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United States Loses Its Place On Human Rights Commission

By Maggie Farley

The United States was voted off of the U.N. Human Rights Commission on Thursday, marking the first time since the world body’s inception more than five decades ago that the Americans will not hold a seat.

“It was an election, understandably, where we’re very disappointed,” acting U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said. “This won’t at all, of course, affect our commitment to human-rights issues in and outside of the United Nations. We’ll continue to pursue them.”

In a surprise result, the United States came in last among the four candidates up for the three seats allocated to Western countries on the panel. Austria, France and Sweden won the places instead.

Human-rights groups say there has been growing resentment toward the United States among Western nations that are usually its allies, as well as among developing countries, because of recent American votes opposing key human-rights initiatives.

“This has been coming. It should not have been a surprise to Washington,” said Joanna Weschler, the U.N. representative of Human Rights Watch.

The United States has opposed treaties to abolish land mines; it does not support the International Criminal Court; and it abstained from a vote to make AIDS drugs more widely available.

Other recent unilateral actions by the Bush administration, such as pulling out of the Kyoto climate-change treaty and insisting on the development of a missile-defense system, have added to the frustration with the United States.

“This is their wake-up call,” Weschler said. “We hope this will prompt a review of their policies.”

The 53 seats on the commission, which are divided among member states on a geographic basis, are often the object of intense lobbying at the Geneva-based organization and at U.N. headquarters in New York. The United States traditionally does not engage in the flurry of vote-trading and politicking, one diplomat said, perhaps because it has never thought it would lose a seat.

The United States may have been further handicapped by its bare-bones mission, which has been only partially staffed since Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and his team left in January. President Bush has named John Negroponte to the post, but the nomination has not yet been sent to the Senate.