UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is competing with four Western countries for three seats on the Human Rights Council in the only contested election at the U.N.'s top human rights body.
The 193-member General Assembly is scheduled to vote Monday for 18 members of the 47-member council.
African, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American countries have put forward uncontested slates whose candidates are virtually certain of victory.
Several human rights groups have criticized a number of these candidates as unqualified including Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela.
The five Western nations competing for seats — the U.S., Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden — were all deemed qualified by the rights groups.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based advocacy group UN Watch, called the absence of competition in four out of the five regional slates "scandalous."
He said at the group's annual luncheon at U.N. headquarters ahead of the vote, on Friday, that the United States was the last of the five candidates to enter the race and found that many countries had already made commitments to the other candidates.
"Most people that I've spoken to say America is polling somewhere either fourth or fifth," he said. "If they do lose ... we think it will be a setback for the council. We don't agree with everything America has done but UN Watch thinks America has been a leader of the few good things that have occurred."
Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, said that to its credit, the Western group is the only regional group allowing true competition in Monday's election.
"As a result, and despite its highly effective engagement in the Human Rights Council, the U.S. faces a tough yet healthy competition," he said.
Bolopion said it was sad that the Africa, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American groups at the U.N. "have pre-cooked this election by offering as many candidates as they have been allotted seats." He said this is "making a mockery" of the standard set by the General Assembly that all candidates for the council "uphold the highest standards" of human rights.
The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the U.N.'s widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. But the council has also 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 and electing candidates accused of serious human rights violations.
Former President George W. Bush's administration boycotted the council when it was established over its repeated criticism of Israel and its refusal to cite flagrant rights abuses in Sudan and elsewhere. But in 2009, then newly elected President Barack Obama sought to join the council saying the U.S. wanted to help make it more effective.
In that contest, the U.S. was elected on an uncontested slate winning 167 votes, far more than the 97 vote majority needed.
Amnesty International's U.N. representative, Jose Luis Dias, said member states "should return a blank ballot if they feel a candidate does not meet the high human rights standards expected of council members."
Amnesty has written letters to all candidates urging them to demonstrate their commitment to human rights, he said.
For example, Dias said, the organization has called on Ethiopia to instruct the security services to remove barriers to the work of human rights defenders and journalists and has highlighted the United Arab Emirates' 2010 Supreme Court ruling upholding a husband's right to "discipline his wife and children, provided that this left no visible marks."
The African candidates are Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone. The Asian Group candidates are Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. The Eastern European Group candidates are Estonia and Montenegro, and the Latin American and Caribbean Group candidates are Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.