In Reversal, U.S. Seeks Election to U.N. Human Rights Council

UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration will seek a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, announcing Tuesday that it believed working from within was the most effective means of altering the council’s habit of ignoring poor human rights records of member states.
The policy reverses the stance of the Bush administration, which viewed the Geneva-based council as irredeemable for its almost exclusive focus on human rights violations by Israel.
Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration believed that by working within the council, the United States could influence members of regional groups.
In recent years, regional blocs in the 47-member organization, particularly Asia and Africa, which together have 26 votes, acted en masse to minimize scrutiny of countries like Zimbabwe.
“We do not see any inherent benefit as demonstrated by recent history in being outside the tent and simply being critical without having significant influence,” Ms. Rice said in a conference call with reporters after the State Department made the announcement.
The United States shared other countries’ concern that the council’s work had been “disturbing” in recent years, she said. “It should become a key forum for advancing human rights.”
The 47-member council replaced the Human Rights Commission after an outcry over countries like Libya, which led the commission in 2003 but had a history of abuses like assassinating government critics. Critics of the council have said, however, that the problems had carried over from the first body to the next, and that dividing the regional blocs was unworkable.
“That strategy did not work under the old Human Rights Commission and it won’t work under the Human Rights Council,” said John R. Bolton, the American ambassador in the Bush administration who first voted against the council. “You don’t show up at every ragtag little organization that comes into existence.”
Human rights organizations generally applauded the move. Neil Hicks, the international policy director for the nonprofit organization Human Rights First, said countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt often blocked critical examination of states in Asia and Africa. Washington needs to make more of an effort to work on those relationships, he said.
“There really hasn’t been a serious attempt led by the United States to build a majority of states within the council to stand up for human rights,” he said.
Several groups that support Israel said they would have preferred that the United States pushed harder for reform before running for a seat in the May 12 election in the General Assembly.
Norway, Belgium and New Zealand were running for the three seats in the Western bloc that includes the United States, but New Zealand was expected to withdraw.
this is interesting.
american delegates would still come to meetings, but would sit in the rown directly behind their seats, not at them. and wouldn't participate. it was funny. and kind of high school of them.