US says UN rights body focuses too much on Israel

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov 16 (Reuters) The United States criticized the UN Human Rights Council today for focusing all the time on Israel while failing to address human rights violations in Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Cuba.

Israel took the unusual step of calling a vote at a UN General Assembly committee on a resolution that would normally have passed by consensus, saying it wanted to put its criticism about the work of the Human Rights Council on the record.

The General Assembly established the 47-nation council based in Geneva last year to improve the United Nation's image on human rights. It replaced a commission widely criticized for ignoring rights violations in some developing countries.

Friday's vote on a resolution endorsing the council's working rules, including a periodic human rights review for all countries, passed overwhelmingly, but Israel won backing from the United States, Canada, Australia and three other countries in voting against.

Explaining the U.S. ''no'' vote, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the new body had failed to address the ''deficiencies that had politicized the council and prevented it from acting as a serious and effective human rights institution.'' yesterday it had been ''a very bad first year'' for the council because of its ''relentless focus'' on Israel and failure to address serious human rights violations in other countries such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Cuba.

Israel's deputy ambassador, Daniel Carmon, said the council had shown double standards and hypocrisy.

''It is high time to see moral conviction in the Human Rights Council -- so that it becomes a shield to protect victims of human rights and not a weapon for those who abuse them,'' he told the committee.

Khalilzad said Washington welcomed the council's unanimous and strong condemnation of Myanmar's violent repression of protests in September, but said it needed to act as strongly on other situations around the world.

''The Council will be the world's most important human rights mechanism if and only if it consistently focuses on the worst human rights violations in the world,'' he said.

''We hope that the Human Rights Council will stand in solidarity with victims of human rights violations around the world, not with the perpetrators.'' French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, who voted in favourr, said he shared concerns about the council's focus on Israel as well as the abolition of the mandates of special rapporteurs on Cuba and Belarus. But he said the resolution had pass to allow the council to do its work effectively.

Reuters RC VP0240

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