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For Immediate Release
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US: Seeking Human Rights Council Seat

Joining UN Council Would Strengthen Debate on Ending Rights Abuses


The United States' decision to run for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council is a step toward more engaged and effective US leadership on human rights globally, Human Rights Watch said today. By seeking a seat on the 47-member UN council, the US government can make its voice heard in critical debates on the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.

"Active involvement by the US will bring new energy and focus to the Human Rights Council's deliberations and actions, helping it become a more credible force for human rights promotion," said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. "We hope this marks the start of a new era of US engagement and leadership on behalf of human rights."

The Human Rights Council, established in 2006 and based in Geneva, is the leading multilateral body devoted to human rights promotion and enforcement. The Bush administration declined to run for a seat on the council and, in 2008, suspended its participation as an observer in the council's deliberations.

The upcoming May 2009 elections for Human Rights Council seats represent an important opportunity for UN member states to choose among aspiring members those with the qualifications and ability to advance the work of the council. Because of the central importance of competitive elections to ensure the strongest possible council membership, Human Rights Watch regrets the decision of the government of New Zealand to withdraw its candidacy for a council seat.

The Human Rights Council has been criticized in the past for failing to address effectively the wide range of serious human rights problems around the world and accused of maintaining a one-sided focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nevertheless, the council has an array of pressing issues on its agenda, including crisis situations in Sri Lanka, Somalia, and elsewhere and a wide range of important thematic issues, including torture, women's rights, and the need to ensure that human rights violators are brought to justice. The council also carries out routine, periodic reviews of human rights conditions in every UN member nation.

By running for a seat, and exercising principled leadership as a member of the council, the United States can now help this important institution fulfill its potential, Human Rights Watch said.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the Human Rights Council, please visit:

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.