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U.S. Kicked Off UN Human Rights Commission

by Thalif Deen

Partly a backlash against the new Bush Administration
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS, -- The UN vote to unseat the United States from the 53-member Human Rights Commission (HRC) was a reflection of the resentment among most developing nations and some developed countries over the negative attitude of the U.S. Congress towards the United Nations.

"The secret ballot is one of the most effective weapons in the UN arsenal," admits a Southeast Asian diplomat, "because it provides a true sense of the inner political feelings of most sovereign nations. We obviously sent a clear message about how we feel about the United States," he added.

The 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dominated by Third World nations, voted yesterday to oust the United States from the HRC, the first time it has ever happened since the Commission was created in 1946.

The U.S. defeat was described by some as "humiliating" and by others as "stunning." Of a possible 54 votes, the United States received only 29 and was eliminated from the race. Of the Western nations voted to the HRC, France received 52 votes, Austria 41 and Sweden 32.

The United States suffered a similar defeat about three years ago when it was ousted from, and later reinstated to, the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), a key committee that deals with funding in the world body.

The HRC, which is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC, routinely pillories countries such as Cuba, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq and Sudan for human rights abuses.

Reflecting geographical representation, the members of ECOSOC include 14 from Africa, 11 from Asia, six from Eastern Europe, 10 from Latin American and Caribbean states, and 13 from Western Europe.

Since ECOSOC traditionally elects members of the HRC only by secret ballot, several of the more than 40 nations, both developing and industrial, had gone back on written assurances pledging their votes to the United States.

"It wasn't just enemies. It was friends as well who voted the U.S. out of the Commission," Joanna Weschler, the UN representative for Human Rights Watch said.

The ouster was a major setback to the U.S. which takes a very anti-Third World stance on human rights issues.

The negative voting was also a backlash against the new Bush Administration whose right wing conservatives have downgraded the importance of the United Nations and held back monies rightfully due to the Organization.

In an ironic twist, several countries who are perceived by the U.S. and Western nations as having "poor human rights records" were all elected to the Commission: Sudan, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Togo.

They will be serving a three-year rotating membership, along with countries such as Syria, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, who are already members of the HRC.

Welscher, who describes the group as "a rogues' gallery of human rights abusers," said that "a country's human rights record should be the single most important factor in whether or not it joins the Commission. An abusive country cannot honestly pass judgement on other abusive countries."

Although she may have justifiable reasons for adducing that argument, she is also critical of the United States.

"In recent years," she said, "the U.S. often failed to support important human rights initiatives at the Commission, or found itself voting alone, on the wrong side of important issues."

Invariably, on every single issue in which Israel is condemned for human rights violations, the United States is the only country that has voted against such resolutions -- besides, of course, Israel.

U.S. Still Hasn't Paid Overdue UN Dues
The U.S. record on human rights treaties has also been dismal. It is only one of two countries -- the other being Iraq -- that has still not ratified the 1989 landmark UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The United States has also held back ratifications on the treaty to ban landmines and the treaty to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC).

"It's not surprising that the U.S. was voted off," Weschler said. "But to punish the U.S. and reward Sudan is clearly absurd."

Accused of reneging on a promise to pay past UN dues in return for a reduction in its assessments, the United States is also being blamed for a new financial crisis threatening the cash-strapped United Nations.

Speaking on behalf of 133 developing nations and China, the chairman of the Group of 77, Ambassador Bagher Asadi of Iran, told the UN's Administrative and Budgetary Committee last March that after a "difficult process of negotiations" last year, the General Assembly decided to change the scale of assessment permitting a reduction in the U.S. contribution to the United Nations.

"It was particularly difficult for our Group. Despite these difficulties, the Group made a lot of sacrifices in the spirit of collective responsibility of all member states to ensure the financial health of the Organization," he noted.

But the Group of 77, he said, regrets that to date the Organization has not received payment expected from the United States.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on the other hand, said he understands the U.S. disappointment at not being re-elected to the HRC. "The U.S. has played a leading role over the years in drafting landmark documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a key member of the Commission."

Annan also said that the U.S. has made a major contribution to the work of the United Nations in the field of human rights, and he "strongly hopes they will remain engaged in this area of our work."

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Albion Monitor May 9, 2001 (

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