Global Policy Forum

US Will Not Seek Seat on Rights Body

Associated Press
March 6, 2007

For the second year in a row, the United States has decided not to seek a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, the State Department said Tuesday, accusing the panel of an anti-Israeli bias. Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Council has had a "singular focus" on Israel, while countries such as Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea have been spared scrutiny.

He said that although the United States will have only an observer role, it will continue to shine a spotlight on human rights issues.The 47-member commission is made up largely of governments who have been elected. Among member countries which lack elements of a free and fair democratic system are Gabon, China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, decried the Bush administration decision as "an act of unparalleled defeatism." Lantos said that by staying out for a second consecutive year, "the United States will step aside to allow a cabal of military juntas, single-party states and tin-pot dictators to retain their death grip on the world's human rights machinery." "At a time when we are attempting to marshal the civilized world to stand up to extremism and terror, a retreat from Geneva sends exactly the wrong signal to those who are trying to defeat us," Lantos said.

The committee's senior Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, supported the administration decision. "Rather than standing as a strong defender of fundamental human rights, the Human Rights Council has faltered as a weak voice subject to gross political manipulation," she said.

The council is the successor to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was dismantled last year as part of a reform program. But the United States felt the reform did not go far enough, and declined to compete for a seat when the council was formed in 2006. The council will hold its annual meeting in Geneva starting next week and will take up a report commissioned by the panel that compares Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to apartheid in South Africa.

John Dugard, an independent investigator from South Africa, said in the report that Israel's laws and practices in the Palestinian territories "certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." Israel's ambassador in Geneva, Yitzhak Levanon, said Dugard's report was one-sided. "Any conclusions he may draw are therefore fundamentally flawed and purposely biased," he said.

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