US survives tough fight to regain spot on UN Human Rights Council

The U.S. survived a contentious vote to remain on the UN Human Rights Council, where it will be joined by a host of oppressive regimes that human rights groups say "systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens."

The U.S. was competing with four Western countries for three seats on the council in the only contested election at the U.N.'s top human rights body. Germany and Ireland also were elected to the council Monday by the 193-member General Assembly.

African, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American countries put forward uncontested slates, meaning candidates were virtually certain of winning seats on the 47-member council.

Several human rights groups have criticized a number of the candidates as unqualified, including ones from Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela.

"Pakistan, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon and UAE systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens," Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director, said in a statement Monday. "And they have consistently voted the wrong way on U.N. initiatives to protect the human rights of others."

"It is an insult to their victims -- and a defeat for the global cause of human rights -- when the U.N. helps gross abusers act as champions and global judges of human rights," he said. 

"Chavez backs the murderous regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and threw a judge in jail after she released a political prisoner in compliance with a U.N. ruling," Neuer continued. "Pakistan has a Christian mother of five on death row and coddles the extremists who shot a girl in the head for advocating education for women and girls."

The five Western nations competing for seats -- the U.S., Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden -- were all deemed qualified by the rights groups.

Argentina, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gabon, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Montenegro, Pakistan, South Korea, Sierra Leone, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela were also elected Monday to three-year terms beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

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 also has 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.'s Cristina Corbin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.