission. But the Human Rights Council has also been attacked for favoring Israel.

When the council was created, former President George W. Bush boycotted it over criticism of Israel and the council's refusal to cite flagrant abuses such as in Sudan.

In 2009, President Barack Obama sought to join the council, but this year launched its bid late and was lobbied hard to retain the seat.

Agence France-Press reports:

The United States made a 30-point list of pledges in a statement to council members that emphasized US action to get a special investigator named on rights in Iran, as well as domestic US legislation on the rights of gays and lesbians.

The United States committed "to be a strong advocate for all people around the world who suffer from abuse and oppression and a stalwart defender of courageous individuals across the globe who work, often at great personal risk, on behalf of the rights of others," said the statement.