UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United States was Tuesday elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council as were China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia in a balloting criticised by rights groups for not being competitive enough. The United States received 167 votes and was elected by secret ballot along with Norway (179) and Belgium (177) in the three-way contest in the Western States group. A total of 20 countries were contesting the 18 seats up for grabs on the 47-member, Geneva-based Council. Candidate nations require an absolute majority, or 97 votes, in the 192-member assembly, to be elected to staggered three-year terms. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice immediately welcomed her countrys election to a body that had been immediately shunned by the previous American administration for harboring notorious rights violators and showing a perceived anti-Israel bias. We are gratified by the strong support we received, she told reporters after the vote. She said that although the council was a flawed body, President Barack Obamas administration was looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of members to make it more effective. Kenya and Azerbaijan were shut out of their respective groups. Council seats are allocated according to regional representation (13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean and seven for Western states. The five seats up for grabs this year in the African group went to Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal. Five seats were also contested in the Asia group and they went to Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia. Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay were elected to the three seats on offer in the Latin America and Caribbean group while Russia and Hungary edged out Azerbaijan for the two seats in the Eastern Europe group. Steve Crawshaw, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, however criticized the balloting for not being competitive enough, notably in the Asia group. Elections without competition dont make sense, he told reporters. A report released early this month by two Western rights groups Freedom House and UN Watch indicated that nearly two-thirds of the 20 countries which ran for seats on the UN rights panel either have poor or questionable human rights records. It found seven countries not qualified: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia and noted that the governments of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia rank among the worlds most repressive regimes, suppressing nearly all fundamental political rights and civil liberties, according to Freedom Houses Worst of the Worst report. An additional six countries Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal have questionable or mixed human rights records, the study said. Under council regulations, candidates are evaluated on the political rights, civil liberties and freedom of the press in their countries, as well as their approach to human rights promotion at the United Nations. The council was created three years ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, which was discredited on grounds that governments with a record of abuse stifled concrete action.