UNITED NATIONS - Belarus was defeated for a seat on the Human Rights Council yesterday after a campaign by the United States, key European countries, and human-rights groups against the former Soviet republic's repressive rights record.
Egypt, Angola and Qatar easily won seats on the council despite opposition from human-rights groups that accused them of rights violations.
The 192-member General Assembly also elected Bolivia, Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Madagascar, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Slovenia and South Africa to three-year terms on the 47-member council.
The council was created in 2006 to replace the widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. One aim was to keep some of the worst human-rights offenders out of its membership. But it has been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission's practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country.
The United States was virtually alone in voting against establishing the council, arguing that the new body was only marginally better and would not prevent rights-abusing countries from gaining membership.
Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called Bosnia's victory over Belarus "heartening," noting that some have called Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe."
Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch, which had urged U.N. members to oppose Belarus, also praised Bosnia's victory as "an important signal to the future that abusive governments" will not be acceptable as council members.
President Alexander G. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than a decade, quashing dissent and opposition groups.
Initially, there were two candidates for two Eastern European seats - Belarus and Slovenia - but envoys said the United States, Britain and France pressed for Bosnia to enter the race as well.
During the first round of voting, Slovenia won a seat, but Bosnia fell two votes short and Belarus trailed. In the second round, Bosnia easily defeated Belarus, 112-72.
Bosnia's U.N. ambassador, Milos Prica, called the victory "a huge achievement" for a country that suffered "horrific, horrible violations of human rights" during the 1992-95 war. Belarus' ambassador to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The Geneva-based council is composed of regional groups that give dominance to Africa and Asia, each with 13 seats. If they vote as a 26-member bloc, they have an automatic majority. Western Europe and North America together are represented by seven countries.