Tags: obama | clinton | un

Obama Team Reverses Bush Policy, Seeks U.N. Rights Body Seat

Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 05:29 PM

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's administration announced Tuesday it will run in May for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council -- a body the Bush administration shunned.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is traveling in Europe, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the United States will seek a seat on the body to help reform it from within, according to the State Department.

U.S. critics and the administration of former president George W. Bush have charged that the Geneva-based body routinely demonizes Israel but ignores human rights abuses in other parts of the globe.

Gordon Duguid, a department spokesman, said the new administration took the decision as part of efforts to re-engage with the world community -- which had charged that the Bush administration acted on its own and even illegally.

"Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy," Clinton was quoted as saying.

"With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system to advance the vision of the UN Declaration on Human Rights," the chief US diplomat said.

"The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organization's genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations," she said.

"We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies," she was quoted as saying.

Both Clinton and Rice alluded to past criticism of the body when they talked about making it more effective.

"Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the Council to be balanced and credible," Rice was quoted as saying.

"The US is seeking election to the council because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights," said the permanent U.S. representative to the U.N.

The State Department said 47 elected members sit on the inter-governmental body which is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights worldwide.

The next round of elections to the Council will be held on May 15th in the UN General Assembly in New York when members will be elected to a three-year term.

The council faces a formal review of its structure and procedures in 2011, which the State Department sid will "offer a significant opportunity for council reform."

Former president George W. Bush's administration opposed the council after it was set up in March 2006 and refused to be a member.

The Bush administration asserted the body had lost credibility because of its repeated criticism of Israel and what it called a failure to confront major rights abusers.

But critics abroad said the United States, during Bush's term in office, had lost credibility on human rights over alleged torture of terrorism suspects in the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in Iraq.

© 2009 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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