The State Department says the United Nations’ Human Rights Council displays a “biased disproportionate focus on Israel,” but still announced Wednesday that the United States will seek election to a second three-year term of membership on the panel.

Formed in 2006 to replace the old U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Geneva-based council is intended to serve as the chief vehicle for the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe.  But critics have long bemoaned the council’s anti-Israel, sometimes anti-American bent, and wondered how a body that purports to advance human rights can be governed by member states with abysmal human rights records.

Current members include China, Cuba, and Russia, all countries where respect for human rights and rule of law is widely regarded as lacking.  Also on the council is Bahrain, a monarchy where security forces have recently engaged in a brutal crackdown on protesters seeking political reforms.  Libya was also a member, until its suspension just thirty days ago.

Under President George W. Bush, the United States boycotted the council, and voted against the resolution creating it in 2006.  Shortly after President Obama took office in 2009, however, U.S. officials determined that rejoining the council would serve the administration’s policy of “engagement” with regimes and institutions that do not necessarily reflect American values.

“U.S. engagement in the Human Rights Council resulted in real progress for the Council, we believe,” said Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, during a press briefing on Wednesday.  “It’s led to a substantial track record, [a] positive track record at the Council.”Asked how American participation in the council had made the world a better place, Toner, replied that under U.S. guidance, the council had, for the first time, addressed serious violations of human rights in nations like Libya, Iran, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Kyrgyzstan.

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“Countries can no longer claim international sanctions for blasphemy laws,”  Toner added.  “And certainly women’s rights and issues related to sexual orientation, freedom of expression and assembly...all these issues have been raised and supported at the Council, and this is due to U.S. leadership.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, now a Fox News contributor, argued that Washington’s membership on the council imbues it with a legitimacy the panel does not deserve.  “The entire U.N. human rights mechanism for many years has been governed, essentially, by human rights violators.  And their mission is to get on the Human Rights Council, and its predecessor body, basically to protect themselves from real scrutiny,” Bolton said.

Since the new council replaced the old commission in 2006, Bolton said, “there have been probably a dozen resolutions critical of Israel…for every resolution about a real human rights violator like Burma or North Korea.”

As evidence of his claim that the council lacks legitimacy, Bolton cited the fact that the U.N. General Assembly voted down a proposal to bar from the council’s membership ranks any country that had been slapped with sanctions – for supporting terrorism – by the U.N. Security Council itself.