ED NATIONS - The United States announced Tuesday it would seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.
The policy reverses the stance of the Bush administration, which called the Geneva-based council as irredeemable for its almost exclusive focus on human rights violations by Israel.
The restructured panel replaced the controversial Human Rights Commission three years ago, but the United States, under President George W Bush, refused to join the body, saying the reform did not go far enough and that it could do more outside than in the group.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice jointly announced the bid for election to the 47-member council. The next elections for three-year terms are scheduled for May 12 in the UN General Assembly.
Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy, said Mrs Clinton in a statement issued in Washington. With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system to advance the vision of the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
The United States helped to found the United Nations and retains a vital stake in advancing that organisations genuine commitment to the human rights values that we share with other member nations, she said.
We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.
Rice said the US administration under President Barack Obama thinks the United Nations can play a vital role in addressing a range of 21st Century security challenges and it should become a key forum in advancing human rights.
The president has stated quite clearly that the US has embarked on a new era of engagement and this means that we are committed to principled diplomacy and to vigorous and effective multilateral engagement through international institutions and obviously and very importantly through the United Nations, she said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the announcement. The Human Rights Council has a critical role to play in the protection and promotion of all human rights for all people, and the United States has an important contribution to make to this end, he said in a statement issued by his spokesperson Michelle Montas.
Full US engagement on human rights issues is an important step toward realising the goal of an inclusive and vibrant intergovernmental process to protect human rights around the globe, Ban said.
I also welcome the announcement as a concrete embodiment of the US commitment to a 'new era of engagement, said the UN Secretary-General.
The council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 to address human rights violations. A year later, the panel established a Universal Periodic Review to assess human rights situations in all 192 member states of the United Nations.
But the United States now is seeking even more change. We realise that it will take time and political capital but we recognise that our work will be difficult, wont happen overnight but we are committed to do all we can to move the council in a positive direction, including by getting in and engaging now to be best positioned to influence the 2011 council review, Rice said.
We need to look at the rules and the structure in the context of the 2011 review but obviously the principle problem is that theres been too little focus on the most egregious abusers and too much focus, unbalanced focus we believe, on other issues that dont merit the same amount of time and attention, she said.
When a reporter interrupted by asking if she was referring to Israel, the ambassador said, I was going there. Yes, of course.
Asked if the panels makeup, with Africa and Asia having 26 seats, Latin America eight, Eastern Europe six and Western Europe and others seven, was an inherent problem, she replied, I think we shouldnt assume that simply because a country is from Africa, Latin America or the Middle East that their interest in respecting human rights and seeing those rights upheld is necessarily different from ours.
There is a great deal of diversity within those regional blocks and we want to enhance that diversity and support those from all regions within the council who share our universal commitment in respecting human rights, Rice said.