A top State Department official says the United States will be assessing whether it will continue to be engaged in the United Nations Human Rights Council - following what the official called a disappointing and even biased record so far. The Council, formed earlier this year, replaced the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which had been widely criticized for its failure to confront abuses. The new Council is now being criticized for the same reason - as we hear from VOA's Bill Rodgers in Washington.
The U.N. Human Rights Council is under fire for not doing enough to address repression around the world. The United States expressed disappointment at the end of a recently concluded session - saying the 47-member Council accomplished little to protect or promote human rights.
Mark Lagon, the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs, went even further in a VOA interview, warning that Washington will soon be assessing its future participation.
"We'll be looking at the next session that takes place in late November and early December to see whether the, at best stalled and at worst perverse, work of the Council rights itself, fixes itself," he said. "If it turns out this Council is unable to contribute palpably to the promotion of human rights around the world, we may make the assessment that it doesn't make sense to be engaged."
The United States has observer status in the Council, after refusing to seek full membership because it opposed the way members were chosen. Washington wanted to ensure that no countries with poor human rights records would be elected to the Council, which was created earlier this year to replace the widely criticized U.N. Human Rights Commission. Critics said the Geneva-based Commission had failed to effectively confront rights abuses, because its work was stymied by non-democratic members.
Now, history may be repeating itself. A Washington Post newspaper editorial recently described the Council as a "travesty" - and said its record is even worse than its predecessor. It noted that the Council has focused almost exclusively on condemning Israel, while ignoring pleas to take action on issues such as Darfur in Sudan. The editorial said abuses in countries such as Belarus, Burma or Uzbekistan also have been ignored.
Lagon says, in considering whether to continue its participation, the United States would like to see even minimum progress in promoting human rights.
"Even just practical work that is cooperative and non-confrontational," he said. "To just work and go forward, and create technical assistance to countries seeking transitions. In the last session, some states discouraged the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi from accepting language that would give them technical assistance, because it was naming those countries, and it was somehow putting a spotlight on them. This is exactly the kind of work we should want."
He also expressed hope the Council's European members will be more active in pressing the organization to take action.
Some observers say the United States is at least partly to blame for the Council's record so far, because it refused to become a full member and, therefore, has little influence. Linda Jamison is an expert in multi-lateral organizations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"The U.S. had very strong criticism for the old Human Rights Commission, and we had high hopes for this Council, but we chose not to seek a seat in this Council, and that's very disappointing," said Jamison. "So, in one regard, we can't fault it for not acting in ways we want it to act, when, in fact, we took no leadership role -- and this has created somewhat of a leadership vacuum on the Human Rights Council."
Lagon dismissed this argument, saying the United States would only have one vote out of 47. He indicated Washington might consider seeking full membership next year, but only if the Human Rights Council turns itself around.