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U.S. not re-elected to seat on U.N. Commission on Human Rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States was not re-elected to a seat on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in a secret ballot vote during the commission’s March 19-April 27 sessions in Geneva, Switzerland, according to reports on CNSNews.com.

The United States has held a seat on the 53-nation commission since it was established in 1947. The commission investigates human rights violations in countries around the world.

The United States is part of the “Western European and others” group on the commission, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told CNSNews.com. “This group consisted of Canada, Western Europe, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Israel, among others. There are 10 members. Each member is elected on a three-year term, so this year there were three slots opening up. France, Norway and the U.S. were finishing their mandates. The U.S got the least number of votes, so they lost their seat,” Dujarric said.

The United States came in fourth in the balloting with 29 votes. France had the high score of 52 votes, followed by Austria with 41 and Sweden with 32.

Meanwhile, Sudan, led by a government battling a civil war by the use of children kidnapped from their families and retrained as soldiers, was elected to the commission as an African representative.

According to a May 7 CNSNews.com report, 14 unidentified nations reneged on commitments to vote for the United States to continue on the council.

Reports from Geneva say many commission members resented the United States voting record on issues like land mines and the availability of AIDS drugs. The United States recently had lobbied the commission heavily to pass a resolution condemning human rights in Cuba.

“Understandably, we are very disappointed,” James Cunningham, the chief U.S. representative in Geneva, told reporters. “It was an election between a number of solid candidates. We very much wanted to serve on the committee.” The vote was “a stunning development,” Singapore ambassador Kishore Mahbubani told reporters. “When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R.-Fla., reacted angrily to the U.N. action.

“Unfortunately, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has more and more become a club of tyrannies, with the inclusion of dictatorships such as those from Sudan, China, Libya and Vietnam. The Cuban dictatorship is automatically re-elected as a member every year as well,” Diaz-Balart noted. “The expulsion of the U.S. simply shows the true nature of the membership of a significant portion of that commission. I am confident that the United States Congress will take note of what is, unfortunately, really happening to the United Nations.”

Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the U.N. commission of admitting what it called “abusive members.”

“Joining the 53-member commission today were Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Togo. These countries will join Syria, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, all countries with very poor human rights records that were elected to the commission last year,” Human Rights Watch said in a May 4 statement on its website.

Joanna Weschler, U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch, said, “This [commission] is a rogues’ gallery of human rights abusers. A country’s human rights record should be the single most important factor in whether or not it joins the commission. An abusive country cannot honestly pass judgment on other abusive countries.”

Weschler also said Human Rights Watch isn’t surprised that the United States was voted off the U.N. commission.

“In recent years, the United States often failed to support important human rights initiatives at the commission, or found itself voting alone, or on the wrong side of important issues. It’s not surprising that the U.S. was voted off. But to punish the United States and reward Sudan is clearly absurd,” Weschler said.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, was disappointed with the commission’s decision.

“This appears to be a deliberate attempt to punish the U.S. for its insistence that the commission tell the truth about human rights abuses wherever they occur,” Hyde said in a written statement. “The decision may have the unfortunate result of turning the human rights commission into just another irrelevant international organization. This commission includes some of the world’s premier human rights violators. The machinations of international bureaucrats are irrelevant to the plight of the world’s oppressed people who yearn for the universal values of freedom and democracy to which the U.S. is deeply committed.”
Based on reporting by Jim Burns, a senior staff writer with CNSNews.com, and Susan Jones, CNSNews.com’s morning editor.

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