Bush Administration Won't Join Human Rights Council
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. The U.N. has a new human rights office. It's called the Human Rights Council and it replaces the Human Rights Commission, which was often criticized as a club of abusers. Now many human rights activists and some members of Congress say they're disappointed that the Bush administration does not want a seat on the new council.
NPR's Michelle Kelemen reports.
MICHELLE KELEMEN reporting:
The way State Department spokesman Sean McCormack explains it, the U.S. is acting out of fairness. The U.S. was among just a few countries that didn't support the creation of the Human Rights Council, so, says McCormack, the U.S. won't run this year.
Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (Spokesman, United States Department of State): There are strong candidates in our regional group with long records of support for human rights that voted in favor of the resolution creating the Council. They should have an opportunity to run.
KELEMEN: But few people who follow this issue believe fairness was the only reason behind the U.S. decision. There were also concerns that the U.S. wouldn't get elected. As the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolten, pointed out, even under previous election rules the U.S. was voted off the human rights body.
Mr. JOHN BOLTEN (U.S. Ambassador, United Nations): It's a historical fact for us that in 2001 the United States was defeated, even for the old commission, because there were too many Western group candidates.
KELEMEN: Though U.S. officials often point to the complex election system, Iain Levine of Human Rights Watch says there are more substantial reasons why the U.S. is not a shoe-in for the U.N.'s top human rights body.
Mr. IAIN LEVINE (Member, Human Rights Watch): Under this administration, the credibility of the U.S. on human rights has taken a serious nose-dive, with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, allegations of torture, undermining of international standards by this administration in the pursuit of its counter-terrorism strategies. So that's clearly an important factor.
KELEMEN: Several members of Congress were upset by the Bush administration's decision. The ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee said the move projects a picture of profound weakness in U.S. diplomacy. Tom Lantos of California believes the U.S. could have gotten the 96 votes it needed to get on the council.
Representative TOM LANTOS (Democrat, California): To have the United States not participate in this revamped, clearly superior than its predecessor, but admittedly not perfect organization, is literally incomprehensible to me. And I can only ascribe it to the victory of the ideologues who pushed their agenda.
KELEMEN: Lantos says this will weaken America's bargaining position in further UN reforms. Ambassador Bolten says he doesn't think so and says he'll stay involved in the Human Rights Council as an observer and will campaign to keep abusers out. Iain Levine of Human Rights Watch says there's a lot of work to do to keep the bad guys off the council, though he thinks the climate is changing.
Mr. LEVINE: Governments are being expected to put forward pledges of commitments as to how they would work on the council, as to how they would strengthen human rights within their own countries. And there is a sense that governments are beginning to take those pledges more seriously, that human rights records are much more essential to the way in which the elections are being considered.
KELEMEN: But among the candidates announced so far there are several that face criticism for their records, including China, Iran and Cuba. In its campaign pledge, Cuba said it would uphold truth, justice and genuine dialogue. And said it has made significant achievements in the face of what it called a unilateral policy of hostility and aggression by quote "the superpower."
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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