UN disappointed US staying away from rights body
GENEVA/DUBLIN, Apr 7 (Reuters) The United Nations human rights office and activists voiced disappointment today at the US decision not to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
The Bush administration vowed yesterday to support the new council financially and work to make it ''strong and effective''.
It said it was likely to run for a seat next year on the council, whose creation it had opposed.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in Dublin ''one cannot help but being a bit disappointed'' but added ''at the same time it is not inconsistent with the position that the US took on the creation of the council. I don't think it is a signal of disengagement.'' Elections for the Geneva-based Council, whose first session is set for mid-June, are to be held by secret ballot in the 191-member UN General Assembly on May 9.
Last month, Washington voted against a resolution creating the Council, designed to succeed the widely discredited UN Commission on Human Rights. It argued there were not enough barriers to rights' abusers winning seats.
Some experts say US abuses at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison and its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba -- some held for years without charges being laid -- have marred its reputation in rights circles.
US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said his country was concerned it might not have won a seat on the new 47-seat body.
Activists and Western diplomats welcomed a statement from US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack that the United States would probably seek a seat on the council next year.
He said it would encourage the council to address violations in Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea.
POSSIBLE FAILURE Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, said yesterday it was ''childish'' for Washington not to pursue a seat even though doing so risked the embarrassment of possible failure.
Amnesty International does not take position on candidacies, but welcomes the US intent to cooperate with the new body, Geneva representative Peter Splinter said.
''That is an important commitment that we will be looking to the United States to live up to,'' Splinter told Reuters.
''It is important that the United States stay engaged in building a strong and effective Human Rights Council,'' he added.
The Geneva-based UN Watch activist group had warned that the United States' absence could ''spell doom'' for the Council.
''Its absence is a cause for serious concern,'' Hillel Neuer, its director, told Reuters. ''To have a credible, effective Human Rights Council it is obvious we need engagement from the world's leading superpower ... I do think America will be engaged.'' REUTERS SBJ BS2132