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US rejoins UN’s human rights forum

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The General Assembly vote on the council's membership was largely a foregone conclusion, with only two competitive races out of 18 open seats. Azerbaijan lost its bid for membership from the Eastern Europe group, and Kenya lost from the Africa group.

Human rights groups split on US return

The US candidacy was the focus of the day, with human rights advocates divided over America's return to what is widely seen as a flawed institution.

The purist view – that sitting on a body whose members include rights violators does not serve the cause of human rights – was voiced by prominent rights advocates such as Vaclav Havel, leader of the Czech Velvet Revolution and a former president of the Czech Republic.

The Obama administration took the other side in the debate: that rights improvements and institutional reforms will be best achieved from inside the council. Many international human rights groups and experts in global institutions endorsed that position.

"The administration is taking the right decision here – with the proviso that we will use this new position to speak out forcefully against the abuses we see taking place," says Michael Doyle, an expert in UN institutions at Columbia University in New York and a former UN official. "Our participation on the council does not per se legitimate bad behavior if we are acting on the inside to fight it."

Others counter that a US presence on the council could actually set back the cause of human rights.

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