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Planned UN Human Rights Council Criticized by US Lawmaker, Experts

Plans by the United Nations for a new Human Rights Council, announced last week, have been sharply criticized by a key U.S. House of Representatives Republican and experts appearing on Capitol Hill.

Last year, the House of Representatives approved Republican-backed legislation aimed at forcing the United Nations to undertake stronger reforms than those that emerged from a long U.N. review process.

The legislation, which among other things proposed linking U.S. contributions to wider reform, never became law, but its supporters continue to watch the unfolding reform process closely.

The draft outline for a proposed new U.N. Human Rights Council has been rejected by the United States.

And it has not been well-received on Capitol Hill by lawmakers who unhappy with the U.N.'s failure to deal with longstanding issues that have allowed countries with repressive governments to serve on the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen used a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives to underscore her concern.

"Rather than taking the time to do something constructive, to make things right, the international community chose consensus over substance," she said. "There was a race to the lowest common denominator, and the result - a flawed proposal which empowers dictatorships while weakening democratic countries such as the United States and Israel."

Ros-Lehtinen appeared later with two experts on U.N. reform who said the proposed U.N. Human Rights Council draft proposal falls short in numerous ways.

Among other things, critics say the draft lacks criteria for membership and mechanisms for excluding human rights violators, shifts power away from the United States and western countries, and weakens measures for periodic reviews as well as censures of countries on human rights grounds.

Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute says the proposed new council risks repeating mistakes of the past.

"The key problem with the human rights commission has been its membership," she said. "It was a few years back chaired by Libya. Current members of the Human Rights Commission include China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. So, that destroys the credibility of an institution which was supposed to be at the forefront of the protection of human rights."

Brett Schaefer, a specialist on international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, says the United States should not support the draft proposal.

"Opposing this draft resolution does not reward human rights abusers. Supporting the draft does, because it would erroneously suggest renewed credibility in a body which has failed to undergo fundamental change," said Schaefer. "It would be far better for the United States to recognize this failure, point out the spoilers [countries that blocked wider change] than to give cover to those who brought about that failure in the first place, by lending credibility to the new council."

Schaefer says the proposal for the new Human Rights Council will not create a credible body, but will lead to a new structure likely to oppose the interests of the United States and other democracies.

At the same time, he says, the United States cannot disengage from the U.N. human rights apparatus, something he says would weaken overall U.S. influence to hold human rights abusers to account.

In rejecting the draft, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton called for more provisions to keep the world's worst human rights violators off the council.

At the same time, diplomats from other nations have raised concerns that killing the draft at this point would doom the proposal.