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Recast UN human rights group: any better?

The US has shunned membership in it, but some experts cite reforms such as review of the council's members.

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When the United Nations' Human Rights Council called a special session Tuesday to take up recent repressive actions by the government of Burma (Myanmar), it was evidence for some that the much-maligned forum still has a chance to become a relevant voice in the international community.

For others, however, it did nothing to sway judgment that the council, created just last year amid widespread calls for UN reform, is little more than a club for some of the world's dictators to don a cloak of respectability.

For this camp – which includes the US Congress, which recently voted to cut funding to the body – the council has turned out to be as bad or even worse than the discredited Human Rights Commission it replaced.

The US has eschewed membership in the council and has accepted only observer status since its inception in 2006.

All the debate around the Geneva-based council has led to intense discussion of what role the UN can even play in the universally recognized yet politically touchy area of human rights. Some experts call for giving the council more time and believe US interests would be best served from a seat at the table – even if it is an unsavory one. But critics say it's time for the US and other like-minded countries to sidestep the UN altogether in addressing human rights.

"The United States should not lend any respectability to a supposed human rights organization that coddles some of the most despotic regimes on the planet," says Nile Gardiner, an expert in international institutions at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, which is close to Bush administration thinking.

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