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US, rights groups say UN rights council vote lets abusers in

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Human rights groups and the United States said U.N. Human Rights Council elections Friday gave abusive countries a seat at a table where they should be called out, as nations including the Philippines and Eritrea won an uncontested election.

Eighteen countries, ranging from India to the Bahamas to Denmark, were chosen in a U.N. General Assembly vote.

With no competition, each candidate got well over the 97 needed votes, including the Philippines, widely condemned internationally for a deadly drug crackdown, and Eritrea, which has faced criticism from a commission set up by the council itself.

“Elevating states with records of gross human rights violations and abuses is a tremendous setback,” said Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director, Daniel Balson. “It puts them on the world stage, and moreover, it empowers them to fundamentally undermine notions of human rights that are accepted internationally.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the “lack of standards continues to undermine the organization and demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw from it” in June.

The U.N. missions for Eritrea and the Philippines didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the vote and the criticism. Eritrea’s mission tweeted that the Horn of Africa nation “will work for enhanced dialogue and (an) effective” Human Rights Council.

U.N. officials, meanwhile, declined to opine on the vote results but suggested all council members should be open to scrutiny of their own handling of human rights.

“It’s clear that the world expects the members of international bodies to abide by a certain set of standards of behavior consistent with the bodies they have been elected to,” said Monica Grayley, a spokeswoman for General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces.

The 47-member Human Rights Council can spotlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in every U.N. member country.

Created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ sorry rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism. The U.S. left partly because it saw the group as a forum for hypocrisy about human rights, though also because Washington says the council is anti-Israel.

The Philippines will join at a time when President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has left more than 4,800 mostly poor suspects dead in clashes with police, by the government’s account; rights groups say the toll is much higher. Over 155,000 other people have been arrested in the two-year-old campaign, which has alarmed Western governments, U.N. groups and rights organizations.

Duterte has denied condoning unlawful police killings in the drug war, though he has repeatedly threatened death to drug dealers.

Eritrea hasn’t held a presidential election since independence in 1993, and rights groups have long accused the country of having a harsh system of military conscription that has spurred many citizens to flee. A U.N. commission of inquiry in recent years found widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor. The government said the allegations were unfounded and one-sided.

Eritrea recently reached a peace agreement with neighboring Ethiopia after decades of war and unease, but it remains to be seen whether the conscription system will change.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups also raised red flags about some other countries elected to the council Friday, including Bahrain and Cameroon.

Bahrain has been cracking down on dissent. In Cameroon, rights activists say civilians have been subjected to abuses amid fighting between English-speaking separatists and government security forces, and it is thought that thousands of people who fled the violence were unable to vote in Sunday’s presidential election.

Bahrain’s and Cameroon’s U.N. missions didn’t immediately respond to inquiries Friday.

The new members of the Geneva-based council also include Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, the Czech Republic, Fiji, Italy, Somalia, Togo and Uruguay.

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