U.N. rights chief says world hopes pinned on Obama

UNITED NATIONS Tue Dec 9, 2008 4:56pm EST

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama talks to the media in his transition office in Chicago December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama talks to the media in his transition office in Chicago December 9, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday she hoped Barack Obama's presidency would return the United States to "the international family" after eight years of scant cooperation.

Speaking at U.N. headquarters in New York the day before the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Navi Pillay also called for an inquiry into the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility.

She said that under U.S. President George W. Bush, there had been "scant participation" by the United States in the work of the U.N. Human Rights Council -- a body that was set up in 2006 to replace the much criticized Human Rights Commission.

Like its predecessor, the 47-member Council has been accused by Washington and some other Western critics of spending too much time castigating Israel while glossing over human rights violations by some of its members.

"There is no denying that those who looked to the United States to inject new vigor into the human rights work and especially the Human Rights Council have been disappointed in recent years," Pillay told a news conference.

"This is why there are great expectations pinned on the forthcoming presidency of Barack Obama," she said, adding that she drew hope from Obama's message of change.

"To me, that means change in the approach to re-entering the international family, maximizing their role, and playing their role as a very important force in the world to engender again the kind of cooperation between states that we are seeking," Pillay said.

Obama will take over from Bush as president on January 20.

She said she welcomed Obama's pledge to close the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has housed hundreds of al Qaeda suspects since shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Analysts warn there is a host of complex issues that would need to be settled before the facility is closed, including what to do about the current military commissions system and ongoing trials, and what to do with those who are released.

Pillay said it was important to ensure that detainees who are released are able to go to a safe place "and that some kind of inquiry be held so that conditions such as arbitrary detention, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, are not ever again espoused by the U.S. or copied by other countries."

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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