U.S. to Seek Another Term on U.N. Rights Panel

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration will seek a new term on the United Nations Human Rights Council despite concerns that the panel remains a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment and a forum for repressive nations to deflect attention from abuses they may have committed, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials told the AP that the administration will announce Wednesday that it intends to run in 2012 for another three-year term on the oft-criticized council. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public, said the U.S. believes its presence on the panel for the past two years has helped steer it in the right direction and can continue to do so..

The officials said that as a part of the council, the U.S. had helped mobilize it to take on crises in countries like Iran, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Libya -- which was a member until earlier this month, when it was suspended over its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters. The officials said U.S. membership had also been key to the council taking on issues like women's rights, discrimination based on sexual orientation and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

"We have a substantial positive track record at the council since joining," said one official. "The United States remains determined to continue to push the council in this positive direction, and to this end, the United States intends to pursue a second term."

The U.S. had shunned the council and its predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, during President George W. Bush's administration because its membership included rights abusers that Washington said focused unfairly on Israel and ignored atrocities throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But when President Barack Obama came into office in 2009, his administration sought to re-engage the council, arguing the U.S. could do more good as a member than as an outside critic.

Obama and his foreign policy team were roundly criticized for running for, and winning, a seat on the 47-nation, Geneva-based council, particularly after it considered the so-called "Goldstone Report," which called equally on Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas to probe and prosecute any war crimes stemming from the 2009 Gaza conflict or face scrutiny by the International Criminal Court. The U.S. and Israel fought to keep the report from being referred to other U.N. bodies.

The officials said they would continue to push back against what they said was unfair criticism of Israel in the council, saying Washington remains determined to end its "biased and disproportionate focus on" the Jewish state.

They acknowledged that more improvements were needed but said the U.S. had played an instrumental role in pressing for Libya's suspension, the appointment of a special rapporteur on rights abuses in Iran, protecting the rights of women and other minorities and condemning atrocities in Ivory Coast and Sudan.

In addition, the officials said the U.S. had been key in turning back calls in the council for the criminalization of blasphemy, which could comprise free speech.