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Friday May 4 6:04 AM ET
Robinson Urges U.S. Return to U.N. Rights Forum

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Reuters Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations (news - web sites) High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said on Friday she hoped that the United States would ``return speedily'' to the main U.N. human rights forum, a day after it was ousted in an upset vote.

Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said the United States had made an ``historic contribution'' to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (news - web sites) and still had a major role to play.

Washington was ousted from the forum during secret balloting at its parent U.N. body ECOSOC in New York for three seats set aside for Western states. France, Austria and Sweden won three-year seats at the 53-member forum.

``The United States has an important contribution to make to the Commission. The High Commissioner hopes that the United States will return speedily as a member of the Commission,'' Robinson, who is in America, said through spokesman Jose Diaz.

The United States has been among the member states since it helped found the forum in 1947 to probe violations -- killings, torture and arbitrary detentions -- around the world.

As Robinson praised Washington for having shaped the Commission's vision, China appeared to relish the prospect of the United States not having voting rights at next year's talks. Vietnam said the defeat reflected views of the human rights situation in America. [ Editor's note: In a campaign that was started in 1998 and intensified in 2000, information regarding the violations of Teddy's human rights and those of her father was sent to human rights delegates and to the UN ambassadors of all countries]

At the annual six-week session which wound up a week ago, Beijing again defeated a U.S. move to censure it for alleged political and religious repression. China won a controversial vote for ``no action'' on the U.S. resolution, quashing debate.

In New York, diplomats and activists said the upset reflected frustration at U.S. positions from its allies and foes alike, including the huge debt Washington owes the world body.

Robinson recalled that Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the Commission's first chairman and the main author of its 1948 landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

``Understandably, we are very disappointed,'' James Cunningham, the chief U.S. representative in New York, told reporters, declining to speculate on the reason for the defeat.

The United States was virtually isolated on a number of issues at the recent annual session, including resolutions on the Middle East which condemned its close ally Israel for excessive use of force in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Washington also rejected a Brazilian (news - web sites) resolution calling for cheap AIDS (news - web sites) drugs to be made available to all victims of the fatal disease and voted against a European Union (news - web sites) text calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

The United States would be expected to be an observer at the Commission, allowing it to present resolutions, but it would enjoy no voting rights.

``You can play as effective a role as an observer as a member, but you just can't vote. You can still lobby in capitals and take the floor,'' said a diplomatic source.

China said on Friday the United States had lost its place because it had ``undermined the atmosphere for dialogue'' and used human rights as a tool of power.

A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency also suggested there was satisfaction in China after annual U.S. attempts to censure Beijing for its record.

In a statement, the China Democracy Party, composed of exiled Chinese dissidents who actively lobbied last month in Geneva in favor of the U.S. resolution, expressed dismay with the loss of the U.S. seat.

``This is a sad day for the cause of human rights in China,'' said Wang Xizhe, co-chairman of the China Democracy Party.

``Without the U.S. on the Commission, it is likely that China will now be able to further escalate its notorious abuses with total impunity,'' added Wang, who took part in peaceful demonstrations in Geneva during the annual rights session.

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