UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks durin
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks durin AFP/File

The United States won on Monday a new term on the UN Human Rights Council and named the Council’s biased focus on Israel as one of the "flaws" in the controversial body.

AFP reported that the United States was one of 18 countries to win places on the 47-member council as of January 1. Rights groups, however, condemned the election at the UN General Assembly because only western nations held an open race for their three seats.

Venezuela and Pakistan, whose rights records have been criticized by activists and governments, secured more votes than the United States, Germany and Ireland which were elected for western nations.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it had been a "highly competitive race," acknowledging predictions by some diplomats that the United States risked losing in the election because it had entered so late.

Clinton and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, a candidate to take over as secretary of state, said Washington would pursue efforts to reform the Geneva-based council.

"While much hard work remains to be done, especially ending the council's disproportionate and biased focus on Israel, we look forward to cooperating with other council members to continue to address human rights concerns and to ensure that the council fully realizes its promise," Clinton said in a statement quoted by AFP.

The United States boycotted the rights council under President George W. Bush, but has become an activist under current President Obama. Its first three year term ends on December 31.

"The United States is clearly of the view that the Human Rights Council has its flaws," said Rice.

"But it is also a body that is increasingly proving its value and we have been proud to contribute to what we think are some of the finer moments," she added, highlighting the council's stands on Syria, Sudan and Libya.

Five nations competed for three seats for western nations with Greece and Sweden losing out, reported AFP.

All the other regional groups made deals in advance so that the number of countries nominated fit the number of seats for that region. Rights groups criticized the "pre-cooked" arrangements as a stain on the council's reputation.

Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone will join for Africa; Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and United Arab Emirates for Asia; Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Estonia and Montenegro for Eastern Europe.

Venezuela got 154 votes, more than the United States, 131, or Germany, 127. The United Arab Emirates, whose record has been questioned by many groups, got 184 votes, the joint top with Brazil. Pakistan, another much-criticized nation, received 171 votes.

"To call the vote in the General Assembly an 'election' gives this process way too much credit," Peggy Hicks, a Human Rights Watch specialist, told AFP. "Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality."

Wittig, Germany's UN ambassador, said the open competition by the western nations should be "an example for other regional groups."

Jorge Valero, Venezuela's UN ambassador, rejected criticism of the election. He said the vote result was a "powerful" statement about democracy and human rights in his country.

Pakistan's UN ambassador, Masood Khan, said his country had been given a "strong mandate". "As a new member we will make substantial contribution to the work of the council," he told reporters.