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US will not seek seat on new UN Rights Council

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 6 (Reuters) The United States, its own human rights record under attack, today said it would not run for a seat on the new UN Human Rights Council.

The decision drew mixed reaction from the US Congress with a senior Democrat expressing outrage while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist praised the decision.

Some human rights experts said US abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and its treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, may have made it hard for Washington to win election to the council.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack explained the decision, saying many democracies with strong human rights records had already put themselves forward for the May 9 election and ''it's only fair that they have the opportunity to run for a seat on a council for which they have voted.'' The United States would probably seek a seat on the 47-member council next year, he said.

Meanwhile, Washington would support the council financially and encourage it to address human rights abuses in Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan and North Korea.

Rep Tom Lantos of California, senior Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, called the decision ''a major retrenchment in America's long struggle to advance the cause of human rights around the world.

''It is a profound signal of US isolation at a time when we need to work cooperatively with our Security Council partners,'' he said in a statement.

'VIRTUE OUT OF NECESSITY' Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said it was ''childish'' for Washington not to run for a seat, even though it risked the embarrassment of possible failure.

''It's unfortunate that the Bush administration's disturbing human rights record means that the United States would hardly have been a shoo-in for election to the council. Today's decision not to run seems like an effort to make a virtue of necessity,'' Roth added.

At UN headquarters, UN chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was disappointed but hoped Washington would run for a seat next year.

''We very much hope that the US will continue to be an active player in the defense of universal human rights and support the work of the new Human Rights Council,'' Dujarric told reporters.

Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is considering running for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, said President George W Bush made a courageous decision that would deny the council unwarranted legitimacy.

He urged Bush to establish a council of democracies outside the UN system that could meet regularly to monitor and expose human rights abuses around the globe.

The 191-member UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on March 15 to create the new human rights body to replace the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, whose current members include Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have poor rights records.

So far 35 nations have submitted their candidacies for three-year terms including Cuba and Iran as well as U.S. allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France.

US UN Ambassador John Bolton voted against the creation of the new council, saying its rules were not tough enough to block rights violators from getting a seat. But most US allies supported the council as a viable compromise.

Council members must be elected by an absolute majority of the 191 UN states, as compared to the former practice of voting for regional slates.

Reuters PG VP0150

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