US elected with 17 others to UN rights panel
Published: Nov 13, 2012 09:43 AM Updated: Nov 13, 2012 09:46 AM
Overcoming odds, the United States on Monday was elected by the UN General Assembly to three years on the Human Rights Council, along with Venezuela, Pakistan and 15 other countries.

With China and Russia retiring from the panel, the United States will be the only permanent Security Council member on the Human Rights Council from next year. Britain and France did not run.

While Washington competed with four other Western countries for three seats on the Geneva-based panel, Caracas and Islamabad ran unopposed from their respective geographical areas. The Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG) the US competed in was the only one of five regions in which there was any competition.

"To call the vote in the General Assembly an 'election' gives this process way too much credit," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, before the balloting. " Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality."

Only in 2009 did Washington decide to join in the recently- formed panel. This is the second three-year term for the United States. It will not be eligible to run after this next term expires.

The UN Human Rights Council, created by the General Assembly in March 2006, is made up of 47 UN member states which are elected by the 193-member General Assembly. The Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Members can not seek immediate re-election after they stay on the Council for two straight three-year terms.

Hillel Neur, executive director of Geneva-based UN Watch had feared the United States could lose out to one of the four other candidates in its group, namely Germany, Ireland, Greece and Sweden. Germany and Ireland were also elected to the panel, replacing retiring Belgium and Norway.

Expressing his concern last week, Neur explained that Washington was the last of the five to declare its candidacy, after several countries had already committed to candidates. Voting was by secret ballot in the General Assembly Hall.

"We pledge to continue to work closely with the international community to address urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide and to strengthen the Council," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "While much hard work remains to be done, especially ending the Council's disproportionate and biased focus on Israel, we look forward to cooperating with other Council members to continue to address human rights concerns and to ensure that the Council fully realizes its promise."

Peter Wittig, Germany's permanent representative at the United Nations, emerged from the hall with a smile on his face as he reacted to the election.

"We have reached the end of a very competitive campaign for the Human Rights Council," he said, adding "It was a good sign that we had a healthy competition, at least within the Western group. We could explain and promote our Human Rights agenda. We believe this could also be an example for other regional groups. All candidates in the Western group have an excellent human rights record."

"We will strive to reach out to other regions, to other camps: we will have and we will lead a cross-regional human rights policy, " Wittig noted, pledging to put emphasis on dialogue and cooperation.

Masood Khan, Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, disagreed with criticism of his country. He said the vote "was a strong validation of Pakistan's commitment to the promotion, protection of human rights."

"We have made extensive contributions to this work in Geneva and in New York and we're thankful to the international community, to the General Assembly for giving us this strong mandate," he said.

Sweden, regarded as heavy-hitter in human rights, lost out, causing several observers, including some diplomats to figuratively scratch their head over the (WEOG) vote. They juxtaposed Sweden's human rights record against the controversies over Washington's detention policies and wondered.

From the African group, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone were elected, replacing retiring Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal.

Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, and the United Arab Emirates were elected to the Asia-Pacific states group replacing retiring Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, and Saudi Arabia.

The Eastern Europe states saw Estonia and Montenegro replace retiring Hungary and Russia.

Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela will now sit in seats vacated by Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay.

Concern was also expressed when the votes were tallied that Venezuela out-polled the United States 154 to 131 votes, although they were in different regional groupings. However, in the Latin America group, Venezuela polled the least number of votes among the three candidates while the United States garnered the largest number of votes in its group.