The United States has joined the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time.

U.S. diplomats Friday pledged to work constructively with other council members on behalf of the word's persecuted and abused people.
The top diplomat at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Mark Storella, said the United States is joining the three-year-old body in the spirit of cooperation.

The U.S. was elected to the Geneva-based council last month, after the Obama administration decided to pursue a council seat.  The Bush administration previously had boycotted the organization, saying the U.N. rights body focused too much on criticizing Israel, while ignoring human rights abuses in Sudan and elsewhere.  

President Barack Obama announced what he called a "new era of engagement" when he took office.  

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said human rights are an essential element of U.S. foreign policy.

The U.N. Human Rights Council was formed in 2006 to take the place of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, an organization that critics said was ineffective.  The council is an inter-governmental body within the U.N. system.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.