WASHINGTON The United States will seek a second term on the U.N. Human Rights Council which has made significant progress over the past two years despite a "biased and disproportionate focus on Israel," the State Department said on Thursday.
"We believe that U.S. engagement in the Human Rights Council has directly resulted in real progress," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement announcing the decision to seek a new term.
Despite opposition by some pro-Israel groups, the Obama administration took the United States into the council in 2009 with a promise to focus on traditional Western concerns about civil and political freedoms.
Toner said the United States was pleased by some of the results, which include assertive action by the council to highlight human rights abuses in Iran, Ivory Coast and Myanmar, to fight discrimination based on religious views and to protect the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people.
But he said concerns remain, and the United States wanted to keep its seat "to ensure that the council realizes fully its intended purpose."
"In particular, the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council's biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it," Toner said.
He said the United States would also work to exclude from the council "governments which clearly do not merit membership given their own human rights records."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February became the first top U.S. diplomat to address the council in Geneva as part of the Obama administration's effort to build international consensus on steps to stop Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's effort to crush a rebellion against his rule.
But the council remains a target for powerful Republicans in the U.S. Congress, where House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has accused it of being dominated by "human rights violators" including China, Russia and Cuba.
The 47-member council, set up in 2006 to replace a discredited commission, is dominated by a bloc of developing countries, many of them Muslim. Israel and its allies charge that it devotes an excessive amount of time to condemning the practices of the Jewish state.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Deborah Charles)