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By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
Armenia has failed to win a prestigious seat in a new United Nations body tasked with protecting human rights around the world.

The 47-nation Human Rights Council was elected by secret ballot late Tuesday in place of the UN’s discredited Human Rights Commission that was disbanded last March.

Armenia needed the backing of an absolute majority of the 191 UN states to win one of the six council seats set aside for Eastern Europe. Only 70 of them voted for its candidacy despite upbeat forecasts made by the head of the Armenian mission at the UN headquarters in New York, Armen Martirosian, ahead of the vote.

“All of our embassies have worked very consistently and effectively in various continents, and I think we have all the prerequisites to represent Armenia at the first Human Rights Council,” Martirosian told RFE/RL.

The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan sought to play down the fiasco on Wednesday. A written statement by the head of the ministry’s department on international organizations, Valeri Mkrtumian, noted the fact that even established democracies like Hungary and Latvia failed to join the council. “Armenia will continue to actively collaborate with all UN structures, including the Human Rights Council,” he said.

To add insult to injury, Armenia’s arch-rival Azerbaijan was elected to the Human Rights Council, getting 95 and 103 General Assembly votes in the first and second rounds of voting respectively.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, included last week both Armenia and Azerbaijan on a list 28 nations which it believes are “unfit” to sit on the new UN body because of their governments’ poor human rights records. Also blacklisted were Russia, China, Cuba or Saudi Arabia. All of them won seats in the council, however.

UN Watch said that the only South Caucasus state that deserves council membership is Georgia. However, the latter fared even more poorly than Armenia, garnering only 35 votes.

The United States, which has been highly critical of the now defunct Human Rights Commission, opposed the establishment of another UN human rights body, saying that it too will comprise repressive regimes. Still, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kristen Silverberg said after Tuesday’s vote that "on the whole, we think it is an improvement over the commission."
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