Tags: U.N.'s | Hypocrisy | Rights | Commission | Jolts | U.S.

U.N.'s Hypocrisy on Rights Commission Jolts U.S.

Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM

In the secret vote by the 54 members of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council, Washington mustered only 29 ballots in its bid to retain membership - and the right to introduce resolutions - in the world's major human rights body, which it helped create in 1947.

Eleven nations that had previously assured Washington of their vote in the end failed to deliver.

"It's hard to explain how members could vote for Sudan and not the United States. It's hard to explain how members could listen to the lobbying of Cuba and China on human rights issues," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "Perhaps they aren't interested in seeing an active commission."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said "it's a disappointment," but "it won't stop the United States from speaking out on the importance of human rights around the world.

The loss was the first for the United States. It comes amid increasingly bumpy relations between Washington and its allies in Europe over the Bush administration's pursuit of a missile defense system and backing away from a Senate-rejected global environmental treaty.

Although the vote loss could not be pinned down to the political climate over the two issues, Boucher said "it's very likely very few of our votes came from the European Union."

There was also speculation the administration may not have lobbied hard enough, although the State Department insists it did.

"It's hard to say if it's due to the change in administration, or they did not realize the impact it would have, or they did not lobby hard enough," a senior U.N. diplomat in Geneva told United Press International.

Four countries Thursday were competing for three, three-year posts in the commission's Western Group. Besides the United States, there was France (54 votes), Austria (41) and Sweden (32).

Bahrain, South Korea and Pakistan were elected to the Asia group, and Croatia and Armenia were elected to the Eastern European group. Chile and Mexico were chosen without balloting for the Latin America group. Selected for Africa were Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and Sudan, which has been singled out by the United States, the U.N. and human rights groups for egregious abuses of rights within its borders, including genocide and slavery.

"This is a deliberate attempt to punish the United States for its insistence that the commission tell the truth about human rights abuses wherever they occur," House Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, told the New York Times. "This commission includes some of the world's premier human rights violators."

Amnesty International said the vote was part "of an effort by nations that routinely violate human rights to escape scrutiny," and Human Rights Watch said the commission was increasingly becoming a "rogues' gallery" of human rights violators.

The surprise, it told the newspaper, was that "it wasn't just enemies. It was friends as well ...."

As a member, the United States in the past was able to introduce and press passage of resolutions against states such as Cuba. Earlier this year it introduced a resolution condemning China for human rights abuses, but it was blocked from a vote on the floor.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that although he understood U.S. disappointment, he hoped Washington would remain a key player in human rights issues.

Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, added the U.S. Secretariat "hoped that the organization itself would not be blamed for what was a vote by member states."

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking in Michigan Friday, called U.S. loss of a place on the commission a "serious blow". Not only to the United States but to the U.N. as well.

"This is a short-term (development), some kind of anger at something, which has long-term effects," she said. By doing this, the U.N. ... has sidelined itself on human rights issues. It's a huge error.

Albright, like Eckhard, hoped the outcome would not fuel anti-U.N. sentiment in Congress.

Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and human rights crusader, laid the blame, at least partially, on China.

"I am convinced the Chinese worked very heavily behind the scenes with their well-known bribing and threatening tactics," he said.

The vote delighted China, which some U.S. officials continue to insist is some sort of ally. China said Friday that the United States deserved to lose its seat on the commission because it always used the body to "pursue its power politics."

Despite Thursday's setback, the U.S. could be voted back on the commission in a year's time if it garners the necessary votes from the Economic and Social Council.

Or, the move could increase calls for the U.S. to leave the U.N.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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In the secret vote by the 54 members of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council, Washington mustered only 29 ballots in its bid to retain membership - and the right to introduce resolutions - in the world's major human rights body, which it helped create in 1947. Eleven...
Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM
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