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UN states urged to reject 7 for new rights council

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 (Reuters) Human Rights Watch today urged UN members to reject seven of the 65 nations seeking seats on the world body's new Human Rights Council in elections scheduled for Tuesday.

The New York-based group believes the rights records of Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia make them unworthy of membership on the new council, said Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch executive director.

The UN General Assembly created the council in March to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission. Critics said the commission had become ineffective after its membership became increasingly dominated by human rights abusers who ganged together to defeat measures aimed at any one of them.

Roth told a news conference at UN headquarters that he fully expected China, Cuba and Russia to win seats on the new 47-member council despite the group's objections because they were popular among the UN membership.

Cuba, for example, was known as a strong defender of other nations accused of rights abuses and an outspoken critic of the United States, he said. ''Unfortunately this attracts the support of a number of countries.'' The United States, an outspoken critic of the old human rights commission, voted against setting up the council, arguing barriers were still too low to keep rights abusers from winning a seat. It then decided against seeking a seat this year.

Roth insisted the council would be ''significantly better'' than the commission because membership criteria for the new body were far more stringent.

Election will be by secret ballot and candidates must win the votes of at least 96 nations -- an absolute majority of the assembly membership -- to be elected.

Governments must also undergo regular reviews of their domestic rights records while on the council.

Because of the new requirements, Roth said a number of what he saw as among the world's worst rights violators had apparently decided not even to present their candidacies, including Belarus, Ivory Coast, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea and Sudan as examples.

Some 11 nations, including Zimbabwe, Syria, Libya and Nepal, who had served on the defunct UN Human Rights Commission, also decided not to run, Roth noted.

Reuters KD GC0908

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