Canadian Press
May 4 2004

Canada elected to UN watchdog

UNITED NATIONS (CP) - Canada was one of 14 new members elected to the
United Nations human-rights watchdog for a two-year term beginning in
2005, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham announced Tuesday.

Canada was one of four countries vying for the three seats available
in the western nations division. Finland and France were also
successful, defeating Spain in the vote for representation on the
world body's 53-member Commission on Human Rights.

"The promotion and protection of human rights is a fundamental part
of Canadian foreign and domestic policies," Graham said Tuesday in a
release after the election at the Economic and Social Council of the
UN in New York.

"The commission remains the pre-eminent intergovernmental body
charged with promoting these rights, and we know that its
effectiveness must be improved in order for it to fulfil its intended
function. Our election to the commission will allow us to maintain
our prominent role in advancing international human-rights issues."

Canada has been a member of the commission for 24 of the last 28
years. Although not a member for the current term, Canada was
involved in negotiations on all substantive matters and co-sponsored
more than 30 resolutions, Graham said.

Canada also led on several resolutions, including texts on freedom of
expression, aboriginal issues, violence against women and impunity.

During Tuesday's vote for the African candidates, the United States
walked out of the Economic and Social Council chamber to protest the
council's decision minutes later to give Sudan a third term on the
commission.

U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv called the vote an "absurdity" and accused
Sudan of massive human-rights violations and "ethnic cleansing" in
the western Darfur region before walking out.

As he was leaving, Sudan's deputy UN ambassador, Omar Bashir Manis,
launched into a heated response, accusing American forces of engaging
in degrading treatment of Iraqi prisoners and committing "atrocities"
against innocent Iraqi civilians.

But the United States' seat in the chamber was empty, and no American
diplomat was there to hear it.

Finland's UN Ambassador Marjatta Rasi, the president of the 53-nation
Economic and Social Council, then noted that the slate of candidates
from Africa was uncontested, and it was approved by consensus as she
banged her gavel.

Under UN rules, regional groups decide which countries are nominated
to fill seats on UN bodies.

The African group waited until late last week to present its list of
candidates for four seats. It presented four names, guaranteeing
election for Kenya, Sudan, Guinea and Togo.

The United States scrambled to get another African nation to apply in
an effort to make it a contested race and unseat Sudan. But with so
little time it was unsuccessful, UN diplomats said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.

Siv, the U.S. ambassador to the economic council, said the United
States was "perplexed and dismayed" by the African group's decision
to nominate Sudan, a country that he said "massacres its own African
citizens."

He noted that at last month's Human Rights Commission meeting in
Geneva, members expressed concern about Darfur even though they
blocked a stronger U.S. resolution that would have condemned the
Khartoum government.

Manis countered that Sudan has acknowledged the humanitarian problem
in Darfur, noting the government's call for international help and
the recent visit by two UN teams.

"It is yet very ironic that the United States delegation, while
shedding crocodile tears over the situation in Darfur . . . is
turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the American
forces against the innocent civilian population in Iraq, including
women and children," he said.

In the vote for other seats, Armenia and Romania representing Eastern
Europe and Ecuador and Mexico representing Latin America also faced
no opposition.

In the other contested race, Malaysia, Pakistan and South Korea
defeated Vietnam for the Asian division.

Last year, the United States also walked out to protest Cuba's
re-election to the Human Rights Commission, which it called "an
outrage." Russia, Saudi Arabia and several African countries with
poor human-rights records also won seats, and Libya chaired the
commission in 2003.