The United Nations General Assembly has elected 15 new members to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. Several nations opposed by human rights groups won seats. But from VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports Sri Lanka, which faced fierce opposition, failed to win a seat.

The Council was set up two years ago to replace the controversial Human Rights Commission. Human rights activists criticized the Commission for including nations accused of violating human rights and for not taking strong enough positions on human rights issues.

The new Human Rights Council is now facing much of the same criticism. Several major human rights monitoring groups urged the General Assembly to vote against Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia.  And three Nobel Laureates issued statements opposing a new term for Sri Lanka, whose current term expires in June.  Sri Lanka lost its bid to hold onto one of the four seats allotted to the Asian region. Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan and South Korea won the seats.

Britain and France won second terms, beating Spain for the two open western European seats. British ambassador John Sawers says his government wants to use its second term to strengthen the Council and make it more effective.

"The point of the Human Rights Council is to raise the standards of adherence to human rights across the world," he said.  "It is not about those who do against those who don't. I think it is inevitable that every country will have its own issues on human rights.  We in the United Kingdom have issues on human rights, which we constantly debate.  I think membership on the Human Rights Council is a spur to all countries to ensure that they have good defensible records on human rights."

The rotating seats on the 47-member Council are allotted by geographic areas. This year 15 slots were open.  Gabon, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Zambia won the four seats reserved for Africa.

Argentina, Brazil and Chile took the three uncontested Latin American seats.

Serbia lost its bid for one of the two eastern European seats to Slovakia and Ukraine.

The new members begin serving three-year terms at the end of June.