May 21, 2008 / 5:22 AM / 10 years ago

States vie for seats on disputed UN rights body

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Gabon are among states vying for 15 seats on the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday that rights watchdogs say are unfit to be on it.

The 47-member Geneva-based council was set up two years ago to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was widely criticized for failing to overcome political alliances and take a strong stand on issues including China’s rights record.

But the new council has also been criticized for not taking a strong enough stand against violence in Tibet and Darfur and for singling out Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.

Half a dozen Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that while there was widespread disappointment about the Human Rights Council, it was important not to give up on it.

“It’s young, it’s not perfect, but we’re convinced of the importance of the council,” French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade told reporters in New York.

France, Britain and Spain are vying for two European seats on the council that will be up for grabs.

Asked to comment on Britain’s chances for re-election on the council, British Foreign Secretary David Milliband told reporters at the United Nations that he was very proud of Britain’s work on the council and hoped to remain on it.

SRI LANKA, OTHERS CRITICIZED

Rights groups Freedom House and UN Watch called on the U.N. General Assembly, the 192 members of the United Nations that will meet on Wednesday to elect the new members, to vote against candidates Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia for spotty human rights records.

“This body has the potential to be an important tool for promoting human rights, but not with members whose own actions impede the council’s forward progress,” Freedom House advocacy director Paula Schriefer said in a statement.

The council’s membership already includes three countries — China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia — whose governments rights groups say are among the world’s most oppressive.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that a coalition of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations around the world had written to U.N. members to oppose Sri Lanka’s re-election.

The group also said that three Nobel Peace laureates — former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina — had issued statements against a new term on the council for Sri Lanka.

The 2006 U.N. resolution establishing the council said that in electing states to the panel, U.N. member states “shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Nineteen countries are running for 15 seats spread across geographical zones. Gabon, Ghana, Mali and Zambia are the only candidates in the running for the four seats allocated to Africa. Argentina, Brazil and Chile are also uncontested in their bid for three Latin American seats.

Ukraine, Serbia and Slovakia are vying for two Eastern European seats, while Japan, South Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bahrain and East Timor are running for four Asian seats.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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