International human rights campaigners are voicing fears about
how the United States will react to its surprise removal from the
top United Nations human rights monitoring panel.
But they say that Washington has only itself to blame for last
Thursday's vote, in which the US lost the seat on the UN Human
Rights Commission that it had held since 1947.
"People are worried about the American response," says Claudine
Haenni, a human rights defender with long experience of the
commission's work. "Will they get their act together, or will they
go into a sulk? You cannot have a world forum without them."
President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Friday that the
move "will not stop this president or this country from speaking
out strongly on matters of human rights." But he called the vote "a
disappointment," and some members of Congress are warning that the
incident could further damage Washington's often strained relations
with the world body.
The United States lost its seat on the UN commission, which
probes human rights abuses around the world, through a combination
of poor legwork and broad resentment at US attitudes on a range of
human rights issues, diplomats and activists say.
"This is something that has built up over several years ... a
resentment of a certain arrogance to bully other countries into
going along with them," says Mark Thompson, head of the Association
for the Prevention of Torture, a Geneva-based group.
Washington also fell victim to European solidarity, with European
Union nations apparently voting for Austria, Sweden, and France for
the three seats reserved for Western governments. The US, which
came in fourth, was eliminated.
"The US could not have lost its seat without at least some of the
Europeans taking revenge for the new administration's unilateralist
character," argues Guillerme Parmentier, head of the Paris-based
French Institute on the United States. At the same time, he points
out: "EU countries are obliged by EU rules to ... vote for each
The US delegation to the human rights commission's annual
session, which closed in Geneva a week ago, earned considerable
hostility from many other nations, according to sources close to
Cuba and China, traditional targets of harsh US criticism, were
predictably gleeful at Washington's discomfiture after last week's
vote in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the
commission's mother body. …