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Loss of European Union influence at UN put lives at risk
New York - The European Union's failure to strongly defend human rights has endangered human lives in Sri Lanka as more countries oppose interfering in domestic politics, the European Council on Foreign Relations said Thursday.

The body's UN experts said China and Russia this year blocked EU efforts in the UN Security Council to force the Sri Lankan government to release thousands of civilians caught in the fighting with Tamil Tigers rebels.

China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain hold permanent seats and veto power in the 15-nation council. A veto by a permanent member can decisively stop all actions by the UN. The five veto powers have mostly split in two camps in major human rights disputes.

The EU also was outmaneuvered and outvoted in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, said Richards Gowan and Franziska Brantner, authors of the report on the EU and human rights at the UN in 2009.

The two UN experts said the number of countries fiercely opposing the EU's human rights policy has increased from 19 last year to 40 this year. The EU has also lost its grip in the UN General Assembly when it concerned human rights, with at least 70 per cent of the 192 UN members in the assembly having voted against the EU on human rights issues, they said.

"The Obama administration's enthusiastic engagement with the UN gives Europeans a new sense of hope after the Bush administration," Gowan said. "But the EU must avoid the temptation to hang back and hope the US will fix everything. American diplomats want to see that the EU can deliver."

The authors said the most glaring failure in defending human rights was in Sri Lanka because of the opposition from China, Russia and India.

"Up to 10,000 civilians died," Gowan said. "The basic value of saving lives is falling victim to power politics in the UN Security Council."

The report called on the EU to use "tough diplomacy" to counter power politics played by China and Russia, and to urge the council to agree on measures to protect humanitarian access to areas under major crises.

It said the US and EU should set up a working group to coordinate human rights positions in the UN and to include other liberal states in it. dpa

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