updated 5/9/2006 11:39:11 PM ET 2006-05-10T03:39:11

Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia won seats on the new U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday despite their poor human rights records, but two rights abusers — Iran and Venezuela — were defeated.

Human rights groups said they were generally pleased with the 47 members elected to the council, which will replace the highly politicized Human Rights Commission. It was discredited in recent years because some countries with terrible rights records used their membership to protect one another from condemnation.

“The spoiler governments, the governments that have a history of trying to undermine the protection of human rights through their membership on the old commission are now a significantly reduced minority when it comes to the council,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “That doesn’t guarantee that the council will be a success, but it is a step in the right direction.”

Yvonne Terlingen, U.N. representative for Amnesty International, said it was “fairly pleased” that the countries elected would provide a good basis for a new “strong and effective human rights body.”

“Some countries have been elected with weak human rights records, but they also are now committed to uphold the highest human rights standards,” she said.

U.S. opposed panel's creation
The United States opposed the establishment of the council, saying it did not go far enough to prevent rights abusers from winning seats, and the U.S. decided against being a candidate.

But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kristen Silverberg said “on the whole, we think it is an improvement over the commission.”

“We are committed to engaging actively in the coming weeks with all of the elected members ... to make sure that this body is effective,” she said. “We think think that the real test of this council will be whether it can take effective action in serious cases of human rights abuse like Darfur, ... Burma, North Korea and other places.”

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., a critic of the U.N., said Cuba’s election showed the new council suffers from the same weakness as the commission and “is the perfect example of the U.N.’s failure to reform.”

Regional representatives
Russia was a candidate in the most hotly contested regional group — Eastern Europe — which fielded 13 candidates for six seats. It was the only group where a second round of voting was needed. The other winners were Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

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

The 13 Asians elected to the council were Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. The defeat of Iran in that category “just shows their lack of standing in the international community,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

In Latin American and the Caribbean, the eight seats went to Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

The seven countries elected from the Western bloc were Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.

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