Sudan has withdrawn its candidacy for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council following strong criticism from human rights and pro-democracy groups.

Sudan's U.N. Mission said in a letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press that "it is no longer interested in taking up one of the vacancies available in the Human Rights Council."

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, is accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, and his government is accused of human rights violations elsewhere. But Sudan was virtually guaranteed a seat on the 47-member council as one of five African candidates for five African seats.

Sudan's brief letter to Djibouti, which is the current coordinator for East African countries at the U.N., gave no reason for pulling out of the November election in the U.N. General Assembly.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, welcomed the decision, saying "The worst human rights offenders are slowly recognizing they are not welcome on the Human Rights Council."

"Sudan joins notorious rights violators Syria, Iran, Belarus, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan whose hypocritical aspirations to sit on the Council have properly led to embarrassing retreat," he said.

The Geneva-based council was created in March 2006 to replace the U.N.'s widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. But the Human Rights Council has also 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.

Much of the blame lies in the U.N. system where regional groups select candidates for seats on U.N. bodies, often based on which country is next in line, not on merit. In many instances, the blocs will try to ensure that the election is not contested, so for example, it will approve only three candidates if there are three vacant seats.

In the upcoming election for the Human Rights Council, there is only one contested slate — from the group of Western nations where Germany, Greece, Ireland, Sweden and the United States are vying for three seats.

The Latin America and Caribbean group nominated Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela for three seats. Estonia and Montenegro were nominated by the East European group for two seats. Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates were nominated for five Asian seats. So their election is virtually assured.

The African group had nominated Sudan, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Kenya and it will now likely chose a replacement for Sudan.

In July, 18 organizations promoting human rights and democracy wrote to the African Union urging that its members not endorse Sudan and Ethiopia because of "the poor performance of their governments on protecting human rights."

Actress Mia Farrow, a leading campaigner for victims in Darfur, was also campaigning against Sudan and seeking to have its candidacy disqualified on grounds that al-Bashir is accused of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The government has refused to arrest the president.