United States President George W. Bush urged the United Nations to reform its Human Rights Council Tuesday, criticizing the body for ignoring abuses in places like Iran "while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel.”
"The American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council," Bush said. "The United Nations must reform its own Human Rights Council."
In the course of his speech, Bush pointed out several regimes which he termed "brutal" and "cruel." He announced new sanctions against the military dictatorship in Myanmar (Burma), accusing it of imposing "a 19-year reign of fear" that denies the basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.
"Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma," the president said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly. He purposely used the country's old name, Burma: the military junta renamed the Asian country Myanmar but the U.S. refuses to recognize the change.
"Basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship are severely restricted," he said. "Ethnic minorities are persecuted. Forced child labor, human trafficking and rape are common. The regime is holding more than a thousand political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990.
"The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable," Bush said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sat in the chamber and checked his watch during Bush's remarks. First Lady Laura Bush, also present for the president's speech, walked by the seated Iranian president without making contact, and Israeli Ambassador Danny Gillerman, too, made a point of avoiding Ahmadinejad.
Bush urged the world's nations to support countries that are struggling for democracy.
Israeli Ambassador Danny Gillerman made a point of avoiding Ahmadinejad.
"The people of Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq have asked for our help, and every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand with them," he said. "Every civilized nation also has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship," he added. "In Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration" of the United Nations.
"In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end," Bush said. "The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly and, ultimately, free and competitive elections."
The Cuban delegation walked out of the chamber in reaction to the statement.