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U.S. Defends Record At UN Rights Council

The U.S. State Department's Esther Brimmer answers a question during a press conference following the U.S. review
The United States has defended what officials described as its "proud" human rights record before a UN panel which included some of the country's harshest global critics.

The prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo, obstacles to Hispanic immigration, alleged discrimination of Muslims and children's rights were some of the issues raised on November 5 by other countries.

'Humble' Response

The U.S. response throughout the three-hour hearing was "humble," in words used by officials, but largely unapologetic.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer told the Geneva forum the United States stood by its record, but was prepared to improve it where necessary.

"We both highlight our accomplishments and our long tradition of defense of human rights, but we recognize where our work is incomplete, where we must continue the work," Brimmer said.

President Barack Obama's decision to take the United States into the Human Rights Council has been sharply criticized by domestic opponents who feared the move would hand ammunition to Washington's detractors.

There were attacks from well-established U.S. foes, some of whose ambassadors queued through the night to be among the first speakers this morning.

Opening the proceedings, the Cuban representative called on the United States to respect his country's right to self-determination. Venezuela demanded the closure of the Guantanamo detention camp, and that officials guilty of human rights abuses be punished and the victims compensated. Iran's ambassador also spoke of "serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law." Russia raised the state of Internet freedom in the United States.

Harold Koh, a legal adviser at the U.S. State Department, did not directly comment on the practices of the previous administration of George W. Bush, but said that Obama had fully ensured detainees were treated humanely. "Let there be no doubt, the United States does not torture and it will not torture," Koh said.

Koh also noted that Obama remained committed to closing down the Guantanamo facility in Cuba -- but that the "enormously complex task" requires more time, as well as cooperation from U.S. allies.

'U.S. Openness'

The prevailing response to the U.S. presentation was a positive one. Germany, one of the staunchest opponents of the 2003 Iraq war in Europe, on November 5 commended U.S. "openness." The German ambassador pointedly expressed hope that the countries whose representatives had "spared no effort to speak first" -- and had in some cases camped outside the building during the night --would "show the same level of commitment in their own human rights performance."

In his closing remarks, Michael Posner, one of the leaders of the more than 30-strong U.S. delegation, addressed some of the key charges brought against Washington, focusing on the treatment of Muslims.

"At the Department of Justice for example, there is a 9/11 backlash task force.... The Department of Justice is litigating to protect religious freedom, for example on behalf of a Muslim schoolgirl to protect her right to wear hijab," Posner said.

Posner also highlighted new airline screening measures based increasingly on "live intelligence" rather than a classification of travelers' countries of origin.

Posner underscored the length of the road traveled by the United States itself since World War II in empowering women and members of various minorities. "Most of our delegation is made up -- by coincidence, not designed -- of people who would not have been likely to hold senior government positions in our government, even 50 years ago," Posner said.

All 192 UN member states are expected to subject themselves to a review at the Human Rights Council.

with agency reports
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