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As US Wins Re-Election to HRC, Rice Says Drones to be Looked at on Substance

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 12 -- The United States, along with Germany and Ireland, won in the only contested race for the UN Human Rights Council Monday, beating out Sweden and debt-plagued Greece.

  Perhaps because of the relative lack of competitive races, when Inner City Press arrived to cover the voting session, there was no UN Television camera set up, and for a time only one other journalist. Soon a push began to put up a camera; then US Ambassador Rice arrived as the ballots were being counted.

  Before the vote, a slew of Permanent Representative speculated to Inner City Press that the US might well lose. "Under the secret ballot," one African Perm Rep told Inner City Press, "people vote how they really feel." But it seems that the US felt it would win re-election, correctly as it turned out.

  Last month, Inner City Press asked US State Department official Harold Koh about the human rights issues raised by drone strike executions. Koh insisted they are entirely legal. But the issue does not appear resolved, to say the least.

  After the Permanent Representative of Palau read out the results, Germany's Permanent Representative Peter Wittig came out to the UNTV camera. Given Germany's statements about Syria, Inner City Press asked him how his country would use the seat on the Syria issue.

  Wittig praised the Commission of Inquiry -- whose chairman told Inner City Press that no dossier or evidence is being kept on, for example, the Al Nusra Front -- while also saying Germany aims to be cooperative with other Human Rights Council members.

  Venezuela's Permanent Representative Jorge Valero came out next. Inner City Press asked him of the criticism levied against his country's candidacy and he answered, in Spanish then repeated it when asked in English, his view that some of the criticizing groups are paid by countries to bring about regime change.

 Leaving that aside, there are some which when they meet and lobby should give read-outs.

  After some delay, and missing the UN's noon briefing, US Ambassador Susan Rice came out. Her spokesperson permitted three media to question, the crowd having grown. Inner City Press asked Ambassador Rice about the two HRC Special Rapporteurs, Heyns and Emmerson, who've said they want to investigate and report on US drones.

  Rice replied "we have questions about the appropriateness of
that approach. But we will look at it on its merits, and as we do with all the work of the rapporteurs, we'll judge their work on the substance of their products." She went on to say the US engagement has improved the HRC, including on Sudan.

   Some have pointed at Sudan last week winning election to the UN's Economic and Social Council with 176 votes as a breakdown in standard setting; others says "you have to pick your battles."

  Monday one wanted to ask Ambassador Rice about this and US follow up on the March 2012 resolution on Sri Lanka and accountability, but time did not permit.

   After Ambassador Rice left, UN Television shut down its camera. There were still winning countries inside the General Assembly.

Other winners Monday included incoming Security Council members Argentina and South Korea, UN peacekeeping mission hosts Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone, the UN's second largest individual financial contributor Japan, the world's seventh largest country by land mass Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Brazil, Gabon, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

   When Pakistan's Permanent Representative Masood Khan came to the microphone where Inner City Press was waiting, the cameras were not on.

   After some delay they restarted. Inner City Press asked Masood Khan about the criticism of his country (as well as Kazakhstan and Venezuela), and about the balance between civil and political on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other hand.

  Masood Khan said people are free to have their opinions, and that these two sets are rights are indivisible. Then he too was gone, and the GA Hall and entrance went quiet.

  Of the losers, what to say? Greece is embroiled in economic trouble; one wonders how this might bode for Spain's candidacy for the Security Council.

 Sweden is a more complicated story, including its insistence on Internet freedom, even when Russia says it is violating UN Security Council sanctions by hosting the website of the Kazkhaz Center. We'll have more on this. Watch this site.

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