U.S. Plans to Join U.N. Human Rights Council

The United States will run for an elected seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council this year, the State Department announced Tuesday, reversing the Bush administration's approach to the often discredited Council.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has recently been criticized for downplaying China's human rights problem, said human rights is "an essential element of American global foreign policy," according to The Associated Press.

"With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system to advance the vision of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights."

Clinton, along with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, said the United States wants to join the Council to help advance President Barack Obama's vision for a "new era of engagement" with the global community.

Rice said the administration desires to make the Council more effective by "working from within."

Under former President George W. Bush, the United States had boycotted the Council for repeated criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians while hardly mentioning or investigating the human rights violations of flagrant abusers such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, and Burma.

U.S. House Human Rights Commission co-chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) applauded the Obama administration for the "bold decision" to seek a seat on the U.N. Human rights Council. He promises to work for congressional support for the decision.

"I am very pleased that President Obama has made the bold decision for the U.S. to run for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council," McGovern said in a statement. "I am committed to working closely with other human rights leaders in the Congress to provide the Administration with any support it may need to successfully implement this important decision."

The State Department's announcement comes less than a week after the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a highly-criticized "defamation of religions" resolution. The resolution, spearheaded by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), could be manipulated to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws and repress religious and speech freedom, critics warn.

"It is high time the United States rejoins the rest of the family of nations in making the Council the strongest international human rights entity yet," McGovern said. "I am certain that under Secretary Clinton's and Ambassador Rice's leadership, the United States will not only mount a successful bid for the seat, but will once again be a leader in the defense of human rights, and will work successfully for the structural changes needed to improve the Council."

The next election for the Council will take place on May 15 at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.