China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia elected to new UN human rights council

May 11, 2006 - 0:0
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- The UN General Assembly elected Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia to a new UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday as part of a planned overhaul of the world body.

Seats were distributed in the first round of voting for four of five regional groups.

Only the region of eastern Europe had yet to be completed, where for the moment three members -- the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia -- were selected for the region's six seats.

Sixty-three countries were competing for the body's 47 seats -- six fewer than the previous UN human rights body had.

The council will be based in Geneva, like its controversial predecessor, and its seats are being divided by regions, with eight set to go to Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 to Africa, 13 to Asia, six to eastern Europe and seven to western Europe and others, a grouping that includes the United States, Canada and Israel.

The 13 African seats went to Algeria, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia.

Asia's 13 seats were awarded to Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Sri Lanka.

The eight Latin American and Caribbean posts were granted to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

And the seven slots designated for western Europe and others were accorded to Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The United States did not run for a post.

Voting for the seats was held by secret ballot among the 191-member General Assembly. Countries needed at least 96 votes to win a slot.

The United States opted not to seek council membership immediately, saying there were other good candidates from its region and as a result, it might not have been elected.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Friday stressed the importance of continued U.S. leadership in advancing human rights worldwide, especially in light of atrocities such as those in Darfur.

"I want to stress the importance of continued American involvement in the UN's human rights work, where historically the U.S. has always been in the lead," Annan said in a speech at George Washington University in Washington. "I see no hope of a peaceful and stable future for humanity in this century unless the United States provides strong and enlightened global leadership," he added. "But I do not believe that the U.S. can do this on its own."

Annan said he regretted the fact that Washington had decided not to stand for election to the new Human Rights Council but felt the United States could nonetheless still play an important role.

"The U.S. can still have a great influence, both on the composition of the council and on the decisions of its members once they are elected," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration long criticized the previous commission, saying it was ineffective and loaded with notorious abusers such as China, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe.