The United States has just been elected to the United
Nations Human Rights Council.
The U.N. Human Rights Council was established three
years ago as part of sweeping reforms championed by
then Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The resolution by the General
Assembly establishing the council said the new body would be
responsible for promoting universal respect for the protection of all
human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. In addition, the
47-member council would address human rights violations around the
Anne Bayevsky, a U.N. expert with the Hudson Institute, says the council replaced the 53-member Human Rights Commission.
commission was composed of many countries who were major human rights
abusers," she said. "At one point in recent history, Libya was the
chair of the Human Rights Commission. And it simply became discredited
because of its very poor performance in dealing with major human rights
Many analysts say what began as a genuine effort
to create a new council, produced in the end a body very similar to the
old commission. Attempts to reform the election process and put strict
membership criteria on the countries sitting on the new council were -
in the end - watered down by many U.N. members.
was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time. "I'll give
you an example. One of the last things that the Europeans gave away,
was a provision in the very original draft resolution creating the new
council, that said no country that is under [U.N.] Security Council
sanction for human rights violation or support for terrorism can serve
on the new Human Rights Council," he said.
"We thought that
was a pretty simple, straightforward provision. But a lot of countries
objected to it and the Europeans finally agreed that they would not
insist on it. That to me was the final sign that this new body was
going to be, at best, no different from its predecessor," he added.
United States along with three other countries - Israel, Marshall
Islands and Palau - voted against the creation of the council.
Washington also decided not to stand for election to the new U.N. body.
say the majority of the council's members - 25 out of 47 - are rated by
the Freedom House human rights organization as countries that are
either 'not free' or 'partly free.' Experts say the council also has
members that are cited for human rights abuses such as Russia, China,
Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Kyrgyzstan.
Nancy Soderberg was former
alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations during the Clinton
administration (1997 - 2001). She says one positive note is that some
of the worst human rights offenders who were on the commission are no
longer on the new council.
"So you don't see the Irans on there
anymore," said Soderberg. "You don't see the Zimbabweans and other
countries who pro-actively got elected to these bodies with the express
purpose of trying to keep them from doing anything. And they did. It's
not perfect, it hasn't done as much as human rights activists would
like - but it's progress."
But Anne Bayevsky says the council's
record has been dismal. "In the last three years, the Human Rights
Council has abolished human rights investigations that even had
occurred under the commission on countries like Iran and Belarus and
Cuba and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and so on," she
"They just eradicated human rights investigations in all
these countries because human rights abusers hold the balance of power
and that's the way they want it," she continued.
Many experts say after just three years in existence, the U.N. Human Rights Council is already in need of serious reform.
Doyle, former special adviser to then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan, says changes must first happen in the way members are elected to
"I'd like to have a change in the election
procedures so that there are more candidates than places for every
region," he said. "Number two - I would like to see the countries that
are running have as a platform an evaluation of their own human rights
practices and a platform statement about what their candidacy will
contribute to the furthering of human rights. So in other words I'd
like to see a real election and a substantive campaign - those are the
two things I think would be very important reforms for the institution."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently said
Washington is looking forward to strengthening and reforming the Human
Rights Council. She made that statement right after the United States
was elected to a three-year term on the council beginning June 19.
despite those positive words, many experts question whether Washington
will be able to push through substantive reforms given the current
composition of the council.