UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States was re-elected Monday to another three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Council in the only contested election for the organization's top human rights body.
The U.S. was competing with four countries for three open seats belonging to the Western Group on the council. Germany and Ireland were also elected by the 193-member General Assembly. Greece and Sweden lost out.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said her country was "pleased and proud to have been re-elected to a second three-year term."
"I'm proud to say that, today, the Obama administration's leadership of the Human Rights Council has delivered real results. Today's vote affirms that active U.S. leadership in the Human Rights Council and throughout the United Nations system will continue to pay real dividends for Americans and for the rest of the world," Rice said following the vote.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig also praised the vote, thanking member states for their support.
"It was a good sign that we had a healthy competition at least in the Western Group, we could explain and promote our human rights agenda and we believe this also should also be an example for other regional groups," Wittig said.
African, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American countries put forward uncontested slates, meaning candidates were virtually certain of winning one of the 18 open seats up for grabs in this year's election on the 47-member council.
Several human rights groups have criticized a number of the candidates as unqualified, including Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela.
On Monday, Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Jorge Valero said his country's efforts to become a member of the council had "unleashed a truly unusual campaign."
"It's important to emphasize that Venezuela has committed itself to defend the sovereignty and liberty of people," Valerio said in an apparent allusion to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's comments that Venezuela would oppose any actions or aggressions against allied countries such as Syria or Cuba.
The five Western nations competing for seats were all deemed qualified by the rights groups as was Estonia, which was elected from the Eastern Europe group.
Also elected Monday were Argentina, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Montenegro, Pakistan, South Korea, Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates. They begin three-year terms on Jan. 1, 2013.
Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, welcomed the U.S. re-election to the council.
"Despite an imperfect human rights record, U.S. membership on the council helped turn the tide on key issues, especially in the area of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, freedom of speech and association, and women's rights," Dakwar said in a statement. "Now that the Obama administration has won a second term, human rights at home and abroad should be a high priority." The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the U.N.'s widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. But the council has also been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country and electing candidates accused of serious human rights violations.
Former President George W. Bush's administration boycotted the council when it was established because of its repeated criticism of Israel and its refusal to cite flagrant rights abuses in Sudan and elsewhere. But in 2009, then newly elected President Barack Obama sought to join the council, saying the U.S. wanted to help make it more effective.
Rice said Obama's decision was vindicated Monday when the U.S. was re-elected to serve on the council with 131 votes.
"The United States is clearly of the view that the Human Rights Council clearly has its flaws ... including its excessive focus on Israel, but it is also a body that is increasingly proving its value and we've been proud to contribute to some of what we think are some of the finer moments of the Human Rights Council it's approach to Syria, it's approach to Sudan, it's approach he situation in Libya with the commission of inquiry."